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How to safely use an electric space heater

Posted on: December 16, 2010

There is an old saying that goes, “Build a man a fire and he will be warm for a few minutes. Light a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life.” The same principle applies to using an electric space heater! Having an electric space heater by your feet is a great way to stay comfortable in the winter without cranking up your home’s thermostat. However, the same electric space heater can pose severe fire risks if it not operated carefully. The NFPA estimates that electric space heaters are responsible for approximately 20,000 residential fires every year, almost all of which could be avoided if proper safety measures had been taken.

Electric Space Heater Safety Tips

If you use an electric space heater in the winter, follow these safety tips to keep yourself warm, cozy and, most importantly, safe:

  • Only use electric space heaters that have received the Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) seal of approval – Antique, poorly wired or homemade space heaters are generally not considered safe for use and can start a fire without warning. Check your electric space heater’s cords regularly for flaws or insulation breaks as these can spark and cause a sudden fire as well.
  • Keep any flammable objects, especially drapes, at least three feet away from the space heater – Placing any combustible items close to your space heater can cause them to burst into flames. Remember to never drop items like socks or gloves on your space heater.
  • Never plug your space heater in using an extension cord (unless it is a winter emergency and you are using a generator) – Extension cords readily overheat and can ignite with the excessive wattage necessary to power an electric space heater. If you are using a generator, make sure the extension cord is a heavy gauge cord, is not tightly coiled and, most importantly, is never left unattended.
  • Do not plug your electric space heater into an outlet that already has multiple plugs being used – Since electric space heaters require high wattage,  plugging an electric space heater into an overloaded outlet will almost always result in either an overload that shuts off the circuit breaker or a full on electrical fire.
  • NEVER leave an electric space heater unattended – In addition to malfunctions that can occur when you are not around, unsupervised children and pets may accidentally knock over an electric space heater and cause flammable materials to catch on fire. Turn off your electric space heater every time you leave the room and before you go to sleep at night to prevent anything from happening while you are away or asleep.

Electric space heaters are a great way to get warm quickly while you wait for your home’s heating system to kick in – just make sure you take special care to make sure your space heater operates safely. If you want more winter heating tips, or if you want to have your Maryland or Washington, DC home’s heating system serviced, call your local heating experts at James A. Wheat & Sons today!