Space heaters are a pretty common sight this time of year, especially in the frigid Midwest. They’re a great option to keep home heating bills low in cold winter months by only heating the space you need.
But they also can be very dangerous.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that space heaters cause more than 1,100 residential fires every year, resulting in more than 50 deaths. They are responsible for 80 percent of home heating fire deaths in the U.S. They’re so common that we can forget how dangerous they are — you should never underestimate the risk of a space heater in your home.
But you can reduce your risk with a few simple steps. First, pay attention when buying a space heater.
• Only buy a space heater inspected and approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories. You’ve probably seen their familiar “UL” seal of approval.
• Buy the type and size you need. Most heaters come with a table to show how many square feet they can heat.
• Make sure your home is properly outfitted with smoke detectors.
• Look for a heater with shut-off features. You shouldn’t buy a heater that doesn’t at least have a shutoff to prevent overheating. Many also have tip-over sensors that will cut the power if the unit is knocked over.
• Give it space! CPSC recommends a three-foot buffer zone around the heater. That applies to flammable items like curtains, beds, clothes, and such, but also to kids and pets.
• Make sure your heater is on a flat, stable surface where it can’t tip over. Keeping the power cord out of the way will significantly reduce the risk of tipping, also.
• Do not leave your heater running unattended. We’re not just talking about leaving it on while you’re not home — don’t run it while you’re sleeping either.
• Never run a space heater in a child’s room.
• Don’t use an extension cord with a space heater.
• Unplug the heater when it’s not in use. And while you’re unplugging it, check the cord for damage or fraying. Do not use the heater if the cord is damaged.
• Do not run your heater in a space with a lot of combustible materials — such as a garage or workshop which would contain paint or gas cans.
This may sound like a lot of precautions to make, but all these steps are simple, and following them can vastly reduce the risk of a fire and serious personal injuries.