6 Safety Tips for Using Space Heaters (and Keeping Your Home Standing)

Space heaters can keep your toes warm, but they can put your home in danger. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association found space heaters are the leading cause of home fires when heating equipment is the culprit.

“When you start to get into the colder months, we always want to tell people to really be mindful about how they’re heating their home,” says Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International. “Space heaters become uniquely dangerous because it’s a source of fire, if it gets anything combustible near it.”

To help keep you safe (and warm) all winter long, here are top heating safety tips to help prevent a space heater fire in your home.

Tip #1: Keep your friends close and your space heater at least three feet away

“When it comes to home fires nowadays, you don’t really have a lot of natural materials around you anymore,” says Brett. “The microfiber couches or chairs you might be sitting in, or the leather imitation things you might have, those are very combustible.”

When a fire starts inside your home or “tinderbox,” it spreads quickly and can be deadly. So keep that three-foot perimeter around your heater! See what happens if you don’t in the above video from the City of San Diego.

Tip #2: One outlet, one plug

One of the most important heating safety tips is to make sure your home’s electrical wiring can take your specific heater. Then plug only one device into one outlet. Never plug a space heater into an extension cord and mind those three feet!

Tip #3: Keep one eye on your space heater

Similar to how you don’t leave your children unattended, don’t leave your space heater alone.

“The big thing with space heaters is to never leave them unattended,” says Brett. “As you have kids coming to the home, as you have pets coming to the home, mistakes happen.”

If a dog leaves a combustible toy near a space heater that wasn’t there five minutes ago when you left the room, it can spur a home fire.

“As inconvenient as it might be – if you’re not in the room, you need to turn the space heater off.”

You should also be awake. Five out of six (or 85 percent) of home heating deaths are attributed to space heaters, according to the National Fire Protection Association. If you feel yourself nodding off, turn the unit off, unplug it, make sure it’s cool, and then hit the sack.

Tip #4: Serve it the right fuel

If you’re using a fuel-burning space heater, always read the manufacturer instructions (super important), and use the fuel specified. Never use gasoline in a kerosene heater, as this can lead to a risk of explosion (you read that right).

Tip #5: Give your detectors a quick check

man standing on a ladder changing a smoke detector
Check your smoke detectors.

Since 85% of the home heating deaths come from space heater use (or so you may have heard), check your smoke detectors. This way, if a fire does occur, you’ll be notified and can put your evacuation plan to good use. (You have one of those, right?) Also, if you’re using a kerosene heater, double-check your carbon monoxide detectors. As you know, carbon monoxide is “the silent killer,” so you definitely want to prevent buildup in your home.

Tip #6: In the unfortunate event that a fire does occurs…

firefighter fighting a house which is on fire
Get out, stay out.

“A space heater is an open ignition source,” says Brett. “If something happens, you have to react quickly and get out. You’re not going to have the time that you used to have even going back a couple of decades.” (See Tip #1 above.)

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