Keep safe and warm when using space heaters

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Follow safety guidelines when using space heaters.

Many of us use portable electric space heaters to help keep us warm, but they can be hazardous if not used properly. Take precautions to keep your family safe from fire or burns.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an average of 48,530 home heating fires occurred in the U.S. in the years from 2014 to 2018, resulting in 500 deaths and $1.1 billion in property damage. About 81% of those deaths were attributed to fires caused by stationary or portable space heaters. Nearly half of all home heating fires occurred in January, February and December.

Before you use an electric space heater:

  • Check to be sure the heater is clean and in good condition. Thoroughly inspect the cord and plug of electrical heaters for damage. You can check whether it is certified by Underwriters Laboratories.
  • Place heaters out of high traffic areas and on a level, hard, nonflammable floor surface – not on carpets, rugs, furniture or countertops.
  • Place the heater at least three feet from combustible liquids as well as flammable items such as draperies, blankets and sofas.
  • Take care when moving around space heaters not to brush up against them or drag loose clothing.
  • Do not use space heaters to thaw pipes, cook food or dry clothing or towels.
  • Keep children and pets away from an electric space heater as accidental contact could result in serious shock or burns.
  • Do not place heaters under desks or other enclosed areas.
  • Never leave the heater operating while unattended or while you are sleeping.
  • Never power an electric space heater with an extension cord or power strip.
  • Never run an electric space heater’s cord under rugs or carpeting.

Note that unvented kerosene and gas heaters have been banned in many jurisdictions. Kerosene, gas and propane heaters — anything that uses combustible fuel — present additional risk of death or injury from carbon monoxide poisoning and are not recommended for use in closed spaces.

As an added precaution, check smoke alarms to be sure they are in proper working order before using electric heaters.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and policy service.


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