Space Heater Safety 101: Stay Warm While Staying Safe

Using heat in your apartment during the winter might increase your utility bills, but it’s well worth spending that extra amount to stay comfortable in your apartment. But what if the heat is weak or just doesn’t work? When that’s the case, space heaters can provide powerful, localized heating, but they can be dangerous if not used with care and diligence, with more than 25,000 house fires per year attributed to improper use. Here’s a primer on space heater safety.

Buy the right space heater

The first step toward safely using a space heater is to buy the right one. This doesn’t necessarily mean purchasing the space heater with the best customer reviews – sometimes, that customer approval is a product of how inexpensive the space heater is, and as safety goes, you often get what you pay for. Instead, make sure to look for an Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label on the space heater or its packaging. This label guarantees that the space heater includes the most up-to-date safety features.

You’ll also want to make sure that the space heater you buy is of appropriate energy usage for the space you wish to heat. Most space heaters use between 10,000 and 40,000 BTU (British thermal units) of energy per hour, and the packaging should tell you the size of the rooms for which this energy level is best suited. In short, don’t use a 40,000 BTU unit to heat a room that only requires 10,000 BTU – this can overheat your unit and start a fire.

Regularly check the space heater

Finding the perfect space heater is only the beginning when it comes to safety. As with any electrically-powered device, wires and plugs can be damaged over time, so be sure to check your space heater for this wear and tear before using it – and, of course, if you see damage, don’t use the space heater.

Properly place your space heater

For objects of their size, space heaters give off immense amounts of heat. To minimize the chances of starting a fire, place your space heater at least three feet away from anything flammable, including rugs, clothes, paper, and wood. You’ll also need to place your space heater on a level, flat floor instead of a table, cabinet, carpet, or piece of furniture. If the space heater overheats these objects or tips onto them, a fire could start. On that note, you might want to buy a space heater with a built-in tip-over switch that shuts off the unit if it tips.

Power your space heater properly

If you’re using an electrically-powered space heater, don’t plug it into an extension cord or power strip. Instead, plug it directly into your wall outlet. Extension cords and power strips can overheat, whereas wall outlets are far less likely to do so, making the latter a much safer choice for your space heater.

Only use your space heater to heat rooms

Since space heaters are so powerful, it may be tempting to use them for other high-heat purposes such as drying wet clothes, thawing frozen pipes, warming linens, or cooking food. You should never use space heaters for anything other than heating rooms, as doing so poses an immense fire risk.

Power down your space heater when not in use

Never leave a space heater running unattended. Whenever you’re not using it, turn it off, then unplug it. If you plan to store it, make sure to leave it upright and let it cool down for a few hours after unplugging it. 

Concerns about leaving a space heater unattended might lead you to worry that you can’t safely use your space heater while you’re asleep. If you follow the above safety, maintenance, powering, usage, and placement instructions for your space heater, then it should be completely fine to use overnight as long as you’re in the room with it. If you’re still not reassured, keep a fire extinguisher handy or contact your landlord about another solution – some leases explicitly ban space heater use. When it comes to space heaters, you’re always better safe than sorry.

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