Space Heater Safety Tips (So Your House Doesn't Go Up in Flames)

Using heater at home in winter. Woman warming during playing with her cat. Heating season.


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Using heater at home in winter. Woman warming during playing with her cat. Heating season.

Space Heater Safety

Space heaters are a convenient, low-cost way to warm up a room without having to heat an entire house, but just like any heating equipment, it’s essential to use space heaters safely. According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment caused approximately 48,530 fires from 2014 to 2018. Space heaters were involved in 81% of home heating-related fire deaths. But many of these deaths were caused by mistakes in heater use, like placing equipment too close to flammable objects. The following space heater safety tips can help increase your safety while using your space heater. 

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Choose Your Space Heater Wisely

Before you shop, be sure you understand the different types of space heaters and their risks. Radiant heaters heat areas very quickly, but can get so hot that they can be a fire hazard. Convection heaters are silent and disperse heat without a fan, but also can get hot so they’re not ideal for use around young children. Combination heaters use a fan to disperse heat and don’t get hot enough to cause burns. The right type of heater will depend on your goals, your home environment, and whether or not kids might come into contact with the heater.

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Using heater at home in winter. Woman warming during playing with her cat. Heating season.

Look for a Tip-Over Switch

Space heaters with a tip-over switch have an extra layer of safety. If the heater tips over, the switch will automatically turn the heater off. This safety feature can help to avoid a situation where your heater could light a surface — like a carpet or curtains — on fire if it falls over when you’re not aware. This is a particularly valuable feature to have if you have pets or kids in your home. 

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Buy a Space Heater With an Automatic Shutoff

An automatic shutoff feature can also help prevent fires. A space heater with safety shut off will automatically turn off once the heater’s temperature reaches a limit set by the manufacturer. This feature can help to prevent the heater from overheating and becoming a fire hazard.

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Only Buy a Safety Certified Space Heater

Look for a heater that’s been tested and certified to meet safety standards. Common space heater certifications include the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek Group (ETL), and Canadian Standards Association (CSA). These certifications also require manufacturers to provide specific safety information with their products. 

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Consider Space Heater Safety Ratings

Companies like Consumer Reports test space heaters for safety, reviewing factors like whether the heater gets hot enough to burn your fingers or set a piece of fabric on fire. Heaters are also rated based on their performance, so you can find a heater that’s both safe and works well.

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Inspect Older Heaters Before Use

If you’re using a heater that you’ve owned for a while, be sure to thoroughly check it over before you plug it in. Look for any signs of damage, like a frayed power cord. If the heater doesn’t function correctly or include some of the aforementioned safety features, replace it rather than risk it. 

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Read Your Space Heater Manual

One of the most important electric space heater safety tips is to take the time to read the manual before use. Manuals include valuable safety information including tips for safely setting up and using the heater. The manual will also highlight the safety features the heater is equipped with. 

Woman inserting smoke alarm battery

Install Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are essential to your family’s safety, and it’s even more important to have them installed when you’ll be using a space heater. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that you install smoke alarms in every sleeping room, as well as outside of every sleeping area. You’ll need alarms on every level of your home, and should test the alarms once a month. Carbon monoxide detectors should be located in a central space that’s outside of your sleeping area, on every level of your home, and should also be tested monthly. 

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Never Use an Extension Cord or Power Strip

When it comes to electric space heater safety, only plug your space heater directly into a wall outlet. A space heater draws significant energy and can easily overload an extension cord or power strip. If you use an extension cord, you’re increasing the distance that power needs to travel to the heater, which reduces the amount of voltage that reaches the heater. In turn, some heaters will try to draw more power, which can lead to overheating. Additionally, extension cords can be tripping hazards. 

Heating, electric stove

Create a Safe Space

Electric, ceramic, and oil space heater safety all require that you create a space that’s safe for the heater. Look for a hard, level, nonflammable surface on your floor. Make sure that any flammable materials like carpet and furniture are at least three feet away from your heater. Never use the heater near combustible materials like paint or gas.

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Heating, electric stove

Keep Heaters Out of the Way

While it’s important to make sure that your heater is at least three feet away from flammable objects, it’s also essential to keep the heater out of the main foot traffic path through the room. Keep heaters out of exits, too, ensuring everyone can leave the room or home quickly in an emergency. 

Efficient Heating on winter at home.
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Keep Kids and Pets Safe

Some space heaters get very hot and cause burns. Keep kids and pets safe by keeping them away from the heater. You may want to purchase pet gates or other barriers to ensure kids and pets don’t get too close. Remember to ensure that these barriers are at least three feet away from the heater.

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Avoid Water Exposure

It’s a good idea to keep any electric space heater away from areas where it might be exposed to water, like bathrooms and kitchens. Water and electricity are a dangerous combination, so avoid using space heaters in these areas.

Reducing Energy Consumption

Check the Heater While in Use

While your space heater is operating, be sure to check it often. Feel the plug, cord, and wall outlet. If any of these surfaces are hot to the touch, stop using the heater immediately and have an electrician inspect the heater and outlet. 

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Be Extra Careful with Kerosene Heaters

If you’re using a kerosene heater, it’s important to follow a few extra tips. Be sure to only use water-clear 1-K grade kerosene and never substitute any other fuel type. Don’t refuel the heater while it’s in use or still hot, and only run the heater at the flame height that the manufacturer recommends. Most importantly, only use the heater when you have your room’s doors option, which can help to reduce exposure to carbon monoxide.

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Supervise the Heater

Most importantly, don’t leave the space heater unsupervised. Even with safety features, space heaters can start fires. Stay nearby to monitor the heater, and always turn it off and unplug it before you have to leave the house or go to bed. 

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