As temperatures begin to drop, many residents turn on a space heater to heat smaller spaces or cut down on heating costs. Failure to use a space heater safely, however, is the third leading cause of all U.S. home fires and the leading cause of home heating fire deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Taking precautions when using a space heater, particularly in smaller spaces, is vital to your and your family’s safety.

Choosing a Space Heater

When choosing a space heater, be sure to buy the newest models that include important safety features like tip-over switches, overheat sensors, touch sensors and more. Select a unit that includes a certification label by a nationally recognized testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), to ensure the heater meets safety standards. Look for a heater that suits the room size and comes with the ability to thermostatically detect when the desired heat level is reached and automatically turns off.

Avoid fuel-burning space heaters, as they produce dangerous combustion gases from burning fuel. If you must purchase one, use it only in a well-ventilated area and be sure it has a low-oxygen shut-off or oxygen depletion sensor. This safety feature detects low oxygen levels in a room and shuts off the flame. Electric space heaters are generally safer to use but be sure to follow all safety instructions outlined in the unit’s manual.

Proper Use

If you must use a space heater, use it to only heat one room and follow these general guidelines:

  • Do not purchase a heater that is too big for your heating needs. Most heaters include a general sizing table.
  • Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from all household items, especially combustible furniture, blankets, etc.
  • Use space heaters only as a supplementary source of heat. Never use one to replace your home heating system.
  • Always place the heater on a flat, level surface to ensure it cannot fall or become damaged.
  • Place the heater in a space where children and pets do not have access.
  • Plug the unit directly into a wall outlet, never an extension cord.
  • Turn off the space heater when you leave the room and at night.
  • Inspect cords to ensure they do not become heated. Damaged cords can spark fire. Never place the cord under a carpet or rug.
  • Regularly test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are functioning. These are vital to protecting your family should a fire or dangerous carbon monoxide gases be present in your home.

If you are struggling to heat your home this winter, look for local or state home energy assistance programs. These federally funded programs provide low-income households with assistance to cover home energy bills.

Frigid temperatures can tempt residents to use space heaters to help fend off winter’s chill. While space heaters can help warm small spaces, they must be used with constant precaution and should never be relied on to heat a whole home or large room.

Contact a Cole Harrison agent today to ensure your home is properly insured through every season.

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