Although a space heater can be a convenient way to heat a small space, it poses a greater risk of causing fire than a furnace does. This is largely due to its greater susceptibility to human error – because of their portability, it is very easy to accidentally place them too close to another item that might catch fire, for example.
If you have a space heater or are considering getting one, consider the following safety precautions before using it this winter.
Some space heaters are safer than others. When shopping for one, make sure it has been tested by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories. The space heater’s design should be fully enclosed and have no external surfaces that can reach temperatures high enough to ignite. It should also have thermostat controls and an automatic shutoff feature. Avoid oil-filled radiant heaters.
Make sure you always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using the space heater. To avoid an electrical fire hazard, make sure the device is grounded with a three-prong plug, and plug it directly into the electrical outlet rather than using an extension cord, multi-outlet strip or surge protector. Place the heater so that it’s not too close to any other object and so that no one will trip over the cord when they walk by. Turn the space heater off when you leave the room and unplug it if you leave the house. Never use the space heater in the bathroom.
Even when you store the space heater, it can still be a fire hazard if you place it too close to combustibles. In fact, this is the leading cause of space heater fires.
Other considerations: Because they have such a high wattage, using a space heater may result in a blown fuse. Don’t use it at the same time any other major electrical appliance. You may also have to get permission to use a space heater from your building manager if you live in an apartment building or condo community. Finally, note that in many cases, it is actually cheaper to use a furnace as opposed to a space heater.