Portable and simple to use, space heaters have become one of the top choices for warming up a home or occupied building during the frigid cold season that afflicts both the northern and southern hemispheres of the world.
With most countries relying on some form of heating to keep their citizens warm and cozy during a particularly nasty blizzard or even snowstorm, space heaters have become highly ubiquitous in providing heat in enclosed spaces or even outdoor areas.
Variable designs, models, shapes and sizes have also made space heaters highly sought after based on an individual’s personal preference for choosing a specific device to stay warm.
Space heaters generally come in three major categories: convective, radiant and a combination between the two aforementioned types.
Each type is unique in the way it both generates and delivers heat, although its key purpose remains the same.
Most heaters operate between a range of 600 to 1500 Watts (W) in terms of power.
Larger units can even consume up to a whopping 6000W, but a space heater of this size and strength is often used to heat up larger areas such as halls, stables or barns.
The larger consumption of power by a space heater puts it at greater risk of overheating, however, and even catching on fire.
To date, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has indicated that most house fires in the United States are due to some form of heating device, the leading perpetrator being space heaters.
Statistics have depicted that easily 43% of house fires in the US and 85% of fatalities in house fires are related to space heaters.
In 2014 alone, an estimated $1.3 billion worth of damages in property has been attributed to space heater-related fires in various homes and buildings.
This clearly shows that space heaters can pose as a severe fire hazard, especially if operated unsafely or used, installed or maintained incorrectly.
What Causes Space Heater Fires?
Human error seems to be the resounding factor in most space heater fires.
The tendency for people to misuse their space heater or set it up incorrectly, or even fail to perform regular maintenance on their heating unit is simply the top of a very large iceberg of factors that outline the flaws in space heater usage.
In some cases, people simply choose to be ignorant of the technical flaws in their own device and attempt to solve the problem themselves without the proper guidance or experience to do so.
These half-baked attempts to provide a ‘quick fix’ to their space heater often elevates the risk of their device turning into a fire hazard, and subsequently endangering the lives of everyone nearby.
Although this is unintentional in most circumstances, it is always advisable that you follow proper safety measures when operating your space heater.
How Can You Prevent Your Space Heater from Turning into a Fire Hazard?
Preventing a fire is always better than tackling one head on.
In the case of space heaters, which are liable to overheating or damage if used or installed correctly, you might want to consider these safety measures and employ them in place to prevent them from becoming a fire hazard at any given point of time:
1. Check The Power Cord And Power Supply
The first thing you need to take note of is the power supply that feeds your space heater – in this case, the electrical socket.
Look out for any signs of charring or damage to the socket – if you spot even the slightest discoloration, avoid plugging in your space heater into the socket because it most likely has a technical fault and can turn your device into both a shock and fire hazard.
Look at your power cord or any wiring that stems from your space heater and take note of any signs of damage or breakage at the rubber casing wrapped around the cord.
Also, be wary of any signs of fraying at the cord, and do not touch any exposed wires without protective rubber gloves, especially if your heater is plugged into an electrical socket and is switched on.
Avoid using extension strips when you are using a space heater.
The average space heater consumes 1500W of power and requires 120V of electricity to run, although this specification varies from the heater to heater.
When you plug a space heater into an extension strip, you will overload the strip, especially when you also use it to plug in other electrical devices such as your cell phone, printer or even laptop.
Each one of these devices adds to the overall payload of electricity required for a specific device in the strip to run.
Since space heaters consume the most power, it will add a significant portion to the electrical load and will overload the extension strip, which can result in a short-circuit, or worse, a fire – especially if your extension strip does not come equipped with a surge protector.
Therefore, it is highly recommended that you plug your space heater directly into an electrical socket whenever you wish to use it to warm up your room.
2. Purchase A Space Heater With An Auto Shut-Off Feature
Most modern space heaters come equipped with an automatic shut-off feature that activates itself whenever the device malfunctions or overheats.
Click here to check best space heaters with safety features.
In this case, the thermostat located inside your space heater will detect any abnormalities that affect the optimal function of your device and will alert the built-in sensors that come with your unit.
These sensors will then initiate a series of shut-down processes to preserve the internal mechanisms of your space heater from further damage.
A space heater that does not have this safety feature is a major liability when faced with an internal fault or even a circumstance which causes the device to overheat uncontrollably.
A space heater that is incapable of shutting off itself will not only damage its internal components irreparably but may also explode or catch on fire.
In order to avoid this possibility from turning into an eventuality, select a space heater that comes with an automatic shut-off safety feature.
Even if the price for a competing, old-fashioned heater that does not have this feature tempts your wallet, hold firm and choose a more modern space heater with the appropriate safety functions.
3. Purchase A Space Heater With A Non-Tip-Over Function
When you first hit the stores in search of the perfect space heater that will suit the needs of your home and family, always opt for a model that has a lower center of gravity.
Avoid space heaters with tall or slim-designs because they might tip over easily and also have a higher center of gravity.
Always favor function and purpose rather than beauty and aesthetics when it boils down to choosing a space heater.
Some devices come with an anti-tip-over function that prevents the space heater from tipping over, even if it is accidentally knocked into or placed on an unlevel surface.
Make a habit of enquiring the specifications and safety features of your space heater too.
Make sure the unit you have selected carries the approval stamp or sticker by United Laboratories (UL) with Quality Control (QC) approval.
This lessens the chances of you purchasing a defective product by accident.
A space heater that has not to meet any form of QC approval by the UL may be subject to some sort of internal flaws which will be undetected during your moment of purchase.
This poses as a giant risk since there is no telling when the space heater might malfunction, or if it will burst into a fiery conflagration of plastic and metal if it does.
4. Use The Correct Fuel For Your Space Heater
Some space heaters require a fuel source such as kerosene to operate.
In this case, the fuel source must be pure and not be mixed with any other types of fuel such as gasoline or diluted with water or thinner.
A kerosene-based space heater requires grade 1-K kerosene to run as smoothly as possible.
By contaminating your fuel source, you not only reduce the amount of heat produced by your space heater, but you run the risk of having the fuel combust uncontrollably when the device is turned on, and having your entire heater covered in flames.
Although gasoline is another possible fuel source for a kerosene-based space heater, this type of heater runs exclusively on kerosene only.
You must also avoid sharing the same storage can or container for your gasoline with the kerosene you intend to use for your space heater.
Gasoline particles tend to adhere to the internal surfaces of cans and containers, even after they have been washed out thoroughly with plenty of soap and water.
These lingering particles will then mix with any kerosene you store in the same can or container, and corrupt its purity.
Likewise, diluting the kerosene in an effort to preserve the fluid and make it last longer is also highly inadvisable.
Thinning kerosene with water or even thinner will result in partial combustion, and in some cases, the kerosene-mix might spray out of the heater uncontrollably and catch on fire once the device produces enough heat to start a flame.
Always source out your kerosene from established dealerships and reputable stores.
Avoid using leftover kerosene passed on by other people or even buying them second-hand from middlemen or over the internet. This is to avoid the chances of attaining and using impure kerosene to fuel your space heater.
5. Refuel Your Space Heater Outside Your Home
Whenever the need to refuel your space heater rises, do it outside your home or in an area with proper ventilation with no flammable objects in close proximity.
Always handle the fuel source using protected gear such as thick rubber gloves, and even don on a face mask so that you will not accidentally inhale the vapors that are emitted from the fuel during the refueling process.
Some fuel sources such as kerosene have a strong, pungent odor which can make you dizzy and nauseous, especially when you are exposed to the smell continuously for a prolonged period of time.
Always hold the fuel container with steady hands and dribble it slowly into the fuel reservoir of your heater to prevent spillage or wastage.
Any droplets of fuel that land on your exposed skin might irritate it a little, but it also makes your body liable to sustaining nasty burns if you turn on your space heater and become directly exposed to any heat or flame from within the heater.
6. Give Your Space Heater Some ‘Space’!
One of the keys to safe space heater usage includes installing or setting up your space heater with a minimum three feet radius from any surrounding object or person.
Space heaters tend to run hot when they are cranked up to the max.
Even though the exterior plastic housing protects the space heater from burning up, this does not exempt the heat generated by the heater from setting any flammable objects or materials nearby ablaze.
Therefore, it is best you place your space heater with as much distance away from anything deemed highly flammable such as curtains, bedsheets or even carpets.
Keep your space heater away from the direct walkway of people as well, and always monitor your device whenever there is a pet or child present in the same room with your heater.
Unlike adults, who usually would not willingly touch a space heater, pets and children are prone to brushing a paw or tiny finger against a space heater out of genuine curiosity.
This could result in severe burns and an emergency trip to the hospital.
Worse still, in the throes of panic, you might even knock over your space heater or leave it switched on while rushing your pet to the veterinary clinic or your child to the emergency room for immediate medical attention.
7. Put Your Space Heater on a Level Surface
Space heaters tipping over and coming into contact with highly flammable objects is one of the crucial reasons for setting off a fire.
Even if you purchase a space heater with an anti-tip-over function or a space heater with a low center of gravity, you must be prepared for every eventuality, including the possibility of your space heater falling over, especially after being accidentally knocked into.
This is why you must ensure your space heater is positioned on a level surface of the flooring, and not on the steps of your staircase or on a slope.
You must also keep your space heater directly on the floor itself, and not on a plush rug or carpet, since these two items may catch on fire at any given time.
Keep your space heater in a slightly isolated place, preferably propped against a wall and away from any windows with hanging curtains.
Ensure that your space heater is also nowhere near any sources of water such as the kitchen sink or your fish aquarium.
8. Do Not Dry Items on Your Space Heater!
All space heaters generate heat to provide warmth to an area.
This does not mean a space heater should be used as an easy fix to warm up any articles of clothing, especially ones that are still drenched in water.
Since most clothes consist of either cotton, wool or silk, all these materials are highly flammable when exposed to large amounts of heat.
This simply means that it is not a wise idea to dry up that wet pair of socks on your space heater.
Yes, your socks would dry out quickly, but think about it.
Is one pair of socks worth burning your entire home down? Surely not!
Likewise, do not place any scraps of paper or even wooden pieces on your space heater.
Placing multiple items on your space not only runs the risk of those items going up in flames, but it might cause your space heater to become unbalanced under the additional weight and will result in it tipping over.
9. Clean and Maintain Your Space Heater Regularly
Your space heater will require regular routine maintenance and cleaning.
Using a damp cloth, you will need to wipe down all the filters and grilles as well as the exterior casing of your space heater to ensure it is free of dirt and dust.
Space heaters that are left unclean and unmaintained usually tend to overheat easily.
The dirt and grime trapped between the grilles, filter nozzles or even heating elements will cause the device to malfunction or overheat easily, thus turning it into a fire hazard.
Never use aerosol sprays or liquid detergents such as window sprays or floor cleaners to clean your space heater.
These sprays and detergents are highly flammable and combustible, and when exposed to a significant amount of heat, can light up any device or appliance they have adhered to.
Using water for cleaning a space heater is also not a good idea since most space heaters run on electricity, and when exposed directly to water, can immediately convert your device into a shock hazard as well.
If you truly wish to keep your space heater clean, you may use a can of compressed air to blow off any dust particles adhering to the surface of the heater.
Not only is this method of cleaning incredibly useful, but it is also extremely safe since compressed air does not consist of any combustible gases which can set your heater alight.
10. Switch Off Your Space Heater
As tempting as it is to keep your humble abode warm and toasty throughout the night, it is ill-advised to keep your space heater running continuously without a break.
Most space heaters come equipped with fuses that melt and safeguard the internal components of the device from further damage when the heater overheats.
But some old-fashioned space heaters do not have this safety feature, and continuous usage will simply render the heater hotter and hotter until it eventually explodes or catches on fire.
So, you must switch off your space heater whenever you intend to turn in for the night or when you are leaving the room.
Only keep your space heater turned on when you and an adult family member is present to monitor the device while it is still in use.
The moment the heater begins sparking or expelling puffs of smoke, immediately unplug your heater from the electrical socket and switch it off. If your space heater is still smoking, quickly try your best to remove it from your home and place it in your backyard.
If the heater is swathed with flames, exit your home immediately and contact the emergency response line of your country as well as the fire department.
Prioritize your own personal safety first over the belongings of your home, and make sure all your loved ones have escaped the blaze as well.
This whole situation can easily be avoided however if you do not keep your space heater running for more than eight hours at a time.
Always check on your heater from time to time – if the exterior casing of the heater is hot to the touch, then there is a good chance your heater is overheating or has overheated.
In this case, immediately switch off your space heater and let it cool down again.
If you deem your space heater too unsafe to be used, you may always contact an experienced electrician or heater serviceman to look it over for you.
11. Install Carbon Monoxide And Smoke Detectors
All space heaters produce waste gases when in use, such as carbon monoxide.
Some heaters have sensors that are able to detect low levels of oxygen in the room and immediately automatically shut off as a safety feature.
But most basic space heaters do not come equipped with these sensors, and simply produce carbon monoxide if left switched on for a prolonged time.
Carbon monoxide is deadly because it is a silent killer that can cause carbon monoxide poisoning or even fatalities.
In the event that you have been poisoned, you will feel dizzy, nauseous, uncoordinated or even become unconscious.
In the meantime, the heater will be continuously left to run and overheat, and eventually burst into flame.
Therefore, it is vital for you to install both carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in every level of your home, including the basement and attic.
In the event of a fire, the smoke detectors will unleash a shrill beeping sound that will alert you to the presence of smoke in your home, and give you sufficient time to grab your family and bolt from your house to safety.
It is also extremely handy to have a fire extinguisher in your house in case your space heater causes a fire.
A small fire can be contained easily, but a larger one will require the assistance of the fire department.
In any case, make sure both your detectors are at full functionality at all times.
Test the detectors on a monthly basis – if the beeps emitted are faint or non-existent, you will need to swap out the batteries to keep the detectors running smoothly.
Thus, by following the safety measures depicted above, you can limit the chances of a space heater-related fire from ever occurring.
Remember! Space heaters are like any other electrical device – they will require periodic service and maintenance, as well as ample breaks between usage from time to time.
Running a space heater continuously for any amount of time is never a good idea, and be sure to keep a small fire extinguisher on standby in your home at all times, in the event, you come face to face with a space heater covered in flames.
In the event that the flames become uncontrollable, save yourself and your family first – prioritize your safety over your personal comfort at keeping warm at all times.