Space heaters are used to warm small spaces, typically used in residential homes or small offices. Space heaters are small appliances that can be purchased at most home goods stores, but despite their ease of availability, they do carry a pretty serious fire danger.

If you have a portable space heater, or are looking to purchase one, please take a moment to review these top space heater fire safety tips. We walk through the types of heaters, which are the safest, and what features can help prevent fires related to space heater usage.

Which type of space heater is the safest?

 There are several types of space heaters. The main types include: convection, radiant, and combination. Convection heaters work by circulating warm air through a room as it gradually heats the air within the area. They typically do this with a fan. Radiant heaters use infrared heat vs warm air to heat up a space. Radiant heaters are not usually best at heating the air of an entire room but rather warming someone who sits near the heater. Combination space heaters feature both a fan and infrared heating system.

One tip for space heater fire safety is to look to the Consumer Reports ratings for the safest type of space heater. Most recently, CR rated 75 of the top space heaters on the market. Their space heater test includes a tip-over test, overheat, and drape test. All test scores are combined for their overall fire safety score. Ratings range from poor to excellent. Refer to the CR ratings for more information on this year’s top safest space heaters.

How can a space heater cause a fire?

Unfortunately, there are several ways that a space heater can catch on fire or cause a fire. This is why it’s necessary to use paramount precaution. Space heaters may be small in size, but they can be one of the most dangerous appliances in your home when it comes to fire due to their high wattage.

One of the most common ways a space heater can cause a fire is by tipping over. Other ways are overheating, or being placed too close to flammable items like curtains. Portable space heaters can get very hot and ignite nearby objects, by either tipping over or being in close proximity to these objects. The heater’s exposed heating coils or elements can spark a fire in seconds. Overloading an outlet may cause an electrical fire or lead to the appliance overheating.

An article published just this week in the New York Times explores the dangers of space heaters. The author points out that “space heaters that are run for extended periods of time can have components, including plastic parts and wiring, that can break down and ignite. The heater then catches on fire but does not usually explode.” One of the best pieces of advice mentioned in this article is to treat portable space heaters like any other piece of dangerous equipment: use it properly and follow the instructions.

What safety features should I look for on a space heater?

Most modern space heaters now come with quite a few safety features that work to help prevent the appliance from catching fire. When shopping for a space heater, consider these safety features.

Consumer Reports recommends that you look for the following safety features when considering a portable space heater:

  • Certification: Buy only space heaters that feature a safety certification label such as the UL mark.
  • Shutoff features: A tip-over switch or sensor that automatically shuts a space heater off when it overheats or falls over is a critical safety feature.
  • A ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) plug: GFCI plugs can prevent electric shock. Look for space heaters with this safety feature to avoid safety issues when space heaters are used near water.
  • A sturdy cord: Look for a long, durable cord.

Another feature you may want to look for is if the exterior has a cooling material that keeps the appliance from getting too hot to the touch.

All these safety features are in place to ensure safe operation of the appliance. Never purchase a portable space heater that does not have at least one or more of these features.

How can I prevent a space heater from causing a fire?

Space heaters can provide a lot of warmth from one small appliance. Whether at home or at work, you can prevent a space heater from catching fire by following a few simple space heater fire safety tips.

  • Maintain a 3-foot distance from the space heater and other flammable objects
  • Only use a space heater on a level, flat, non-flammable surface
  • Plug a space heater into the wall directly vs using power strips or extension cords
  • Never leave a space heater unattended when in use
  • Always unplug a space heater when not in use
  • Take a moment to inspect a space heater for damage before use
  • Only operate the space heater per the instructions and warning labels located on the heater
  • Avoid using a space heater in a busy area where it may be knocked over
  • Test your smoke detectors regularly

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