According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters are involved in 43%of home heating fires every year. Home heating is the second leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, so that number is not insignificant. This begs the question – are space heaters dangerous?
The short answer to that question is no, but with a caveat. While space heaters are generally safe, that’s only true when they are used properly. The leading cause of space heater fires is placing the heater too close to objects that can burn – things like furniture, drapery, and clothing. Major fires can result quite easily from an ignition sparked by a space heater left unattended.
While many people opt for electrical space heaters, heaters powered by gas, kerosene, or propane are more powerful and more portable. That being said, they are unsafe for indoor use unless properly vented. These space heaters can release harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide into the air.
Space Heater Safety Tips
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t rely on space heaters as your home’s primary heating system. If your main system is broken, inadequate, or prohibitively expensive, however, they can offer a decent short-term solution. You probably won’t save much (if anything) by filling your home with space heaters, but it could be a good way to keep a space little warmer.
However you choose to use a space heater, make sure you do it properly by following the safety tips below.
Safety tips to follow when using a space heater:
- Never leave a space heater unattended. Any device that creates heat poses a fire risk and should not be left unattended, especially overnight while you’re sleeping or in a child’s room.
- Don’t use gas, kerosene, or propane space heaters indoors. While space heaters powered by burnable fuel are high-powered and cost-effective, they are not ideal for indoor use. Because they aren’t vented to the outside, like your gas or propane furnace or fireplace, they can release harmful gases into the air like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide, which can cause symptoms like headaches, coughing, sleepiness, and even death.
- Place them on a flat, non-elevated surface. While smaller space heaters may be light enough to place on a desk or dresser, it isn’t recommended. Not only can they fall off the surface and cause injuries, but they may end up too close to flammable objects.
- Establish a 3-foot kid and pet-free zone. The NFPA recommends creating a “3-foot safe zone” around the heater and NEVER placing it in a child’s room. Keep the space heater at least 3 feet away from flammable objects such as curtains, papers, clothing, furniture, pillows, bedding, etc. Also keep an eye out for any flammable items like clothing or towels that could fall on it.
- Don’t overload the circuit. Always plug your space heater directly into the wall and it should be the only thing plugged into the outlet. Manufacturers advise against plugging space heaters into surge protectors, extension cords, plug timers, GFCI outlets (the kind with the test and reset buttons), or anything that’s not a wall outlet. Those added layers of electrical connection can increase your chances of overloading the circuit, or they can create additional resistance that allows heat to build up, potentially resulting in a fire or other internal electrical damage.
- Keep it away from water. This should go without saying, but electricity and water are an even deadlier combination than orange juice and toothpaste. So, keep your space heater out of all wet locations such as kitchens or bathrooms.
- Keep It Kid-Free. This might seem like common sense, but Consumer Reports warns parents to keep their kids away from space heaters. This means you shouldn’t let them touch them at all, play with the buttons, or move them, even if you are around to supervise. Instead, it’s best to not use one if you can’t keep your kids a safe distance away. We personally don’t leave any space heater in a room or closet within reach of young kids, even if it’s unplugged—beyond the fire risk, a heater is a 15-amp appliance drawing considerable current. The heater’s plug and cord, combined with some intuitive on/off switches, pose a not-so-obvious electrical hazard to a curious toddler. Most kids learn to back away from heat, but very few would anticipate an electric shock.
- Install Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors. According to the NFPA, the best way to keep your family safe from home-heating dangers during the winter months is to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. They recommend installing interconnected smoke alarms — which will all go off at the same time — inside and outside each bedroom on every level of your home, and to test them monthly. They also advise avoiding gas and propane heaters that don’t vent to the outside, and installing carbon monoxide detectors to alert you to this danger that you can’t see or smell.
For smaller homes or short-term heating, space heaters can be a convenient and affordable option. Before you start using one, however, make sure you know how to do so safely and use the safety tips above.
What is a Space Heater?
A space heater is a stand-alone, often portable device that can be used to warm a small area. Modern space heaters are typically powered by electricity, though they can also run on burnable fuel like propane, natural gas, oil, or wood pellets. Heaters that burn fuel require some kind of permanent exhaust while electric space heaters do not – this makes electric space heaters a more portable option.
Here are some of the most common types of space heaters:
- Ceramic – These space heaters feature ceramic plates which are attached to metal coils. Electricity passes through the coils, heating the plates which then release heat into the air.
- Fan – Similar to a ceramic space heater, fan space heaters utilize metal coils that heat up and a fan blows air over the coil, pushing hot air out into the room.
- Infrared – These space heaters are powered by electricity, but they do not incorporate metal coils or ceramic plates. Instead, they emit electromagnetic waves into the air that warm physical objects in the room – it’s a process similar to how the sun heats the earth.
- Oil–Filled Space – Also known as a radiator heater, an oil-filled space heater runs on electricity but the heater itself is filled with diathermic oil. The oil heats up and circulates through a series of columns which warm up ad release heat into the air
- Propane – This type of space heater uses propane as its fuel source. They are highly portable because you’re not constrained by a power cord – they also produce high amounts of heat and are about 20% cheaper to run than an electric space heater.
- Panel – One of the newest types of space heater, panel heaters can be mounted to the wall or set on a stand. They work in a similar way to oil-filled space heaters in that heat radiates off the device, though these heaters use electrical currents rather than oil to produce heat.
Before buying a space heater, consider where and how you plan to use it. This will help you choose the right model for the space. It’s also a good idea to brush up on space heater safety. If your main heating system is broken or not heating properly, CONTACT US today so we can help.
Pro-Tech HVAC Home offers new installation, replacement, repairs and maintenance of heating and air conditioning systems in the Annapolis area. Our customers rely on us for honest and reliable service for air conditioners, heat pumps, gas furnaces, Mitsubishi systems, and more. We’re happy to answer questions, troubleshoot, and help you choose the best HVAC system for you and your family. We’re always happy to help answer your questions, so please give us a call or send us an email.