How to Use a Space Heater Safely

A space heater

Keeping warm in the coldest parts of the winter is usually a job for a furnace or other central heating system. But what about those fall and spring days when only one room is cold? Or when you’re spending time in a cottage or cabin without central heating? A space heater powered by electricity or canisters of natural gas can provide just the warmth you need. But these heating units have their own safety risks that must be considered. This winter, avoid fire risks while getting the supplemental or occasional heat you need with these space heater safety tips.

Place It on the Floor

A space heater on the floor

Many of the thousands of fires that begin each year occur because a heater tips off a raised surface and falls. A fall from any height can disable even the best tip-detection devices used to shut off the heat automatically. That means that the heat continues to run with the heater face down until the heat builds up enough to start a fire. To ensure the tip-over shutoff feature works on any space heater you purchase, operate it only on the floor or any manufacturer-produced stands or bases.

Keep Flammable Materials Away

Stacks of books

It’s an obvious tip to keep flammable materials away from a heater, but the covered elements of most electric space heaters can make it easy to overlook what’s a danger. Watch out for:

  • Hampers or racks full of clothes
  • Stacked papers and books
  • Upholstered or wood furniture
  • Curtains and bed coverings that are draping off the edges
  • Towels hung up to dry that could fall
  • Anything a pet could bump over or move on their own

Make sure there’s a clear area around the space heater of at least three feet, regardless of its type. Some gas heaters with open flames may need an even larger area of clear space. Remember the rug too. If you’re using the space heater in a carpeted room, look for an indirect heating element or consider using a fire-resistant pad over the carpet.

Stay in the Room

A woman relaxing on a couch with a space heater next to her

Never leave a space heater running, regardless of fuel type, when no one is awake and in the room with it. Space heaters aren’t for napping or sleeping, but rather only for use while you’re working or relaxing. Going into another room for a short time while the space heater runs could lead to a dangerous house fire.

Unplug Rather than Switch Off

A person unplugging a black cord

When you do leave the room and don’t need heating anymore, don’t just switch off the controls or turn down the attached thermostat. Unplug the space heater entirely for the greatest safety. Even if the space heater offers a timer feature, only use it when still in the room. Plugging in the heater only takes a few moments when you need it, and it can make a big difference in the safety of using the device.

Don’t Use Them in Bedrooms

A bedroom

If there’s one room in the house you should avoid using space heaters in, it’s the bedroom. This room has the greatest concentration of flammable materials, along with lots of opportunities for clothing or bedding to end up tossed over the heater. It’s also all too easy to fall asleep while using it when relaxing in bed. Use space heaters with the most caution in bedrooms and bathrooms as well, where splash and electrocution hazards are the major risks.

Choose Electric over Gas

A gas heater

In general, electric space heaters tend to pose less of a direct fire risk than gas heaters with open flames. Yet don’t underestimate the risk of electric heaters just because of the slight safety advantage. Any device that heats up can start a fire. You simply eliminate the risk of gas leaks and fumes by choosing an electric space heater.

Use a Solo Outlet

An outlet on a green wall

Avoid the temptation to put the space heater on a power strip or occupied outlet. While power strips may work to protect computers and other equipment, most heaters are recommended only for direct use on grounded outlets installed in the wall. Using an extension cord or power strip can increase resistance and increase the chance of overheating in the heater.

Use a space heater without worry by setting up a few spots in the home you clear for using it. Make sure to consider how the cord can become a trip hazard if the heater’s too far from an outlet. Consider trying a few different types of heaters to find the right one for your home.

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.