With the cost of heating continually on the rise, many consumers are investing in portable heaters to help lower their energy bills. But while portable heaters can be both efficient and economical, they also introduce a number of important safety concerns that we cannot afford to overlook.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 25,000 residential fires, 300 deaths, and 6,000 burn injuries every year are associated with the use of portable space heaters. While you can achieve substantial energy cost-savings by running a portable heater in frequently used rooms throughout the day and limiting your use of a central heating system, this activity increases the risk of dangerous indoor pollutants, fires, and burn injuries. Home and fire safety experts agree that consumers need to build awareness of safe practices when using these appliances.
To help you choose a portable heater wisely and use it safely during the upcoming winter season, we offer these nine tips for space heater safety:
- Select the right size heater for the right size space. When you purchase a portable heater, be sure to buy one that is rated for the approximate square-footage of the room or space you plan to use it in. A portable gas heater that is too large for a particular space, for example, might exhaust an excessive amount of unhealthy air pollutants. An electric space heater that is too large for a certain area will consume lots of energy and lead to higher utility bills. On the contrary, buying a portable gas or electric heater rated for a small space and expecting it to cover a large area increases the risk that the unit will overheat. It will have to work harder to heat the space. Look for a heater's square footage rating listed in its product specifications.
- Opt for heaters with tip-over and overheat protection. Today's portable heater models include a variety of safety features that help take some of the worry out of operation. A heater equipped with a tip-over switch will automatically shut off if it is tipped over accidentally. This is a useful control to have in any scenario, but it is highly valuable if the heater is used in areas frequented by active children or pets. Portable heaters with overheat protection switches function in nearly the same manner. This switch acts as a temperature sensor, detecting when a heater's internal components become too hot. When an unsafe temperature is detected, the switch automatically shuts off the unit to prevent overheating. Many Soleus Air heaters and Sunpentown heaters include tip-over and overheat safety controls as standard features.
- Shop for a heater with a safety certification. Portable space heaters that are listed by Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs) have been tested, proven, and certified to meet specific safety standards. The manufacturers of these heaters are also required to provide consumers with important information about the safe usage and care of the units. Some common testing laboratory certifications to look for include UL (Underwriters Laboratories), CSA (Canadian Standards Association), ETL (Intertek Group), and AGA (American Gas Association). These certifications may not always be listed in product materials, so it's a good idea to ask about any safety listings the product has received.
- Use portable gas heaters only with proper ventilation. Portable gas heaters should only be used in areas with ample ventilation. These units, which heat by burning kerosene, natural gas, butane, or propane, can produce dangerous and unhealthy amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and water vapor if not vented properly. Vented units are designed to be placed next to an outside wall, with a flue gas vent installed to exhaust gaseous fumes outside. Consumers should generally avoid using unvented portable gas heaters indoors.
- Give heaters their space. Position a portable space heater at least 3 ft. away from furniture, window treatments, bedding, clothing, rugs, and other combustibles. These items could easily catch fire if they come into contact with a unit's electric heating element, open flame, or too-hot surface. Never sit or drape anything on top of a portable heater. In addition, be sure that the heater is placed on a hard, level surface that is non-flammable.
- Plug the heater directly into an outlet. As a rule of thumb, plug a portable electric heater directly into an outlet with sufficient power capacity. Attaching an extension cord to the unit increases the chance of overheating, fires, and electrical shock injuries. If an extension cord must be attached, use one that is properly rated and sized for the portable heater appliance.
- Inspect and clean the heater regularly. Both portable gas and electric heaters should be inspected on an annual basis and cleaned frequently to ensure that they are in safe working condition. Seek out a qualified worker to perform any repairs. Never use a defective heater.
- Shut off and unplug the heater when leaving it unattended. Upon leaving an area, turn off the portable space heater and unplug it. Do this when you go to sleep as well, but make sure you have an adequate and safe heating alternative if need be. Many Vornado heaters feature programmable timers that can be used to program automatic on and off times.
- Keep the heater away from water and out of damp locations. Unless it is specifically designed for use in damp spaces, refrain from running a heater in a bathroom or a humid basement. Moreover, do not touch the heater if you are wet or have wet hands, as this increases the risk of electrical shock. Some DeLonghi heaters, including the DeLonghi TRN0812T Oil-Filled Radiator Heater, feature GFI plugs that makes them safe for use in bathrooms.
Educating yourself about the safety hazards that come with the improper use of portable heaters will help you achieve better peace of mind as you keep your home warm, comfortable, and fire hazard-free this winter.
Still Have Questions?
For more information on specific heaters and other indoor air treatment solutions, review our extensive product listings and other educational materials. Not sure what's best for you? We can take the guesswork out of decision-making. Contact our product experts toll free at 1-800-934-9194. We want to help you make your indoor environment a healthy and comfortable one.