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Space heaters can be an attractive way to heat up a room or area when the weather is cold. However, space heaters can be dangerous if used incorrectly. According to Harvard University Environmental Health & Safety group, more than 25,000 residential fires and 6,000 emergency room visits are caused by space heaters in the U.S. every year.
Approximately one-third of all house fires nationwide occur during the cold home-heating season of December, January and February. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the major cause of these winter fires can be attributed to faulty, improper use and maintenance of supplemental heating equipment, such as space heaters.
As part of its Teach Learn Care TLC campaign, Safe Electricity urges everyone in the home understand the importance of using space heaters safely.
“Portable heaters must be used with caution, keeping safety a priority,” says Mike Ashenfelter, electrical inspector and member of the Safe Electricity Advisory Board. “Stay warm and safe, and give space heaters space – at least three feet from anything that can burn - including little fingers!”
Some cities have banned the use of many types of portable space heaters. Before purchasing or using any type of space heater, check with your local fire department to find out if it is legal in your community.
Safe Electricity offers the following precautions when using electric space heaters:
“Consider replacing older space heaters with newer, safer models,” suggests Ashenfelter. “Additionally, look for features that enhance the safety of the unit including an electronic thermostat which allows precise temperature control to avoid overheating.”
Many people also use electric blankets to keep warm during cold winter nights. Before plugging in electric blankets, check for any damage and inspect cord for frays, cracks or cuts. Electric blankets should not be tucked under the mattress and nothing should be placed on top of the blanket while it’s in use, including comforters and bedspreads. Never dry clean an electric blanket; the chemicals can damage the heating insulation and increase the risk of fire. And pets should never be allowed to sleep on the electric blanket.
“In addition to these safety tips, remember that a functioning smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire,” reminds Ashenfelter. “Replace the batteries twice a year, and remember to practice a home escape plan and share these safety tips with your family.”