As people brace for the cold snap after the busy holidays, firefighters and other officials have warned homeowners about the potential dangers of space heaters, which many turn to for added warmth and comfort. Even staying warm, after all, can come with unforeseen hazards.
Forty percent of home heating fires emerge from space heaters, which could wildly differ in quality and performance. Consumer Reports tested a number of popular models and measured surface temperature to track how hot it is to touch.
Safe Space Heating Tips
"In most cases the heaters are pretty cool but if you do have pets or children stay away from heaters with metal surfaces and large areas that are easy to contact," said Peter Sawchuck of Consumer Reports, as quoted in a report.
A separate test evaluated what happens if a flammable object touches the space heater, prompting Sawchuck to advise keeping the unit at least 3 feet away from those combustible items — and never using an extension cord.
New Jersey fire bureau chief Tim McConnell echoed the recommendation to plug the space heater directly into an outlet and to avoid using any cord, especially if it is frayed in any way. He urges users to make sure, too, that the heater carries a label from a certified testing lab such as United Laboratories.
The Mississippi state fire marshal also emphasized safe home heating as temperatures drop over the next few days in many cities.
“Having working smoke alarms in your home is literally the difference between life and death,” said Mike Chaney, adding that space heaters pose a much greater risk of fire, injury, and death than central heating.
“Adding a stove to heat a home is extremely dangerous,” he warned further.
Here are some more safe heating tips:
• Maintain a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around space heaters and open fires. Supervise children when these heating methods are being used.
• Keep heaters at least 3 feet away from items like furniture, paper, and bedding to give them the space they need.
• Never use ovens for heating.
• Install heating equipment according to local codes and instructions from manufacturers. Have a qualified professional perform the installation.
• Ensure that fuel-burning vented equipment is vented to the outside in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, as CO is produced when fuel burns incompletely. This form of poisoning could lead to death.
• Keep carbon monoxide alarms around.
Power-Saving Techniques To Consider
Note that not all bigger space heaters will provide more heat than their smaller counterparts. Homeowners may use a fan, particularly an oscillating one, to spread the heat and warm up their room faster. A ceiling fan on in reverse will help because hot air rises, and the fan unit will direct warmth back down.
To further save on power, one should look for drafts, which are where cold air will come in and should therefore be kept under control. Experts also recommended shutting blinds and drapes, as well as investing in a programmable thermostat for further power efficiency.
Mostly bearing the brunt of the cold weather are the homeless who consider the streets their home. The call is for them to proceed to shelters instead of climbing into empty buildings and dwellings.
"The fires that we have in vacant, blighted buildings are always a concern,” explained McConnell, saying they account for a quarter of actual structure fires.