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Winter Warmth that Could Affect Your Health: What You Need to Know About Space Heater Safety


Colder temperatures are here. It’s the time of year to put on an extra-warm pair of socks, throw on another quilt and make a mug of hot chocolate. It also might be tempting to turn on the space heater to warm up a room quickly or keep it cozy. Your home is the place where wellness starts, and space heaters can be a welcome source of convenient and portable heat, especially in cooler rooms.

But it is important to use space heaters wisely and safely, otherwise they can cause serious issues that can affect your health and well-being.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 home fires every year are associated with space heaters. These fires resulted in more than 300 deaths. And space heaters are the cause of 79 percent of fatal home heating fires. Here are some tips to make sure your space heater isn’t an unwelcome guest causing burns or fires.

Before you buy one, look for a tested heater.  Keep an eye out for a seal of a nationally recognized testing laboratory. A common example is Underwriters Laboratories (UL). These space heaters have had rigorous safety tests.

Never leave a space heater running overnight or if you’re not in the room. This is true even if the unit has safety features like a tip-over switch. When you leave a room, always turn it off.

Remember the three-foot rule. Be sure to keep a three-foot-wide radius around all sides of your space heater. This includes bedding and curtains. If the space heater gets too close to materials, it could start a fire.

Don’t run the heater’s cords under carpeting or rugs. This might cause wear and tear to the cord which could make it combustible.

Plug your space heater directly and securely into the wall. Don’t use a power strip or an extension cord, which also might increase the danger of fire.

Make sure your smoke alarms are in shape. Even if you don’t have a space heater, take the time to install smoke alarms. Install an alarm on every floor of your house, outside all sleeping areas, and inside each bedroom. Be sure to test them once a month. A working smoke alarm will increase your chances of making it out alive if there’s a deadly fire. The ready.gov website has more information about fire safety plans.

For space heater safety tips, check out this resource from the Department of Energy. And there might be options for help in paying energy bills and weatherizing your house. One example is  the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Making your home more energy efficient might mean using the space heater less. Being smart about your space heater will help you enjoy those cold winter nights even more.