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How to Safely Operate a Space Heater Inside Your Home

By Caitlin Albright on January 19, 2023

We all have those drafty rooms in our homes that become increasingly uncomfortable as the temperature outside starts to dip. When you just want to heat a room while you’re using it, an electric space heater can be a safe and energy-efficient option. Just make sure to choose a proper sized heater based on the size of the room.

Space heaters work in one of two ways – either by circulating the air in the room or by emitting infrared radiation to heat things located directly in front of them. The most common and least expensive types of space heaters include mica thermic, ceramic fan-forced and infrared.

When using an electric space heater, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for operating the device. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), 1,700 residential fires are attributed to space heaters annually, resulting in more than 80 deaths and 160 injuries nationally. When used properly, electric space heaters are the safest option for indoor use because they don’t use combustible materials and don’t require venting to the outside.

Some basic rules for safe space heater use include:

  • Never leave the appliance unattended. If you need to leave the room, turn it off and unplug it.
  • Plug space heaters directly into wall outlets (preferably grounded outlets). Never plug a space heater into an extension cord or power strip.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters to prevent heat injuries or electric shock.
  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything flammable including furniture, pillows, blankets, and curtains.
  • Have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your home. This is a good rule of thumb even if you don’t own a space heater!
  • Try to buy a space heater that has tip-over protection (meaning if it accidentally gets tipped over it will automatically shut off). Some units will also automatically turn off if they start to overheat.
  • Place space heaters on the floor when operating, never on a chair, shelf or table where they can tip over more easily.
  • Keep space heaters away from water and combustible products like paint, household chemicals, propone and kerosene.
  • Make sure the heater you purchase has been safety rated by the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) and carries the UL label.

Other Kinds of Space Heaters

In addition to electric models, space heaters also come in vented and unvented versions. The Department of Energy doesn’t recommend unvented combustion space heaters for inside use because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. They may also produce other gases and vapors that can contribute to asthma, respiratory problems and mold and mildew growth.

Vented space heaters can be safely used when properly installed and are vented to the outside either through a ceiling or wall. Sealed combustion units often have a duct that draws outside air into its combustion chamber. These units are safer and more efficient because they don’t pull heated air from the room and exhaust it outdoors. Since this type of unit is less likely to backdraft, it won’t impact your indoor air quality. However, having vented space heaters professionally cleaned and inspected every year is vital to their safe operation and energy efficiency.

For more home safety and energy saving tips, sign up for NOPEC’s Energy Savings Center.

Tags: space heater, fire, safety, carbon monoxide, Energy Efficiency
Categories: Energy Efficiency

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