Space Heater Safety: Precautions for Staying Warm and Safe

If you find yourself in need of a space heater to temporarily take the chill off a particular area of your home, carefully consider the safety hazards associated with their use.

“It seems easy and inexpensive to use a space heater to supplement your furnace’s heat in the winter,” explained Tom VanParis, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “But improper use of these units can result in added expense, property damage and physical injury.”

To reduce the risk of fire or injury associated with using a space heater, consider the following tips:

  • Keep flammable materials, such as furniture, clothing, mattresses, bedding and curtains, at least three feet away from the unit.
  • Never use a space heater near paint, gas cans or matches.
  • Place the heater on a level, flat surface where children and pets can’t reach it. Place on a tabletop only when specified by the manufacturer.
  • Periodically inspect the cord for broken prongs, frayed wires, nicks or cuts.
  • Never leave a space heater running in a child’s room.
  • Run the cord on top of area rugs or carpets so that you can step over the cord. Repeatedly stepping on a cord that’s hidden by a rug will damage it over time.
  • Avoid using a space heater in a damp or wet area unless it’s designed for outdoor or bathroom use, as moisture can damage the unit.
  • If the heater must be plugged into an extension cord, use a 14-gauge or larger heavy-duty cord.
  • Never leave a space heater unattended while it is plugged in.
  • To reduce the risk of burns, avoid touching the elements and the outer casing.

In a recent Consumer Reports poll, 60 percent of homeowners thought a space heater could trim their energy bills. “The only way to achieve this,” VanParis cautioned, “would be to reduce the thermostat in other rooms. Consider a space heater strictly for comfort.”

Because space heaters can use a great deal of electricity, plugging another electrical device into the same outlet could cause overheating. It is also wise to limit the number of items that share a circuit with the space heater to avoid overloading the circuit.

Consumer Reports also warns that fuel-burning space heaters are more dangerous than electric ones. Fuel-burning heaters require proper ventilation for the carbon monoxide they emit. They should be used with care and only during electrical power outages or in areas like a screened-in porch or out-building.

When you shop for a space heater, look for a label from a recognized testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or Intertek (ETL) verifying that the heater’s construction and performance meet U.S. safety standards.

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National Fire Protection Association
Underwriters Laboratory
Consumer Reports