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Space heaters are second only to cooking as the main cause in all home fires according to statistics.

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When winter cold sets in, space heaters are a great way to warm up a room or small space. Unfortunately, space heaters such as electric or kerosene are second only to cooking as the main cause in all home fires according to statistics. Used as a supplement when heating homes during the cold winter months or to provide heat when families are not yet ready to turn on the furnace, improperly used space heaters can lead to severe injury or death. Using proper safety methods helps protect family members.

Whether portable or stationary, space heaters are designed to supplement cold rooms and must be used with extreme caution. According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), nearly half of all home heating fires occur during the peak months of December, January, and February.

Statistics from show 33 percent of all home heating fires and 81 percent of home heating fire deaths were due to misuse of, or defective, supplemental heating units according to NFPA statistics.

General Guidelines

There are several ways people can prevent accidental fires in their homes. One of the most important is to select heaters that have been tested and certified by recognized testing laboratories. Also, keep areas around the heat source free of paper and trash.

When deciding the placement of the heater, remember the three feet safety rule by keeping everything that can burn at least three feet away from the heat source. Only use the heaters to heat the small space. They were not built to use for cooking, drying clothes or shoes, or as bed warmers. Keep children and pets away from the unit as even the slightest touch can cause severe burns.

Place the space heater on a hard level nonflammable surface, never on carpet, blankets, or rugs. Never use a defective heater or one that is missing its heating element guard. Make sure you use the proper size space heater for the room.

When purchasing a new space heater, look for a model with an automatic shut-off in case the heater is left on too long. In addition, a tip-switch will automatically cut off the heat if the unit topples over. Even with the safety features, never leave the heater on when sleeping, out of the room, or away from home.

Protect your family from harm

Establish a fire escape plan and make sure all family members understand the plan. Practice the escape route with all members, making sure they understand the importance of following the escape route. Designate a location for all family members to meet after leaving the house, to ensure everyone is accounted for.

If a family member or an item of their clothing catches on fire, make sure they know how to stop, cover their face, drop onto the ground, and roll until the fire is out. Practicing these procedures on a regular basis may save the life of a loved one in an emergency.

Electric space heaters

Make sure to plug the unit into a proper outlet, and never use an extension cord. Do not place the heater on furniture or countertops as it may topple over, or set it on a wet or moist area. Place on a solid, fireproof base. Check for frayed cords or broken wires before using, and do not hide cords under rugs as that may cause the cords to overheat. Also, keep cords out of the way so people do not trip on them.

Kerosene, propane, or gasoline space heaters

Check your local regulations to make sure it is okay to use supplemental heating units. Some communities do not allow portable kerosene heaters.

Always use the proper grade fuel and never substitute fuel, such as gasoline instead of kerosene. Refuel in properly ventilated areas when the space heater is cool. Refueling outdoors is best.

Install the space heater according to manufacturer’s directions and use outside ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Inspect and clean the heater annually. Keep the wick of a kerosene heater clean. If necessary, have professionals install and inspect the space heaters. Make sure you are using proper safety devices.

If the space heater is unventilated, take proper precautions by using the proper fuel, provide fresh air while the heater is in use, and keep doors open to the rest of the house while the heater is operating.

Wood burning heaters

Wood burning stoves must be installed according to existing building codes and meet certified EPA emission standards. Use approved floor protectors or fire resistant floors. Make sure chimneys and stovepipes are free of debris by cleaning them on a yearly basis.

Equip your home with at least one smoke alarm on each floor and test them once a month. Install carbon monoxide alarms in a central location near sleeping areas. Some experts suggest placing a carbon monoxide alarm outside each bedroom.

Only use dry, seasoned wood and never use artificial logs in your wood burning heater. Make sure the ashes are cool before removing and use a metal container to dispose of the ashes.

When used correctly, supplemental heating units can add heat on extremely cold winter days, warm up a cold room that receives little heat, and save fuel costs when the whole house does not need heat. However, proper steps must be taken and guidelines observed so that you and your family do not become a tragic statistic this winter.

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One thought on “Space Heater Safety

  1. Very useful Tips. This is really good stuff

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