Home & Garden

7 tips for staying safe during space heater season

Warm up with ease

Feet with multi-colored socks next to two white space heaters Credit: Getty Images / Evgen_Prozhyrko

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As cooler weather creeps close, it’s time to starting thinking about gathering the right supplies to keep warm. A convenient and cost-effective way to boost the heat in a room or even a large living area, space heaters are a route for homeowners and renters to consider.

While space heaters can keep you toasty on an especially cold day, they are not without a set of risks. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters are the leading cause of house fires.

However, by taking precautions, understanding the types of space heaters available, and following these space heater safety tips, you can use these devices to your toes’ content.

1. Know how your space heater works

Know your heater
Credit: Getty Images / Evgen_Prozhyrko

Understand how your space heater functions and be sure to reference the manufacturer's label for specific instructions.

Knowledge is power, and that goes for understanding how your space heater actually creates heat. Some of the primary types of space heaters available include mica heaters, ceramic fan-forced heaters, and oil-filled convection heaters, as well as those that use infrared technology.

Ceramic fan-forced heaters push warm air over a ceramic plate. This makes them a great candidate for warming up a particular spot or a small room, but not necessarily an entire basement. Ceramic heaters also work quickly, pumping out warm air as soon as they’re turned on. While the shell of the product itself may be safe to touch with some models, make sure to avoid touching the extremely hot grill.

A mica space heater is an energy-efficient option as it functions as part radiant–part convection heater. You can mount this near-silent beauty on the wall of your room.

If you’re looking to heat an entire room, you may want to check out oil-filled convection heaters; these work similarly to oil heaters in older homes. While they operate nice and quietly, they’re very hot to the touch on all sides and may not be the best choice if you’ve got young children.

Infrared heaters—sometimes referred to as quartz heaters—use beam heat to direct warmth, rather than creating an overall warmth to a room. Their tops and sides are usually cool to the touch. Because this heater uses infrared heat instead of moving air, it doesn’t dry out a room like other space heaters may.

Understanding how your space heater works and heats gives you an idea of the safety risks involved. So, be sure to thoroughly read any warning labels and manufacturer supplied information for the particular model.

2. Always supervise your space heaters

Experts from NFPA recommend always remaining in the room while you use a space heater there. With that said, you should avoid sleeping with a space heater on and don’t let it run when you leave the room.

Leaving a space heater unsupervised only increases the chance of creating a fire hazard that can’t be immediately stopped in its tracks.

When you’re finished using your space heater, make sure to completely turn it off and unplug it.

If your home is properly insulated, a space heater can keep a room fairly warm, even after turning it off. You may not acquire an all-day cozy heat or tropical vibe you want during a cold winter, but you’ll be much safer.

3. Safe equals space and stability

For fire safety reasons, the NFPA suggests leaving at least a 3-foot gap between a space heater and any object that can burn—like rugs, paper, or blankets.

Place a space heater on flat, solid ground or a hardwood surface so it won’t tip over or fall accidentally.

Keep a space heater faced away from any object at all. It’s safer for such an intense source of heat and it allows the space heater to heat more efficiently.

4. Keep hot-to-touch heaters away from people and pets

Credit: Getty Images / Svedoliver

Potential fires aren't the only danger involved with space heaters—the surface can cause burn injuries if not handled carefully.

NFPA’s 3-foot space rule applies to people and pets, too.

Don’t place a space heater in a high traffic area or hallway—this way, you (or the kiddos) won’t walk or run into it.

You may have a space heater that can be wall-mounted, and this is a good idea since it will keep it out of reach of pets and children. For example, you can permanently affix the De'Longhi MicaThermic Panel Heater to a wall.

You can also place a space heater on a side table or other structure that’s off the ground—as long as you ensure it isn’t flammable and that it doesn’t overheat.

We tested the Dyson Hot and Cool AM09 Heater Fan, a solid, safe-to-touch option that’s safe around children and pets because it doesn’t expose its heating elements and even doubles as a powerful cooling fan for the summer months.

5. Make sure there’s an automatic shut-off function

One of the most important features a space heater can have is an auto shut-off safety function. With this feature, space heaters can be shut off automatically if any imminent danger is detected. If the heater begins to overheat internally or tips over for some reason, the feature implements an automatic shut off to avoid any sort of fire sparking as a result.

We’ve tested plenty of space heaters at Reviewed, based on functionality and safety. Our best overall space heater, the De'Longhi MicaThermic Panel Heater, includes an automatic shut-off feature, as does the Lasko Ceramic Space Heater, rated our best value space heater, which comes with automatic overheat protection to ensure any potential fire danger is mitigated before it becomes a problem.

6. Never plug a space heater into a power strip

Credit: Getty Images /Michaelmjc

Give your cord some breathing room—don't let it bend too severely or else you may cause internal damage to the cord itself, creating a fire hazard.

When it comes to powering your space heater, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends always plugging it directly into your wall outlet, rather than using a power strip or an extension cord.

A typical space heater generates up to 1,500 watts of power, so using it with an extension cord—which cannot handle the same wattage use as a wall outlet—is a dangerous idea. This can lead to overheating that could become a fire situation.

7. Test your smoke detectors regularly

Smoke detector
Credit: Getty Images / Onurdongel

It's best practice to replace your batteries and ensure your smoke detector is working properly, especially so if you use a space heater regularly.

In your home, condo, or apartment, you should always have up-to-date, working smoke alarms. Since space heaters have an inherent risk of potential overheating and fires, it’s a good idea to make sure your home is prepared for an emergency.

Test your smoke detectors once a month to ensure the batteries still work properly.

Keep in mind that the NFPA recommends you replace your smoke detectors every 10 years, no matter the condition.

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