With much of the nation experiencing brutal waves of winter weather, many families are finding it necessary to use supplemental heat sources such as electric space heaters to help warm their interior living spaces. Others often use them in well houses and crawl spaces to protect plumbing lines from freeze damage. When used correctly, most electric space heaters are able to provide a safe source of temporary heat. However, when they are used incorrectly or plugged into substandard electrical wiring the results can be tragic.
Even wall mounted electric space heaters specifically designed to be a main heat source can become a fire hazard in some situations. According to information provided by the National Fire Protection Association for 2011, space heaters were the cause of more than thirty percent of all heating-related house fires in the United States. Even more alarming is the fact that more than eighty percent of all home fire fatalities were due to fires caused by space heaters.
If you are using or plan to use electric space heaters for a supplemental heat source, take these precautionary measures to ensure your family does not become a part of future house fire statistics.
Have Your Home's Wiring Inspected
Hidden inside the wall, most homeowners do little to maintain or keep track of the condition of their electrical wiring. Unless a problem presents itself, such as a circuit breaker that will not stay or an outlet that does not work, most people just assume their wiring is safe for to use with any type of electrical appliance. Electric space heaters, however, put a tremendous load on the entire electrical system of the home, especially when the heater is used for long periods of time. If the home has wiring that has been damaged by rodents, flooding, fire or other past issues, the space heater may be the catalyst that causes an unexpected home fire.
While homes of any age can be at risk of wiring problems that could potentially cause a house fire, older homes should be particularly suspect. In many cases, past renovations may have also included changes in the electric wiring and many of these changes may not be in accordance with today's fire safety guidelines. Even worse, later additions to the home may have been added onto existing circuits rather than have new circuits installed. Homes that experience a circuit breaker flipping to the off position or a fuse blowing when appliances are used at the same time is one example of this type of overloaded circuit issue.
To be sure that your wiring is safe, contact a reputable, licensed electrician in your area and ask them to inspect your entire electrical system. During this inspection, they can make sure the condition, size and type of wire conforms to safety guidelines. In addition, they can make sure the electrical panel that serves the home is sized properly for the amount of electricity consumed while the space heater is in use.
Abide By All Safety Guidelines When Using Space Heaters
Once the home's electrical system has been inspected and deemed to be safe, use good safety practices to reduce your risk of experiencing a home fire. These practices include the following:
- Choose a well-made space heater that bears a UL certification.
- Read and follow all directions every time the heater is used.
- Never leave a portable space heater on when the family is away or sleeping.
- Always plug the space heater directly into an outlet, instead of using any type of extension cord or power strip.
- Retain at least three feet of space between the appliance and any combustible materials, including bedding, wood, paper, upholstery or curtains.
- Never operate a space heater in a room where there are flammable liquids or fumes.
- Never allow children or pets to play with or near a space heater.
- Examine the cord and plug before each use for signs of melting or discoloration that could indicate that it became hot during use.