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Keep caution in mind when using space heaters

  • Published
  • By Eric T. Hoehn
  • 88th Air Base Wing Safety Office

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The high cost of heating oil and natural gas, combined with energy-saving efforts, raises the potential for increased use of alternative sources.

Space heaters and other supplemental-heating devices may be viewed by a lot of people as a good alternative. They can be handy when used properly and sparingly but should never be viewed as a long-term solution.

The devices are not highly efficient and have significant fire and other hazards associated with their use, according to safety official warnings.

Some things to think about

Space heaters carry a much greater risk of causing a fire than central heating, including furnaces. They present a greater potential for human error, such as leaving them too close to combustible materials or failing to install, fuel, operate and maintain them properly.

Safety must be a top consideration when using space heaters.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are linked to space heater use, causing more than 300 deaths. About 6,000 people receive emergency room care for burn injuries associated with contacting hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in nonfire situations.

Underwriters Laboratories tips

  • Keep all space heaters at least 3 feet away from household combustibles.
  • Use space heaters only as a supplementary source of heat. These devices are not intended to replace the home’s heating system.
  • Do not use extension cords with space heaters unless absolutely necessary.
  • Inspect the heater’s cord periodically to look for frayed wire or damaged insulation. Do not use a space heater with a damaged cord.
  • Check occasionally for a secure plug/outlet fit. If the plug becomes very hot, the outlet may need to be replaced by a qualified technician. This could be the sign of a potential home-wiring issue.
  • Heaters should be placed on a flat, level surface. Do not place heaters on furniture since they may fall and become damaged or break parts in the heater.
  • Unless the heater is designed for outdoor or bathroom use, do not operate in damp, wet areas.
  • Look for the UL mark on your electric heater. This means representative samples of the appliance have met UL’s stringent safety standards.
  • If you have a liquid-fueled space heater, use only the manufacturer-recommended fuel. The wrong fuel could burn hotter than the equipment was designed for and cause a serious fire.
  • When refueling, turn off the heater and let it cool down completely before adding fuel. Promptly wipe away any spills.
  • Before you buy a kerosene heater, check with your local fire department to ensure it’s legal.