Renewed caution for space heater use

Ahead of upcoming cold temperatures this weekend
Ahead of colder temperatures returning this weekend
Published: Nov. 8, 2022 at 5:56 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2022 at 5:58 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - With colder temperatures in the forecast for the coming weekend, some homeowners may bring out their space heaters as an additional source for heat. With that possibility, homeowners need to be aware of the risks of improperly using space heaters.

According to the United States Fire Administration, an estimated average of 1,100 portable heater fires in homes & other dwellings were reported to fire departments each year between 2017 & 2019. Battlefield Fire Protection District Division Chief Shane Anderson has other eye opening statistics from that report.

“Those fires each year resulted in 65 deaths, about 150 injuries and an estimated $51 million in damages,” says Anderson. “The 1,100 fires that have occurred because of space heaters between 2017 and 2019... About 48% of those occurred because of combustibles being too close to the space heater.”

In addition, the study from the USFA says that 34% of those fires started in the bedroom with 16% of those fires first igniting bedding like sheets, blankets and comforters.

To minimize the risks of space heaters catching fire, Anderson has tips that he says could have been used in a lot of those reported fires in that referenced study.

“You’ll want to make sure that it’s plugged directly into the wall and not into an extension cord,” Anderson states. It’s an important tip because many power strips and extension cords aren’t designed to handle the amount of power the space heater can draw. With that in mind, it’s best to have the space heater plugged directly into the wall and preferably the only thing plugged into a specific outlet.

In terms of avoiding combustible materials, Anderson has another simple tip. “Make sure you have your space heater in an open area at least 3 feet away from any combustible source,” Anderson says. “If you’re going to use it on the ground, you’ll want to make sure it’s on a firm surface that isn’t combustible.” With heaters radiating heat in all directions, that surface shouldn’t be combustible like carpeting.

For homeowners looking to replace their old space heater with a new one, Anderson stresses that the heater should look for products that have a UL, ETL or CSA International certification. Any one of these third-party certifications means the product was laboratory tested and will safely perform its job. Plus, new heaters should have safety features like a thermostat, a tip-over switch and a smart sensor to turn off the heater if it either overheats or tips over.

Additional safety tips from the USFA regarding kerosene heaters and heating safety in general can be found here and here.

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