In order to save money in the colder months, many people opt to use a space heater to heat one room rather than heat the entire structure. Regardless of your plan, it is important to be cautious. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that nearly 18,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of room (space) heaters.*
Space Heater Selection
Before purchasing a space heater, it is important to consider how it will be used. Will it be used for supplemental heat in colder rooms or other areas, or will it be used for emergency heat? As a general rule of thumb, electric space heaters are typically safer than portable fuel-burning models (e.g. natural gas, propane, kerosene.)
Remember to choose a unit that is listed or labeled by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as UL (Underwriters Laboratories), CSA (Canadian Standards Association) or ETL (Intertek). This will ensure that the heater’s construction and performance meet voluntary safety standards.
Also, look for specific safety features that will shut the unit off under certain conditions. These can include:
- Low oxygen levels (aka oxygen depletion sensor)
- Tip-over switch
- Touch sensor (if the grill is touched)
Setup and Use
When setting up a space heater, remember to keep it at least 36 inches from any flammable or combustible materials and place it on the floor, unless it is designed otherwise.
Areas where space heaters are used should be free of flammable liquids. Do not put them on easily ignitable or combustible surfaces, such as rugs or carpets, or use them to dry wet clothing.
When using a fuel-fired space heater in an enclosed area, it is a good idea to leave a window or door partially open to allow for fresh air to enter. This will help prevent carbon monoxide (CO) buildup or a depletion of oxygen. Never take a gas-fired or kerosene heater into a confined space as the results could be deadly.
All unvented fuel-fired heaters manufactured after 1983 should be equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). The ODS will shut off a heater if it detects a reduced level of oxygen in the area where the heater is being used.
For natural gas or propane-fired space heaters, remember the following safety tips:
- If you smell gas, do not attempt to light the space heater. Turn off all controls, open a window or door and leave the area.
- Remember that, unlike natural gas, propane is heavier than air and does not dissipate rapidly. If you smell gas, do not touch any electrical switches or use an electrical appliance, radio or telephone in the area you smell gas. Do not smoke. A spark could ignite the gas.
Electric heaters should be kept out of wet or moist places like bathrooms as water could lead to a fire or shock hazard. Also, be sure to plug electric space heaters directly into an outlet since using extension cords could result in overheating and fire.
Be sure to clean your space heater regularly, and follow your manufacturer’s guide for specific advice on maintenance and inspection.