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Using space heaters safely

This small appliance can cause death if used incorrectly

Temperatures are dropping, and we know that families are pulling out their trusty electric space heaters. While the convenience of electric space heaters is great, don’t forget about safety.

“We want to remind members that safety should always be a top consideration when using electric space heaters,” says Safety and Loss Control Coordinator Bo McGuffey with Inter-County Energy—one of 24 electric co-ops that provide 1.5 million Kentuckians with electricity.

 “Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States,” says McGuffey.

The sobering statistics prove that there’s reason for concern when using space heaters. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that space heaters cause more than 25,000 home fires and more than 300 deaths each year.

Safety and Loss Control Coordinator Bo McGuffey, with Inter-County Energy, says, “Safety should be a top consideration when using electric space heaters.” Photo: Tim Webb

McGuffey shares the following tips to you keep your family safe this winter:

Always inspect the heater for cracked or broken plugs before each use. To avoid overheating an outlet, which could result in a fire, plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet, and never use an extension cord or plug any other devices into the same outlet. And never run a power cord under a rug.

Many people make the error of placing space heaters near combustibles. Instead, keep them at least 3 feet away from anything that could possibly burn, like curtains, beds or rugs. In accordance with fire safety, install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas, and test them once a month.

An electric space heater is a temporary option when looking for supplemental heat. Whenever you leave a room or go to sleep, it is important to turn off the electric space heater. If you left it unattended, it could overheat or fall. A child could also play too close to it and get hurt.

Additional safety tips

• Make sure the space heater has been tested to the latest standards and is certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as UL (Underwriters Laboratories).

• Use only portable space heaters that have an automatic “tip-switch,” which will cause it to turn off automatically if the heater is tipped over or not upright.

• Make sure it has a guard around the flame area or heating element.

• 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.

• Keep children and pets away from space heaters.

• Discard and replace old space heaters that seem worn out.

Also, remember that space heaters are meant to be “comfort heat”—used selectively to supplement heat in one small room or a small area in conjunction with a central heating system. This is the most efficient use of space heaters. Otherwise, in addition to the safety concerns, space heaters used incorrectly may also increase your energy bills if they are used incorrectly, too often or too long.

Following these safety precautions and use recommendations, McGuffey says, will help those in your home avoid injuries and also prevent damage to the electric space heater.

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