Portable heaters offer a way to keep your toes warm at your computer desk or when watching TV in the evening and keep pipes from freezing on a particularly bitter night. However, along with the comfort they provide, there are some dangers, too.
More than 25,000 residential fires occur each year because of portable space heater fires, resulting in 300 deaths.
Portable heaters can be powered by electricity, propane, natural gas or kerosene. Most safety tips apply to all types, but those not using electricity also have the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning if not used correctly. Electric units are the only unvented heater that are safe to use indoors.
Tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for electric heaters include:
- Check the heater, cord and plug, and if any part of the heater is damaged, don’t use it.
- Don’t ever leave a heater unattended when operating or while you are sleeping.
- Keep anything combustible—beds, sofas, curtains, papers and clothes—at least 3 feet from the front, sides and rear of the heater.
- Be sure the heater plug fits tightly into the outlet and don’t plug the heater cord into an extension cord or power strip. Never run the heater cord under a rug or carpet, and check frequently to be sure the plug, outlet and/or faceplate does not get hot. If it is, don’t use the heater and have an electrician check the wall outlet, and have the heater checked by a repair person.
- Place the heater on a stable, level surface and located where it won’t get knocked over. Don’t put them on cabinets, tables, furniture or carpet, which might overheat and start a fire.
- Keep the heater away from water and don’t touch it if you are wet.
Tips from Energy.gov for purchasing an electric heater:
- Purchase only newer model heaters with all current safety features such as tip-over shutoff. Look for the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) model.
- Choose a thermostatically controlled heater because that type avoids the energy waste of overheating a room.
- Select a heater of the proper size for the room you are planning to heat. Most come with a general sizing table.
Combustion space heaters
Unvented combustion units aren’t recommended for use inside your home because they introduce unwanted combustion byproducts—nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and water vapor—and deplete air in your space.
If you use a combustion heater, be sure they are vented units, which are permanently located on an outside wall so that the flue gas vent can be installed through a ceiling or directly through the wall to the outside. This means they are not portable units.
Energy.gov recommends you purchase a sealed combustion or 100% outdoor air units, which have a duct to bring outside air into the combustion chamber. Less expensive (and less efficient) units use room air for combustion.
Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s safety guidelines when using the heater, and in addition:
- Use only the approved fuel, don’t overfill it and don’t fill the heater when it’s still hot.
- Have vented space heaters professionally inspected every year. Otherwise, if the heater is not venting properly or if the vent is blocked, rusted or corroded, carbon monoxide poisoning may result.