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Space heaters: safety vs. convenience 

HEATING EQUIPMENT IS THE SECOND leading cause of home fires in the United States, so safety should always be a top consideration when families pull out their electric space heaters during cold weather. While there is no risk for carbon monoxide poisoning with electric space heaters, they hold many other safety hazards if not used properly. 

First, remember that an electric space heater is a temporary option when you’re looking for supplemental heat. Many people may use this option to heat specific rooms while they sleep, but this is not safe. When you’re leaving a room or going to sleep, it is important to turn off your electric space heater. Left unattended, it could overheat or fall—or a child or pet could play too close to it and get hurt. 

Use only portable space heaters that are recognized by a testing laboratory (such as Underwriters) and that have an automatic tip-switch. This switch automatically turns off the heater if it is tipped over or not upright. Make sure your model has a guard around the flame area or heating element. 

Where to place them 

Put your space heater out of high traffic areas and doorways where it may be a tripping hazard. When a heater is not in use, always unplug and safely store it. 

One mistake people make when using space heaters is placing them near combustibles. Keep them at least 3 feet away from anything that could possibly burn, like curtains, beds, furniture or rugs. 

Place the heater on a level, hard, nonflammable surface; do not place on rugs or carpets, near bedding or drapes, or on tables or countertops. 

And the basics still apply here: In accordance with fire safety, install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas. If you already have them, be sure to test them once a month to be sure they’re working properly. 

Before plugging in 

  • When bringing your electric space heater out for the winter, heed these reminders before you plug it in: 
  • Check that your space heater has a label showing it is recognized by a testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories. 
  • Inspect the heater for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If an old space heater seems worn out, replace it. 
  • Don’t place it near anything combustible. 
  • Plug the space heater directly into a wall outlet. Never use an extension cord or plug any other devices into the same outlet to avoid overheating. That could start a fire.

GARRETT ADDINGTON is Risk Management Coordinator at Kenergy.

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