Space heaters can be a quick way to heat up a room. However, they can be as dangerous as they are convenient if used improperly. Space heaters cause 25,000 home fires a year, and 6,000 emergency room visits, according to the Harvard University Environmental Health & Safety group.
Approximately one-third of all house fires nationwide happen during the cold home-heating months between December and February. Equipment that is intended to add a little extra warmth, such as space heaters, is the leading cause of these fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPE).
As part of its Teach Learn Care TLC campaign, Safe Electricity urges everyone in the home to understand the importance of using space heaters safely.
Some cities have banned the use of many types of portable space heaters. Before purchasing or using any type of space heater, check with your local fire department to find out if it is legal in your community.
Safe Electricity offers the following precautions when using electric space heaters:
- Purchase only space heaters that have been safety tested and UL approved. Make sure the unit is equipped with an emergency tip-over shut-off feature and heating element guards. Read and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions for operation and care.
- Before using a space heater, make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working condition.
- Check to make sure the heater is clean and in good condition, and have all problems professionally repaired.
- Place heater out of high-traffic areas and on a level, hard, non-flammable floor surface—NOT on carpets, furniture or countertops.
- Space heaters have one purpose —to provide supplemental heating. Never use them to thaw pipes, cook food, or dry clothing or towels.
- Remember to keep space heaters at least three feet from combustible liquids like fuel, spray cans and paint, as well as flammable items such as draperies, blankets and sofas.
- Never allow pets or children near an electric heater. Accidental contact could result in serious shock or burns.
- Do not overload circuits. Never use extension cords or multiple plugs with a space heater, and make sure the unit is not plugged into the same circuit as other electric appliances.
- If your space heater is plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and it trips, don’t assume there is something wrong with the GFCI. Immediately stop using the
heater until it can be checked by a professional— if not, a serious shock could occur.
- Never leave space heaters unattended. Turn off your space heater and unplug it before leaving the room or going to bed.
- Replace older space heaters with newer, safer models.
Many people also use electric blankets to keep warm during cold winter nights. Before plugging in electric blankets, check for any damage and inspect cord for frays, cracks or cuts. Electric blankets should not be tucked under the mattress and nothing should be placed on top of the blanket while it’s in use, including comforters and bedspreads. Pets should never be allowed to sleep on the electric blanket.