Space heater safety is a definite concern during the winter months. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), home fires and home heating fire deaths happen every winter because of improper heater operation. In fact, the NFPA reported that 53 percent of home fires between 2011 and 2015 resulted from home heating equipment placed too close to flammable materials. Portable space heaters accounted for 43 percent of those fires.
To help avoid these situations, you need to follow some tried-and-true safety guidelines. Space heaters can be safe to use, as long as you keep a few safety tips in mind:
Proper placement is crucial to ensuring safety and warmth. The NFPA recommends placing your space heater three feet from things like curtains, beds and blankets, upholstered furniture, clothing and rugs. You should also keep your electric space heater away from furniture in general, and wherever possible, place it on wood floors instead of carpeting. Remember this handy phrase: space heaters need space!
Most space heaters use about 1,500 watts of power at their maximum temperature. This means you can overload circuits if you try to run too many things at the same time. You can also increase fire risks if you plug your heater into an extension cord, since it likely isn’t designed to handle a lot of wattage running through it. Make sure you use a grounded outlet, one that has the three prongs. Two-prong outlets are outdated and can be a fire hazard, since they have no way to ground the electricity.
One of the best ways to make sure your heater doesn’t become a fire hazard is to turn it off when you’re not in the room. If it’s not running, it’s not drawing power and therefore not likely to ignite something nearby. Now, what about when you’re sleeping? Are space heaters safe to leave on all night? In general, it’s not recommended that you use a space heater while sleeping. Even though you’re technically present, you’re not aware of what’s going on in the house or even in your own bedroom. If you must have the space heater running for some part of the night, you need to make sure your heater has top-quality safety features. We’ll discuss those in detail a bit later.
In addition to a good-quality electric heater, you should have a fully functioning smoke detector. Smoke alarms are a vital part of alerting you to fire in the home, and they’re designed to detect trace amounts of smoke, which is why some models even go off when you’re cooking dinner. It may be loud, but it could save your life in a real fire. Keep your family and your home safe, and make sure your smoke alarms are in working order. Test them every month and replace the batteries as soon as the lights blink or you hear a faint beep.
You should also look into carbon monoxide detectors if you use non-electric space heaters, or if you also have a fireplace or natural gas-operated clothes dryer in your home. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly, which is why you should consider installing these devices as well. Some states within the United States require these detectors in any type of dwelling, and more states are likely to follow suit.
Check for working carbon monoxide detectors at the same time you check your smoke alarms. You can also purchase dual smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, which have both devices housed within the same unit.