Are your feet freezing under your desk at the office? Or does one room of your home always have a chill? In these kind of situations, many workers and homeowners consider using portable electric space heaters. After all, if your whole house is toasty except for that one room, you don’t want to waste energy by turning up the thermostat. And at the office, you might not even have the choice to turn up the central heat.
However, if you do decide to use an electric space heater, it’s extremely important to pay attention to safety. Although electric space heaters are generally safer than other kinds of space heaters (like those powered by natural gas or propane), electric space heaters still pose a significant fire hazard. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that portable electric space heaters contributed to approximately 1,200 fires just from 2008-2010. Here are some safety precautions you can take when using electric space heaters to help reduce your risk of fire.
Look for Safety Features
When buying a new electric space heater, purchase one that has the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label, indicating that it has been safety-certified. Also, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends that you look for a space heater that has the most current safety features, such as a safety shutoff that can automatically turn the unit off if it tips over.
Check It Out
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) recommends that before each time you use your electric space heater, you should take a moment to check over the unit, cord, and plug for any signs of damage. If you notice any issues, such as a cracked plug, a frayed cord, or a loose connection, do NOT use the space heater. Get it repaired by a qualified repair person, or replace it.
Clear a Space
According to the CPSC, the Number One “highly effective portable heater safety habit” is to make sure that there are no items that could catch fire within three feet of the heater on all sides. That means you need to position the heater at least three feet away from objects like curtains, beds, clothes, couches, paper, or anything else that is flammable.
Keep It Upright
Another safety guideline from the CPSC is that you should place the electric space heater on a level, stable surface. It’s very important that the space heater does not get knocked or tipped over.
Plug It in Properly
Always plug an electric space heater directly into a wall outlet. The ESFI warns that you should never use an extension cord or a power strip with an electric space heater because the extension cord or power strip could overheat and catch on fire. The CSPC also warns that you should never run the space heater’s cord under a rug or carpet. Again, covering the cord can cause it to overheat and lead to a fire.
Check for Heat
While using the space heater, you should check occasionally to see if the cord, plug, or wall outlet feels hot to the touch. If any of them do, you should immediately turn off and unplug the space heater. You’ll need to have a licensed, reputable electrician check your outlet for damage. The space heater will need to be either repaired or replaced.
Protect Children and Pets
Experts agree that you must keep children and pets away from portable space heaters. Not only can kids and pets get burned if they get too close to the heater, they could also accidentally knock the heater over and cause a fire.
Watch Out for Water
The CPSC warns that it’s extremely important to keep your space heater away from water to avoid electrical shocks or even electrocution. In fact, you should never even touch an electric space heater while you are wet.
Don’t Leave It Unattended
Never run a space heater without close adult supervision. Many space heater fires happen when the heaters are left running while homeowners are sleeping or not home. When it’s time to leave the room or go to bed, turn the space heater off and unplug it, too. That way it can’t get accidentally turned back on.
Consider Safer Options
Ultimately, the safest way to use a portable electric space heater is not to use one at all. If your home has cold spots, try calling your trusted, licensed HVAC service provider. It may be that a blockage in your air ducts or an undersized HVAC unit is the cause of the uneven heating in your house.
Or if you need to heat some parts of your home more than other parts, then you may want to consider having your HVAC upgraded with a zoning system. Zoning allows you to use multiple thermostats to control the temperature in different areas of your home. That can make your home more comfortable for everyone as well as more energy efficient, potentially paying for itself in the form of lower monthly energy bills.
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