Space Heater Safety Tips

As a volunteer firefighter and insurance agent, I am not a huge fan of space heaters. Used improperly, there is a high likelihood of a malfunction and fire. We have banned space heaters from our office. We recommend that you do the same in both your home and office. If you do plan to use a space heater, we have compiled a list of important tips for safe use:

  • Select the Right One: When you purchase a portable heater, be sure to buy one that is rated for your need.  An electric space heater that is too large for a certain area will consume lots of energy and lead to higher utility bills. On the contrary, buying a portable gas or electric heater rated for a small space and expecting it to cover a large area will make it work harder to heat the space. Look for a portable space heater with overheat protection and fits your space.
  • Over Heat Protection: Today’s portable heater models include a variety of safety features that help take a lot of the worry out of using them. A heater equipped with a tip- or tilt-over switch will automatically shut off if it’s tipped over for any reason. This is a useful control, particularly in areas with active children or pets. Room heaters with overheat protection switches function in nearly the same manner. It uses a temperature sensor, detecting when internal components become too hot. When an unsafe temperature is detected, the switch automatically shuts off the unit to prevent overheating.
  • Safety Certifications: Portable space heaters that are listed by Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs) have been tested, proven, and certified to meet specific safety standards. The manufacturers of these heaters are also required to provide important information about the safe usage and care of their products. Some common testing laboratory certifications to look for include UL (Underwriters Laboratories), CSA (Canadian Standards Association), and ETL (Intertek Group). If your product has one of these certifications, you can be confident it’s safe to use at home using the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Plug Directly into an Outlet: As a rule of thumb, plug a portable electric heater directly into an outlet with sufficient power capacity. Attaching an extension cord to the unit increases the chance of overheating, fires, and electrical shock injuries. If an extension cord must be attached, use one that is properly rated and sized for the portable heater appliance.
  • Shut off and Unplug: Upon leaving an area, turn off the portable space heater and unplug it. Many models feature programmable timers that can be used to program automatic on and off times for when you sleep or head to work.
  • Keep away from Water: Unless it is specifically designed for use in damp spaces, refrain from running a heater in a bathroom or a humid basement. Moreover, do not touch the heater if you are wet or have wet hands, as this increases the risk of electrical shock.