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Space Heater Safety

Stay Safe While Staying Warm

space heater

When cold weather sets in, many turn to space heaters to provide an additional heat source for their homes. And while space heaters seem to be an affordable alternative or addition to central heating, there is a much greater risk of fire associated with their use.

Space heaters are the leading cause of home fires during the months of December through February.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 1,700 residential fires occur each year in association with the use of portable heaters. Space heater related accidents are also associated with an average of 70 deaths and 160 injuries each year.

If you still feel the need to use a space heater in your home, then please be fully informed of the necessary safety precautions before buying, or using, one.

Purchase Space Heaters Without Exposed Elements

There are many different types of space heaters including room gas heaters, portable kerosene heaters (which are illegal in many states) and portable electric heaters.

Regardless of the type of space heater, make sure that the heating element is not exposed. This is particularly vital with an oil-filled kerosene radiant heater.

Look for space heater models with thermostatic controls and an automatic shutoff feature to ensure the safest possible operation when using a space heater. Most new models of electric heaters also feature a “tip switch” which automatically shuts off the heater if the device is tipped over.

Use Space Heaters Only As Directed

After purchasing the heater, read the manual and warning labels on the heater itself and always follow those recommendations.

The most important rule to follow when using a space heater is to keep all outside objects at least three feet away from the space heater. A combustible object that is too close to the heater is the main reason that fires occur.

It's also important to never fall asleep with a space heater on, nor leave unattended in a room.

Also, when in use, keep all children and pets away. Do not allow children or pets to be unsupervised in a room with a space heater. Space heaters can reach extremely high temperatures that can cause severe burns to those whom come in contact with their surfaces.

Lastly, never plug your space heater into an extension cord or multi-outlet surge protector; both are too weak to handle a high-wattage appliance and can cause a fire. A space heater must always be plugged directly into a wall outlet, preferably using a three-prong plug that is capable of handling its high amount of electricity.

Regardless of where the heater is plugged in, its cord should never be exposed to a high-traffic area where people are likely to trip over it and cause the space heater to fall.

The most important thing you can do is read the manual and warning labels on the heater itself and always follow those recommendations.

Author: Tom Stockdale, retired WVU Safety and Health Extension Specialist
Last reviewed by Mark Lambert, WVU Fire Service Extension Director: December 2023