Space Heater Safety

By Duane Friend

Many times space heaters are used in winter to add heat to areas of the house. The following information comes from Energy.gov.

Space heater capacities generally range between 10,000 Btu and 40,000 Btu per hour, and portable units commonly run on electricity or kerosene, while fixed units may use propane or natural gas.

Although most space heaters work by convection (the circulation of air in a room), some rely on radiant heating. Radiant heaters emit infrared radiation that directly heats objects and people within their line of sight, and are a more efficient choice when you will be in a room for only a few hours and can stay within the line of sight of the heater. They can also be more efficient when you will be using a room for a short period because they save energy by directly heating the occupant of the room and the occupant’s immediate surroundings rather than the whole room.

Safety is a top consideration when using space heaters. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths. When buying and installing a small space heater, follow these guidelines:

  • Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater carries the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label.
  • Choose a thermostatically controlled heater, because they avoid the energy waste of overheating a room.
  • Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.
  • Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.
  • For liquid-fueled heaters, use only the approved fuel. Never use gasoline! Follow the manufacturer’s fueling instructions. Never fill a heater that is still hot. Do not overfill the heater — you must allow for the expansion of the liquid. Only use approved containers clearly marked for that particular fuel, and store them outdoors.

Space heaters are classified as vented and unvented or “vent-free.” Unvented combustion units are not recommended for use inside your home, because they introduce unwanted combustion products into the living space—including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and water vapor—and deplete air in the space.

Although electric space heaters avoid indoor air quality concerns, they still pose burn and fire hazards and should be used with caution.

For convection (non-radiant) space heaters, the best types incorporate a heat transfer liquid, such as oil, that is heated by the electric element. The heat transfer fluid provides some heat storage, allowing the heater to cycle less and to provide a more constant heat source.

Electric heaters should be plugged directly into the wall outlet. If an extension cord is necessary, use the shortest possible heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger. Always check and follow any manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to the use of extension cords. Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, which automatically shuts off the heater if the unit is tipped over.

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