Space Heater Safety Tips

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Space Heater Safety
© Copyright 2013 City of Winchester, VA

The latest statistics from the National Fire Protection Association say that heating equipment is involved in a high number of reported U.S. home structure fires. Space heaters are the main culprit. Whether portable or stationary, space heaters accounted for 82% of home heating fire deaths. One of the most dangerous things you can do is put a space heater too close to things that can burn (such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses and bedding).

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Here are some good safety tips for keeping your family safe from the threat of a fire caused by space heating appliances: 

  • Keep children and pets away from supplementary heating appliances
  • If a fire occurs, evacuate and CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY
  • Never use a space heater overnight in the room where you are sleeping, space heaters should never be left unattended
  • Never use a space heater indoors unless designed and listed for indoor use
  • Never use a heaters that are designed to be vented without proper venting (chimney, flue, etc)
  • Always use the correct fuel type for the heater you are using
  • Never refuel a space heater inside the home or when the heater is still hot
  • Never use a heater that is in disrepair. Always keep your heater in proper operating condition.
  • Turn off the heater if the burner flame looks strange, i.e., yellow flames, unsteady flames, or smoky flames.
  • Turn off the heater, ventilate the room and get into the fresh air if you feel other than normal, i.e., headache, nausea, fuzzy vision--remember Carbon Monoxide does not have an odor and you may become unconscious before you realize there is a problem.
  • Place heaters at least three (3) feet away from objects such as bedding, furniture, draperies, and other combustibles
  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions in installing, operating, and maintaining your heating appliance
  • Always have a working smoke detector on all levels of your home and close to sleeping areas
  • Always have a working carbon monoxide detector on all levels of your home near the sleeping areas
Some specific safety tips based on the type of heater you are using:

Electric Space Heaters

  • Portable electric heaters are not substitutes for central heating or are they designed for extended use
  • Ensure electric heaters are properly plugged in. Do not bypass the ground prong on the power cord, ensure the cord fits snuggly into the outlet and if any problems with the power source or unit, stop using immediately and either repair or replace the heater
  • All types must be kept at least three (3) feet from anything that can burn, including furniture, bedding, clothing, pets and people
  • Space heaters must not be left operating when you are not in the room, or when you go to sleep
  • Children should be supervised at all times when space heaters are in use
  • Do not put drying clothing or combustibles over heaters
  • Check for fraying or splitting wires, or overheating. Have problems repaired by a professional before operating the space heater
  • DO NOT touch any electrical surfaces.
Kerosene Heaters
  • "Flare-up" fires are responsible for the majority of kerosene heater fires. An analysis of kerosene related accidents concluded that flare-up (uncontrolled flaming: occurs as a result of several factors, including the use of improper or contaminated fuels. That investigation concluded that one method for substantially reducing the risk of flare-up is for consumers to make sure they use only 1K kerosene as a fuel, never use gasoline or non-kerosene fuels
  • Kerosene heaters can emit air pollutants during operation. In an enclosed room, these pollutants can accumulate and prove harmful. This situation can be aggravated if the heater wick is lowered beyond the manufacturer's recommended setting. Therefore, before using a kerosene heater, people need to set the wick at the recommended height and make sure there is adequate ventilation.
  • IF YOU SMELL GAS, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LIGHT THE APPLIANCE. Turn off all controls and open a window or door and LEAVE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY and call 911
Gas Heaters (propane or natural gas)
  • Gas heating equipment can also lead to tragedy if not installed or used properly. These products are associated with the twin dangers of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning
  • All new un-vented gas-fired space heaters are equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). An ODS detects a reduced level of oxygen in the area where the heater is operating and shuts off the heater before a hazardous level of carbon monoxide accumulates. These heaters also have labels that warn users about the hazards of carbon monoxide
  • If you have an older un-vented gas fired space heater that does not have an ODS, consider replacing it with a new, ODS-equipped model
  • If the pilot light of your heater should go out, remember these tips: Allow five minutes or more for the gas to go away before trying again; Do not allow gas to accumulate; Light the match before you turn on the gas to the pilot. This avoids the risk of a flashback, which could occur if you allow gas to accumulate before you are ready to light the pilot
  • IF YOU SMELL GAS, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LIGHT THE APPLIANCE. Turn off all controls and open a window or door and LEAVE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY and call 911

If your space heater is meant to be vented, be sure the heater and flue are professionally installed according to local codes. Vent systems require regular maintenance and inspections. Vented heaters provide a thermal shut-off device if the appliance is not vented properly.

With a few precautionary steps, such as checking the furnace to ensure it is properly vented, you can reduce the chances of an accident. Read instruction manuals and take time to get acquainted with the operation of your heating unit before starting it up. Let's make this winter an especially safe heating season.

(Information provided in part courtesy of NFPA and the City of Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department© 2013)