Here’s a little secret about space heaters: The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that while only two percent of home fires involve portable heaters, they account for a disproportionate 25 percent of fire fatalities. Manufacturers try to protect consumers by pulling models off the market for safety reasons. Still it’s easy to miss a recall notice.
Here’s how you can find if yours is safe before you fire it up. Check to see if it’s on a recall list. It’s easy to do, just type the manufacturer and model number into a search engine and add the word “recall” to see if your heater comes up.
Even if your model doesn’t pop up, investigate this further by visiting one of the following websites to see if your unit is one to worry about. These sites are helpful, you might want to check them all, because heating units recalled can vary.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission site — www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls — makes it easy to find any recalled consumer product, including space heaters. Simply enter your model in the search box at the top of the page to find its status. The Consumer Affairs website, www.consumeraffairs.com, also lists recalls. The third place to look is We Make It Safer at http://wemakeitsafer.com/Space-Heaters-Recalls.
If yours isn’t listed, you’re likely out of the woods. However, there are still some precautions that you need to take before safely firing up a space heater that’s been stored in the garage for several months.
“Customers should store a space heater in a box or plastic bag to keep out dust and animal hair,” said Michael Getman, safety manager for Clark Public Utilities. “If they haven’t, then they must clean it because, pet hair and dust can ignite when heated.”
While generally safe, electric heaters require some precautions. Getman suggests training all household members about heater operation and safety. He also advises using only Underwriters Laboratory or equivalently certified models. The unit should show a label noting the approval.
“Once you get a portable heater out for winter use, it’s probably a good time to test whether your fire and carbon monoxide alarms are working too,” he said.
Consider the environment you’re operating your heater in. Plug it directly into the wall and never use an extension cord that someone might accidentally trip on and tip over the heater.
Never place a portable heater in damp areas such as the kitchen or bathroom. Water is a conductor of electricity and a faulty cord or unit could cause an electric shock or injury.
If you have pets or children, does your unit have guards to prevent burns? If not, keep pets and children away from it. Make sure you position any portable heater at least three feet from bedding, draperies, furniture or anything combustible.
Never use propane or kerosene space heaters indoors. They give off toxic fumes that can build up inside a home and asphyxiate anyone inside. Instead, use them only in a well-vented area, such as a screened-in, open-air porch.
“Use only electric portable heaters for indoors and make sure it has an automatic shut-off switch, so if it’s tipped over, the unit shuts off,” said Getman.
Never leave a space heater unattended or go to sleep with one on. Unplug it when it’s not in use. During audits, energy counselors have reported finding “forgotten” space heaters still running in the summer. Not only are space heaters dangerous if forgotten, they add to your electric bill. So make sure to keep tabs on portable heaters for safety, and savings.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.