With the winter months upon us, make sure you've taken steps to avoid space heater hazards that can leave you and your loved ones out in the cold.
Space heaters are a common supplement to centralized heat in many homes. But while the extra heat in a drafty room may be cozy, the source may not be as safe as it seems. According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heater hazards accounted for an average of 40% of house fires between 2009 and 2013, with a staggering 84% of civilian deaths attributed to the seemingly handy units.
Looking at those numbers alone, one could argue that space heaters, in general, aren't the safest way to heat your home. However, the cost and convenience tend to attract people away from installing or replacing expensive centralized units, despite the safety concerns of portable units. With that in mind, it's important to protect yourself and your family by understanding and taking steps to minimize space heater hazards that can lead to tragedy.
The Risks of Portable Space Heaters
Why are space heater hazards a greater risk than centralized and other heating unit hazards? There are a few reasons:
- First, space heaters frequently have exposed heating sources, like tungsten coils, that heat up to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. While centralized and stationary heaters do the same, the heating sources are almost always contained, making it less likely that the heat emitted from the unit will cause something nearby to catch fire.
- Second, space heaters are usually portable, which means they can easily be moved. Especially if you have children or pets around the house, this portability increases the likelihood of something knocking it over, which could result in a dangerous fire.
Space heater hazards also include the type and amount of energy the unit uses to create the heat. Typical electrical units, for example, draw 1,500 watts of electricity. A microwave, by comparison, usually uses 1,200 watts. But the microwave only runs for a few isolated minutes a day. Space heaters run continuously, sometimes for twenty-four hours (though this isn't recommended). Such lengthy use puts a strain on electrical hardware, like cords, outlets, and wires, and can lead to electrical fires (not to mention the toll it takes on your electric bill).
Gas units also pose problems because the burning fuel emits carbon monoxide, which can be deadly if it gets trapped in an unventilated part of your home. Gas units are also more likely to cause fires if they are knocked over because the gas can leak and ignite outside of the unit.
Common Space Heater Hazards
Despite the risks involved, sometimes you can't help but use a space heater. For those circumstances, it's important to know about different space heater hazards, how to identify them, and how to handle them.
1. Operating too close to flammable material
This is one of the most common dangers and also one of the most avoidable. Keep at least three feet (36 inches) of space around your space heater when in use or when hot. Doing so drastically reduces the risk of a fire.
2. Running your heater continuously
Continuously using a space heater draws heavily on electrical hardware or fuel. Minimize your usage by setting a timer or purchasing a space heater with a built-in thermostat to turn itself off when the room reaches a certain temperature.
3. Using the wrong size
A space heater that's too small will work harder to heat the room, which means drawing more on electrical or fuel resources and increasing the fire risk. Likewise, a space heater that's too large can overheat a room and cause combustion even when given a three-foot radius of space. Make sure your space heater is the right size for the room you're trying to heat.
4. Ignoring bad or broken cords
Electrical cords are major space heater hazards if used improperly. Broken or frayed cords, power strips, and extension cords can lead to electrical fires. If you absolutely need to extend the distance your space heater can reach, consult a licensed electrician to find out how to do it safely.
5. Poor placement
Slips, trips, and falls don't just happen in the work place. If your space heater is positioned in an area of heavy foot traffic or if you have pets or children, there is a high likelihood of someone running into the heater by accident. That alone can cause burns to the victim, but the contact could also cause the space heater to fall over, increasing the risk of fire. If you live in tight quarters, invest in a unit that has auto-shutoff when it tips.
6. Running a heater in humid environments
Bathrooms are a favorite place to run space heaters, but the moisture within can create pretty significant space heater hazards. Even if your hands are dry, a wet heater may result in an electrical accident. Try not to use space heaters in bathrooms at all, but if you have to, make sure to use insulated rubber gloves to make any adjustments, especially if someone's just taken a bath or shower.
7. Neglecting maintenance
Finally, inspect your space heater often to make sure it's working properly. If it begins to make strange noises, get too hot, or doesn't get hot enough, it's time for service or replacement. Don't ignore the signs of a failing space heater; doing so could cost you a lot more than investing in a centralized unit.
Is your home protected in the case of a space heater accident? Contact a Pekin Insurance professional to make sure you've got the coverage you need.