When temperatures drop, the rate of home structure fires spikes. Fires due to faulty furnaces, damaged electrical wires, holiday decorations, and space heaters claim dozens of lives every year. Heating equipment is the second-leading cause of house fires in the United States and the third-leading cause of fire deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Portable and stationary space heaters caused 43% of home heating fires and 85% of related deaths between 2011 and 2015.
Most homeowners only bring out their space heaters during winter and put them away in storage the rest of the year. Infrequent use, however, does not mean the space heater will have a longer life. In fact, storing your space heater somewhere such as a shed or attic could result in damage to the equipment, including frayed wiring or faulty components. Before you dust off last year’s space heater to plug it in for the winter, hire a professional to inspect the piece.
A heating expert can inspect your space heater and recommend repairs or replacement. If your space heater is more than a few years old, consider replacing it before you use a dangerous, outdated version. A qualified professional could install stationary heating equipment to better heat your home in a way that may be safer than using space heaters. A professional can also clean out your chimney and help prevent other winter fire risks.
The NFPA states that 53% of all home heating fire fatalities stemmed from fires that started because heating equipment was too close to flammable objects, such as bedding materials or furniture. Decrease the odds of a deadly house fire by keeping your space heater far away from other objects in your home – especially Christmas trees, curtains, and upholstered furniture.
The NFPA recommends keeping space heaters at least three feet away from anything flammable. Keep a three-foot rule for kids and pets, as well, installing temporary gates, if necessary, to keep kids and pets far enough away. Do not hang any flammable holiday decorations on or near your space heater. United States firefighters respond to an average of 800 holiday-decoration-related house fires per year – excluding Christmas trees.
When buying a new space heater, make sure to find one with safety certifications from Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs). This can ensure you purchase a heater that meets certain safety standards, such as including safety warnings and proper instruction manuals for consumers.
Do not throw out your instruction guide after you purchase a new space heater. It will contain important safety information, such as how to install and use your space heater, where to put it, and how much electrical capacity the unit will take to power. Read your manual fully before turning on your space heater. That way, you will know you are using it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Do not leave your space heater running at night or in an empty room. Almost half of heating fire deaths occur between 8 p.m. and midnight. Once everyone leaves a room, turn the space heater off and unplug it from the wall. At night, when everyone is sleeping, the space heater should be off and unplugged. Many models have programmable timers to help you avoid accidentally leaving your space heater on while you leave the house or sleep.
Space heaters rely on electricity to function. Therefore, they can pose a risk of serious electric shock in combination with water. Do not use a space heater near a shower or bathtub, or anywhere in a bathroom unless it has a design specifically for bathrooms. Do not touch a space heater or its plug with wet hands. If you want to run a space heater in a humid space, find one specifically designed to do so to decrease the risk of shock.