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How to Safely Use a Portable Space Heater

on November 18, 2016

How to Safely Use a Portable Space HeaterIt’s cold outside, you don’t need us to tell you that but, while you may find the cold to be refreshing, the decrease in temperature means a sharp increase in heating bills for many people.  Whether you’re using gas, oil, or electric heat in your home, winters are typically more expensive.  If possible, we should do what we can to save money and save heat.

Alternatives to Central Heating

Central heating from a furnace or boiler is great.  We can warm the entire home and keep things cozy without being stuck to a single room.  But the larger your home is, the more you’ll be spending on heating costs.  So it’s time to consider some alternatives and maybe avoid a few rooms this winter.  The standard advice is to lower the thermostat and put on a sweater.  You can also adjust the humidity in the room, as the higher the humidity the warmer the room feels.

Checking to make sure that your home is thermally sealed and insulated is important for temperature regulation regardless of how you’re heating your home.  Check for leaks, drafts, or damage to the walls and roof.  If you’ve had water damage to a wall or in the attic, check to see if you need to replace insulation to preserve warmth in your home.

Of course, you can always just spend your days around a fire place in the main room.  The main drawback to a fireplace is that it won’t warm the entire house, but that’s less of an issue if you have a smaller home or spend all your time in the living room, which isn’t a bad idea anyway.  But a fireplace is immobile and sometimes you need warmth in other rooms.  That’s where the portable space heater comes into play.

Space heaters are perfect for localized warmth anywhere in the home.  Need to spend the afternoon in your home office but don’t want to run the central heat all day long? Plug in a space heater and close the door.  They’re a great replacement for homes or apartments that lack a fireplace of their own as well.  But, if you’re using a space heater, always follow safety guidelines.  In 2010, space heaters were involved in 79 percent of fatal home heating fires.

The NFPA offers some great safety tips for using space heaters in the home and we highly recommend you follow them for safety’s sake:


  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Supervise children when a fireplace, fire pit, or other space heater is being used. Use a sturdy, metal screen to prevent contact burns, which are even more common than flame burns.
  • All heaters need space. Keep things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.
  • Use heating equipment that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Never use your oven for heating.
  • Install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment, according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Have a qualified professional install the equipment.
    • Make sure all fuel-burning vented equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. CO is created when fuels burn incompletely. CO poisoning can cause illness and even death. Make sure the venting for exhaust is kept clear and unobstructed. This includes removal of snow and ice around the outlet to the outside.
  • Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.

Portable electric space heaters

  • Turn heaters off when you go to bed or leave the room.
  • Use and purchase portable space heaters with an automatic shut off so if they’re tipped over they will shut off.
  • Place space heater on solid, flat surface.
  • Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord.
  • Inspect for cracked or damaged, broken plugs or loose connections. Replace before using.

Fuel burning space heaters

  • Always use the proper fuel as specified by the manufacturer.

  • When refueling, allow the appliance to cool and refuel outside or in a well-ventilated area.

  • When using the heater, open a window to ensure proper ventilation.

  • In portable kerosene or other liquid-fueled space heaters, always use the proper grade of the proper fuel.

  • All new unvented gas-fired space heaters have an oxygen depletion sensor that detects a reduced level of oxygen in the area where the heater is operating and shuts off the heater before a hazardous level of carbon monoxide accumulates. If you have an older heater without this feature, replace it.

  • If the pilot light of your gas heater goes out, allow 5 minutes or more for the gas to go away before trying again, do not allow gas to accumulate, and light the match before you turn on the gas to the pilot to avoid risk of flashback.

  • If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not attempt to light the appliance. Turn off all the controls and open doors and window. Call a gas service person.

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