Electric space heaters can provide extra comfort during cold weather. If not used properly, however, they can also be a safety hazard. Portable heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association. With a few simple precautions, you can stay warm and safe all winter long.
Choosing a space heater
Safety starts at purchase. Select a unit certified for safe operation by UL (Underwriters Laboratories) or another nationally recognized testing organization. Look for heaters with a guard around the heating element and a tip-over shutoff.
Don't purchase a propane, natural gas or kerosene fired space heater for portable use inside your home. The combustion gasses from fuel fired heaters must be vented outdoors with an air-tight, permanently installed vent. Without proper ventilation, they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Consider the size of the area you want to heat. A heater that's too small or too large for an area can waste energy without providing the extra comfort you need. Choose a thermostatically controlled heater to avoid overheating the room and wasting energy.
Keep your space heater running safely by following these simple tips:
Keep children and pets away from space heaters — the surface can get very hot.
Never leave a space heater running when you're asleep or when you leave the area.
Locate the heater at least three feet away from paper, bedding, furniture, and drapes, or where towels or other fabrics could fall on it and start a fire.
Don't place heaters in areas where they may become wet — such as a bathroom. Never touch the heater if you are wet. Corrosion or damage to heater parts can cause a fire or electric shock.
Make sure your heater is placed on a stable, level, non-flammable surface where it won’t get knocked over — not on rugs or carpets.
Don’t use extension cords or a power strip when plugging in space heaters. Don't hide cords under rugs or carpet. Check frequently to be sure the plug, outlet and/or faceplate does not get hot. If it does, don’t use the heater, have an electrician check the wall outlet and have the heater checked by a repair person.
Never store flammable liquids near a space heater — they can be ignited by an electrical spark.
Maintain your heater in safe working condition. Don't attempt to operate a damaged unit in your home. Follow all manufacturer's guidelines regarding operating and storing your heater.