When winter weather brings cold temperatures, many people turn to space heaters to help supplement the heat in their home.  While modern spaces heaters (ones that have current safety features like tip over shut off switches) can certainly be useful as a short-term way to heat specific areas without turning up the heat in the whole house, they should always be used with safety precautions in mind.

Electric space heaters are high-wattage appliances that if not used properly, pose a significant fire hazard. According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters cause 43 percent of home heating fires each year, and are the second leading cause of fire-related deaths.  Each year space heaters are responsible for about 55,000 fires, 450 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries.

That doesn’t mean they cannot be used safely in the right circumstances. If you do use an electric space heater as a supplemental heat source, here are some safety tips you should always follow:

Make sure your heater is safe.

This means when you buy a space heater make sure it has current safety features, has been certified by national safety ratings agencies and has safety certification marks.  Before use inspect the heater, cord and plug. Never use a unit that is old or damaged.  

 Never leave heater operating while unattended or while you are sleeping

Because unattended space heaters are a leading cause of fires, they should not be used when you leave or are sleeping.  This also makes them a dangerous choice for heating a nursery or child’s room.

Give your space heater some “space”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that you should allow 3 feet (front, sides and rear) between the heater and any combustible materials such as beds, furniture, curtains, papers, clothes or flammable liquids.

Keep away from Kids and Pets.

Remember these heaters are HOT. In addition to fire danger, they are a potential risk for burns and shock dangers.  Children and pets are especially vulnerable so never leave kids or pets in a room with the heater unattended.  Also teach kids that they should not touch them at all, play with the buttons or try to move them.

Avoid Shocks

 To prevent electrical shocks and electrocutions, always keep electric heaters away from water, and NEVER touch an electric heater if you are wet.  To avoid circuit overloads, it is best to plug the unit directly into the wall, do not use extension cords or power strips that do not have surge protectors and don’t plug in other appliances into the same circuit.

Place on to a stable level surface where they are not likely to get knocked over.

Space heaters, especially tall ones can be knocked over, causing burns and fire hazards.  Avoid high traffic areas like walkways.  Although it may seem like a good way to keep them out of reach of children and pets, you should not place them on high objects like tables, dressers or shelves where they can be pulled down or fall over.

Teach heater safety to the whole family

As with all safety issues around the home, teach safety measures to all members of the household.

When used electric space heaters can be a useful supplement to your homes heating for limited periods of time.  However, they are not the best option for long term heating needs. Because they use a lot of energy, they can be expensive to run. For each hour the space heater is running it consumes 1.5 kWh of electricity, so if you ran a single heater for 16 hours a day (you should never leave it on while you are sleeping), at 10.5 cents a kilowatt hour, it would add $2.52 a day to your current electric bill.  That’s roughly $75 a month on top of what you are already paying.

For more long-term use and a more permanent solution, options like zoned heating systems or ductless mini spit units to help with specific rooms in your home might be more effective.  What ever you do, we hope you stay both safe and warm.