The weather outside may be frightful, and if you don’t have a delightful fire to turn to, you may be tempted to break out the space heater this winter. And while staying warm and cozy this season is a must, improperly-used space heaters pose serious risks to your home and loved ones.
“We get fires from space heaters every year,” said Harrison County Fire Marshal Pat Sullivan. “This is nothing new, but maybe people forget or get complacent.”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths, according to the Department of Energy. So how can you stay safe with space heaters?
“If you buy a space heater, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations,” said Gulfport Fire Chief Michael Beyerstedt. “It seems simple, but a lot of people don’t follow them.
“If you are using a kerosene space heater, make sure you use the right fuel,” he said. “We have people that will used gasoline instead of kerosene, and that could cause an explosion.”
Biloxi Assistant Fire Chief Mark Dronep also suggested keeping a space heater on a stable platform to prevent it from falling over.
“Never leave it unattended, and keep it at least three feet away from all combustibles,” Dronep added. Combustibles include things like furniture, drapery, clothes, books or even newspapers.
One of the most important safety tips Dronep mentioned was to plug the space heater directly into an outlet, not an extension cord or power strip.
“Because of the heating element in the space heater, it draws a huge amount of electricity that will actually heat the wires in an extension cord,” he said. “If you were to plug in a space heater to an extension cord and turn it on, after a few minutes you would be able to feel the heat coming from the extension cord.”
Even plugging the space heater into a surge protector, which is different than a power strip in that it is meant to protect electronic devices from any power spikes, won’t help.
“It will only take a few minutes for a space heater to trip a surge protector, and it is telling you something by shutting off like that,” Dronep said. “To be safe, just plug it into an outlet.”
Even plugged into a wall outlet, the cord on a space heater will still heat up, so Dronep also advises keeping the cord uncovered to prevent any possible fires.
“Also, when going out to buy a space heater, try to find one that will automatically shut off when tipped over,” he added.
“When pulling out space heaters you’ve had in storage for the past few months, clean off the dust that it has been gathering. When you first turn it on, it will blow out that dust that has become heated, and that could also pose some risks. Just take a vaccuum to the device or wipe that dust off.”
Sullivan said keeping things off of the space heater, whether something falling on it or actually clearing up space around it before turning it on, will help to prevent any possible fires.
Another tip from Chief Beyerstedt: Be aware of Christmas decorations, given the time of year.
“I mentioned keeping space heaters away from combustibles, but there is so much more of that around the house with added Christmas decorations,” he said. “A lot of Christmas decorations are highly flammable, especially if you have a real Christmas tree that begins drying out as days pass.”
For some help in buying a space heater, check out some advice from Consumer Reports.