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Tips for Preventing House Fires Caused by Space Heaters


According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), portable heating equipment is a major contributor to home fires and fire-related deaths in the United States, ranking second as a cause of home fires and third as a cause of home fire fatalities.

Heating equipment is a major cause of fires in homes in the US, with an average of 44,210 home structure fires per year being caused by heating equipment in 2016-2020. These fires resulted in 480 deaths, 1,370 injuries, and $1 billion in property damage annually. Space heaters are the most common cause of heating fire deaths, accounting for 88% of cases. The months of January, February, and December have the highest number of heating fires, with 46% of all such fires occurring during these months. The issue with portable heaters is not necessarily that they are unsafe, but rather that they are often used improperly.

What You Need to Know About Space Heaters to Stay Safe

Using space heaters can be a convenient way to keep warm in cold weather, but it is important to use them safely to avoid the risk of fire. Here are some tips to keep in mind when using them:

  • Make sure the heater is properly placed: they should be placed on a flat, level surface that is free from flammable materials, such as curtains or rugs. They should also be kept at least three feet away from any combustible objects, including furniture and bedding. A three-foot radius around the heater should be designated as a child and pet-free zone, and the heater should be closely monitored.
  • Use the correct type of fuel: If you are using a fuel-burning heater, make sure to only use the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never use them indoors.
  • Store fuel properly: Keep additional fuel in designated containers and away from the heater to avoid the risk of fire.
  • Keep the heater clean: Regularly clean the heater to remove dust and other debris that can become a fire hazard. Place the electric heater in a dry area, as moisture can harm the internal parts and pose an electrocution risk. If you are wet, do not touch the heater.
  • Don’t leave the heater unattended: Never leave a space heater alone when it is in use, and always turn it off when you leave the room or go to bed. Unplug the heater after turning it off and store it in a secure place.
  • Check for hot cables or plugs: The heater should be plugged into a dedicated wall outlet, not shared with other appliances, as it uses a lot of electricity. It is recommended that the heater be connected to its wall socket, rather than one that is utilized by multiple devices since it requires a substantial amount of electrical power.
  • Use a smoke detector: Make sure you have working smoke detectors in the room where you are using the heater, and in other rooms of your home as well. 

By following these tips, you can use them safely and avoid the risk of fire. Remember, safety should always be your top priority when using any heating device.

Space Heaters Categories

Space heaters are devices that are designed to warm up a small area or room, typically by using electricity or a fuel source such as propane. They come in a variety of styles, sizes, and designs to suit different heating needs and preferences.

Below are the main categories:

  • Convention heaters: They are commonly used in offices and small work areas. They work by heating the air over metal coils and then circulating it throughout the room using a fan.
  • Ceramic space heaters: This is another convection heater that warms the air above a ceramic heating element. They are widely chosen by families with kids and pets due to their bodies typically remaining cool to the touch.
  • Radiator heaters: they employ the circulation of hot oil or water to heat their surroundings. These heaters are often utilized in various indoor spaces such as living rooms, bedrooms, and dens due to their ability to retain heat even after being turned off.
  • Infrared heaters: a radiant heater that utilizes infrared lights to generate heat. It is best suited for warming a single person or a limited space, such as under a desk in a chilly office.

Modern Space Heaters Provide More Safety

The good news is modern space heaters have safety mechanisms that reduce the possibility of fires.

The U.S. Department of Energy advises buying a new heater with the UL mark, which shows that its design has undergone safety testing. A business that certifies safety around the world is called UL (previously Underwriters Laboratories).

Also, they are considered good for several reasons:

  • Energy Efficiency: are designed to be more energy efficient, using less electricity to produce the same amount of heat compared to older models. This can result in lower energy bills and a more environmentally friendly option.
  • Safety Features: Many of them come equipped with safety features, such as tip-over protection, overheat protection, and automatic shut-off, to help prevent accidents and fires.
  • Improved Design: they are often more compact, lightweight, and stylish in design, making them easy to move around and blend in with the decor of a room.
  • Versatility: Some offer a range of heating options, such as oscillation, multiple heat settings, and programmable timers, making them versatile and customizable to meet different heating needs.
  • Heating Technology: The heating technology used in modern space heaters has advanced, making them more effective in heating rooms and providing better temperature control.

Overall, they are designed to be more efficient, safe, and user-friendly, making them a popular and convenient heating option for many homes and businesses.

You should also look for a heater with the following features:

  • A “tip over” switch that turns the device off if it moves from the upright position as intended
  • Overheat safeguards that turn the appliance off if its interior components get too warm
  • A thermostat that automatically turns the appliance on and off based on the ambient temperature
  • A sturdy handle that provides a secure grip
  • A low-oxygen sensor for combustion units that shuts the heater down before a room loses too much oxygen

Before using it, you should also closely examine it. Is the cord stiff or frayed? If so, it is time to treat yourself to a new one. Additionally, make sure the heater is unaffected by dents or cracks, the plug is securely fastened, and the grill is in place so that young children can’t get their hands inside.

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Photo by Alirad Zare on Unsplash


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