When the weather turns cold, space heater safety is a concern for fire marshalls everywhere. However, portable electric space heaters today are safer than ever. With cool exteriors, tip-over buttons and overheat shut-offs, they have become more than welcome into our homes and our workplaces. The fact is, with normal care, you can enjoy the warmth and comfort of a very safe space heater.
Still, since a typical electric home space heater will use at up to 1500 watts per hour, we need to be aware of their potential as a safety hazard. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, more than 25,000 fires happen each year as a result of small portable heaters. And 300 of these fires result in death!
Add to that the fact that each year an estimated 6,000 people receive emergency room care from space heater burns, and you can see that you still need to be careful with these machines. Below are several space heater safety tips.
Space Heater Cords
Before you plug in your space heater, it is important that you inspect the cord. Be sure that there are no nicks or cuts and that the connection with the plug is sound. If possible, dedicate a single wall outlet to your space heater. This will lower the risk of overheating.
Always plug cords directly into outlets and never use an extension cord. Most household extension cords cannot handle the wattage used by today’s space heater and may overheat during normal use. However, since most electric space heaters come with a 6’ cord, it should safely reach most outlets designed to code.
Keep in mind as well, that cords should remain out in the open and not be run underneath rugs, furniture or appliances. If the cord becomes warm for any reason, you do not want it in a confined space, especially covered by a combustible item. This can limit space heater placement somewhat. It is certainly easier to trip over a cord left out in the open. However, it is important enough to be mentioned within the safety instruction of all of the space heater companies. Consider this when you decide where to place your heater.
Speaking of placement, always set the unit on a flat, level surface. The safest place is directly on the floor. Today’s space heaters are designed with a firm, well-balanced base. These machines can be knocked-over but they are by no means tippy. When placed on a solid surface, it will be a lot easier to keep them upright.
Approximately twenty-five percent of all fires caused by space heaters result from placing combustible objects too close to them. Burnable objects such as bedding, pillows, clothing and furniture present the greatest risk. This is especially true with radiant heaters which concentrate heat to directly warm objects within the room, rather than heating the air. The guideline is to keep any objects three feet or more from the front of any space heater to prevent overheating. Also be careful of anything which may block the side or rear vents. Blocked vents can result in the unit overheating which can certainly create a fire hazard.
Pets, Children and Space Heaters
Another safety concern with space heaters is contact with pets and children. This cannot be stressed enough as neither has the instinct to understand the risks involved. It is vitally important to supervise pets and children whenever a space heater is in use. Not only is there a burn risk from touching a hot grill. There is also the risk of tipping over the machine by knocking against it or pulling on the cord. Children and pets are inherently curious of new objects. Close supervision is a must.
Space Heaters and Water
It is a common fact that electricity and water do not play well together. As a general rule, space heaters are not recommended for use in bathrooms or around sinks. It simply is not worth the risk. If the idea is to provide heat to a cold bathroom, there are units made specifically for this purpose. With a ground fault circuit interrupter plug, they are designed to cut the power whenever the heater comes in contact with water. This makes for a bathroom safe space heater. My suggestion would be to consider one of these units.
Electric Space Heater Safety Features
As mentioned earlier, space heaters today are created to be as safe as possible. Many come with a button at the bottom of the machine which releases when the machine is tipped even a small amount. This release cuts power to the unit so that it will immediately stop operating if tipped over. It will also prevent you from picking up and moving the unit when it is running, as this will turn it off as well.
Many of the machines which do not have the tip-over button, do still have overheat protection. This is done internally in a way that the space heater turn off if it senses a situation where heat is building up within the machine, which tipping over will do. Should this occur, the unit will turn itself off and remain off for a pre-set cooling-off time period.
For many space heaters, the only hot spot is the area in front which throws the heat. Amazingly, the sides, back and bottom are often cool to the touch. In some cases, even the front of the unit is cool enough to place you hand on. If you are concerned about the presence of kids and pets, consider one of these units. In no way does this substitute for supervision, but it does allow for some peace of mind.
When you purchase a space heater, always look for a mark from the United Laboratories. UL approval is given to heaters that meet the required safety standards through independent testing.
Safe Space Heaters
Electric Space heaters today are quite safe, but they are only as safe as the person using them. If you plug in your space heater and notice the lights flicker or dim, this is a sign that you are putting strain on your electrical system. Have the system checked by a qualified professional before using the heater.
Most important, always be aware of your space heater when it is in use. When you leave the room or go to bed, shut down and unplug the unit. By knowing the risks of these small electric heaters, you can safely enjoy their warmth and comfort for many years to come.
Provided by Nationwide Insurance