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Friday, November 1, 2019

Space Heater Safety tips

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy flickr
Those of you who live in Florida wouldn’t know that it’s nearly November with temperatures still in the upper 80's, but a quick look at just informed me that within the next few days the cooler weather will finally arrive in the Sunshine State.  You can expect daytime highs in the 60's & 70’s, with nighttime temperatures falling into the fifties.  That means many of us will be cranking up our heating system and/or space heaters to keep us comfy at night.  Especially when it comes to using either gas-fired or electric space heaters, comfort comes at a price if you aren’t careful about their safe operation.  Below are some safety tips to help you stay safe and warm this fall and winter.

1.      Jack Frost won’t be the only thing nipping at your toes if you aren’t careful. – One of the prime causes of house fires during the fall and winter are space heaters. Whether the model you own is fired by propane or kerosene, or it comes equipped with an electric coil that glows bright red when it’s turned on, all three can all too easily spawn a fire if they fall over or are placed too close to anything flammable.  The minimum safe distance for any radiant space heater is at least 3-feet away.  You also need to make sure that you don’t place one in front of drapes or beneath curtains since all it would take to set them ablaze is an errant spark.  The other potential danger is to you and your family, since anyone who brushes against a radiant heater can get burned or have their clothing catch fire.

2.      Want to hear something shocking? – When it comes to electric space heaters, a prime danger is causing an electrical overload that can spawn a fire.  Rule number one when it comes to electric heaters is to never plug one into a power strip or an extension cord.  Due to the high electrical demand used by these heaters (as much as 2,000 watts), the only safe place to plug these devices in is at the outlet.  Plug one into an extension cord or a power strip and you risk an overload that could cause either to short out and burn.  Even if you plug an electric space heater into the wall socket, if it should cause your breaker to pop, don’t reset the breaker until after you have unplugged the heater.  This is a sure sign that the heater is drawing more power than your home can safely provide or has a short.

Image courtesy flickr
3.      Use caution when refueling gas-fed heaters.  – Another safety hazard that many people ignore to their own peril is when it comes to refueling gas heaters.  More fires have been started by people being careless with kerosene or failing to follow the guidelines when swapping out propane canisters.  Rule #1: Never fuel a hot heater.  Just because the heater has been turned off doesn’t mean it can’t start a fire.  The unit itself is still red hot for up to 15-minutes after it’s shut down.  Rule #2: When using kerosene, make sure none drips down on the unit or you could spark a blaze the moment you relight it.  When it comes to propane, make darned sure the connection between the tank and the heater is completely sealed and the hose is not worn.  If any gas should escape, you could cause the heater to explode when it’s relit.

4.      What about oil-filled radiators? – While portable radiators don’t involve any exposed flame or radiant heating element, they still get quite hot.  This means you need to instruct any children in the home to be careful, so they don’t accidentally burn themselves or knock the unit over.  A radiator is quite capable of producing first and second-degree burns.

5.      Considerations when choosing a space heater – Aside from the price, there are several other considerations you should take into account when selecting a space heater for your home.  One is the size of the room.  Since the first requirement for a space heater is to determine the amount of space in which it is to be deployed, you need to measure the room to determine the proper coverage.  The generally accepted rule of thumb is to assign 10 watts of power for every square foot of space.  That means a 10x10 room requires 1,000 watts of heating power.  But power shouldn’t be the only determining factor.  When it comes to electric space heaters, energy efficiency should also be at the top of the list unless you like paying your utility company.  While it might cost a few dollars more to procure a more energy efficient model, it will more than make up the difference over the long haul.

Image courtesy flickr
6.      Safety comes first. – Another thing that many bargain basement electric and gas heaters lack are safety features that could save your home and your family.  Added extras like cool-to-the touch surfaces and automatic shutoff while adding a few dollars to the cost, can add up big time when it comes to safety.  So too can sensors that shut off a unit if it overheats or tips over.  If you decide to opt for an indoor propane model, make sure it’s the kind designed to be used indoors.  Even then, you need to read and follow the instructions for proper installation and use.  If a propane heater is installed inappropriately or malfunctions, there’s a good chance it could release carbon monoxide into your home.   Additionally, an indoor propane heater should never be mounted on a wooden surface and the propane tank needs to be kept outdoors.

7.      Take care with kerosene heaters. – While kerosene heaters have been around a long time and can heat a large area, there are still some issues you need to be aware.  In the first place, you should never store kerosene indoors and you need to make sure any room in which you employ a kerosene heater is well ventilated.  It also helps to purchase the best grade of kerosene available for use in indoor space heaters, since they emit fewer pollutants.  Above all when it comes to storing kerosene, never put it in a container that previously held gasoline or any other kind of fuel and never, ever try to move a lit kerosene heater.

8.      If you purchase a forced-air model equipped with a fan, where do you plan on locating it?  The reason I ask is if you plan on keeping it in your bedroom, make sure you test the unit out before you buy it to find out how loud the fan is.  If not, you could find yourself unable to sleep once you get your purchase home.  Some people find even the quieter forced-air models to be inappropriate for the bedroom.  If you’re a light sleeper, consider purchasing a baseboard heater or oil-filled radiator for use in the bedroom. 

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at

1 comment:

  1. Fireplaces can also be a hazard if you aren't careful. Chimney fires are pretty common.


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