February 18, 2016

Here’s why space heaters are dangerous and what you can do to stay safe in your home.

Much of the U.S. is feeling below-freezing temperatures and even the South is experiencing a hard winter. With the wintery weather conditions, more people are staying inside where it’s warm.

I reside in an older home that was built in the late 1950s with crawl spaces and other places that the cold air can easily slip through if I do not prepare properly. I am a cold-natured person so I have thought about sources of heat that would quickly heat my home and chase away the chill.

Electric space heaters can be a handy way to warm up a room without turning up the heat for your whole house. Yet, we see many imposed dangers when families resort to this type of quick heating source without taking precautions.

Are Space Heaters Safe?

The biggest threat associated with space heaters is fire. In fact, each year space heaters are responsible for about 55,000 fires, 450 deaths, and more than 1,500 injuries. However, there are a number of other ways that space heaters can lead to accidents and injuries:

  • Like any electrical device, they pose a shock hazard.
  • Space heaters use a lot of electricity. They can easily overload circuits, causing a power failure or fire.
  • Some parts of the heater can become really hot. Children and pets are especially vulnerable to getting burned, but adults can also accidentally brush up against the hot surface. It’s also possible for clothes to catch on fire.
  • Some space heaters, especially taller ones, can tip over, posing a fire hazard.

Space heater safety tips

If you’re going to use a space heater, there are a few things you can do to make sure it’s as safe as possible:

  • Never leave pets and young children alone in a room with a space heater.
  • Buy a space heater that has a guard around the heating element. This will help keep kids and pets safe from burns.
  • Choose one that’s tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Not only do they meet certain safety standards, but manufacturers also have to provide use and care information to consumers.
  • Never leave a space heater turned on when you leave the house or go to sleep. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can form if you’re using a fuel-fired heater, and a fire can start if you’re using an electric model.
  • Don’t run several appliances at the same time if you’re using a space heater. In addition, don’t use extension cords with them. This will help avoid a circuit overload.
  • Check your heaters regularly – look for frayed wires and remove dust accumulation on grates, grills, coils and other elements of the heater. All of these are fire hazards.
  • To help prevent shocks, avoid using space heaters in rooms where spills and moisture build-ups are likely, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
  • If you have an older model, consider getting a newer one that most likely has improved safety features.
  • Be sure to guard against carbon monoxide poisoning by installing carbon monoxide alarms in your home. Make sure that your CO alarm batteries are fresh and working.

For more information

National Fire Protection Association’s Safety Information: Heating

This post was written by Emily Riley, a former injury prevention program coordinator at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital with a background in adolescent health and development.