Be cautious using space heaters to warm a room

Nov 18 2013 - 6:29pm


Tips for space heater safety.
Tips for space heater safety.

With temperatures dropping and the first signs of winter here, residents need a way to keep their homes and themselves warm. Aside from central heating, people often turn to electric space heaters.

They're typically portable, inexpensive and can quickly warm up the room in which they're placed. However, fire prevention specialists warn that if they're not used properly and not monitored, these heaters can become dangerous fire hazards.

Weber District Fire Marshal Brandon Thueson said too often people aren't thinking about where they place their space heaters, and the devices can pose a threat if put near anything combustible.

Furniture, paper, cardboard boxes and just about anything that can burn will burn if directly exposed to the heater for too long or if the heater malfunctions and a spark escapes.

Thueson said he remembers going out to a house fire that started when some window curtains were ignited by a nearby space heater.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to make sure the heater being used has some type of safety mechanism that automatically turns the machine off if it tips over, he said. On most newer models this is a standard feature, but older heaters may lack the mechanism.

"You can find them used at thrifts shops really cheap," Thueson said. "But sometimes they don't have the safety or they're broken."

Thueson said he bought a few heaters at a pawn shop for some fire prevention classes and found that they didn't switch off when jostled or tipped over.

When tipped over, a space heater is more likely to malfunction and set something on fire.

Something to watch out for that's more common than one might think is when a space heater is plugged into an extension cord, the cord itself may catch fire.

Thueson recommends just plugging the heater directly into the wall socket whenever possible -- but if it's necessary to use an extension, make sure the heater's electric watt usage is compatible with the cord's capacity. This information is usually found on the safety tags that come with most cords and heaters.

Not as common as an electric heater, but still widely used are gas-powered heaters that run on propane and other fuels.

Thueson said these types of heaters should never be used indoors because of the chemical hazard.

"You have to be really cautious with these, because anything that burns produces carbon monoxide," he said. "There's no way to know if it's in the home or not. It's important to have a working carbon monoxide detector."

Thueson said these heaters are really popular for outdoor gatherings and farmers trying to keep livestock warm during the winter months, but the same general rules apply for safety, if not more so.

Thueson said on more than one occasion he has responded to a backyard chicken coop that was engulfed in flames because the heater got knocked over.

Space heaters are safe for the most part, but residents need to use common sense, he said.

"We all want a home to stay in," Thueson said, "and we just have to be cautious with what we do. We don't want an accident."

Contact reporter Andreas Rivera at 801-625-4227 or Follow him on Twitter @SE_Andreas.

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