The tiny radiators, while useful, cause thousands of fires and hundreds of deaths each year. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 25,000 residential fires are associated with the use of space heaters every year, causing more than 300 deaths and 6,000 trips to the emergency room. Despite the frightening numbers, though, space heaters are actually much safer now than they used to be.
Here are some safety tips:
The Heater Belongs on the Floor
It may be tempting to place your space heater somewhere so it blows right in your face. Don’t do that — unless you’re lying flat on the floor, which is just about the only place it should ever go. Don’t set it on a shelf or a stool or a wooden workbench in the basement. If possible, keep it off the rug, too, and definitely off your bed. While these scenarios might appear safe, they increase the risk of the heater falling, tipping over or otherwise overheating, which could start a fire.
To avoid that, we generally recommend placing your space heater on the flattest, smoothest surface available.
Keep It Away From Water
This should go without saying, but electricity and water are a deadly combination. Keep your space heater out of kitchens and bathrooms.
Avoid Flammable Objects, Too
The Consumer Product Safety Commission calls it the “three-foot rule,” and it’s pretty simple: Avoid placing a space heater within three feet of anything flammable. Some manuals list curtains, papers, furniture, pillows, and bedding as objects to stay away from. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers recommends further precautions, including keeping flammable materials like paint and matches far away. If there’s even a slight risk of a pillow or another flammable object falling, such as in an earthquake, set the space heater somewhere the object won’t land on it.
Never Leave the Heater Alone
The best way to prevent a fire is to never leave a space heater running unattended. If you have children or pets that could knock over a heater or drape fabric on it, keep a close eye on its operation. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends keeping young children at least three feet from a space heater, but it’s best not to leave one in a room or closet within reach of children, even if it’s unplugged — beyond the fire risk, the heater is a 15-amp appliance drawing considerable current. The plug and cord, combined with some intuitive on/off switches, pose a hazard to a curious toddler who won’t be anticipating an electric shock.
It’s also not a good idea to leave space heaters on while you sleep.
It Wants to Be in a Wall Outlet
Most modern space heaters should come with enough cord slack to allow you to plug them into a wall outlet and still position them conveniently in the room for maximum warmth. Notice that we said wall outlet: Manufacturers advise against plugging space heaters into surge protectors, extension cords, plug timers, G.F.C.I. outlets (the kind with the test and reset buttons) — anything that’s not a wall outlet. Those added layers of electrical connection can overload the circuit, or create additional resistance that allows heat to build up, potentially resulting in a fire or internal electrical damage.
Many manufacturers also recommend keeping your space heater a few feet away from the wall where it’s plugged in, to avoid overheating the wall itself. If you find yourself with extra cord slack, or you need to use a wall outlet in an adjacent room, resist the urge to hide the cord from sight. Don’t stuff it under a rug or a couch, which could prevent heat from escaping. Also avoid pinching or bending the cord, such as passing it through a tightly closed door hinge, which can impede the electrical current, contributing to a buildup of heat and energy.
Additional Safety Tips:
Safety should always be a top consideration when using space heaters. Here are some more tips for keeping your home safe and warm when it’s cold outside:
- Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.
- Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.
- Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater.
- Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep, and don’t let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
- Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
- Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas and test them once a month.
- Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a tripping hazard.
- Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
- Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use.