As the temperature drops, Lexington Emergency Management urges residents to be careful and follow some simple safety tips when using space heaters and other supplemental heating sources.
In general, remember: Space Heaters Need Space!
Safety is a top consideration when using space heaters. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths. In addition, an estimated 6,000 people receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries associated with contacting the hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.
Make sure you have working smoke alarms on each floor and in each bedroom of your home.
When buying and installing a small space heater, follow these guidelines:
- Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater carries the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label.
- Choose a thermostatically controlled heater, because they avoid the energy waste of overheating a room.
- Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.
- Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, which automatically shuts off the heater if the unit is tipped over.
- For convection (non-radiant) space heaters, the best types incorporate a heat transfer liquid, such as oil, that is heated by the electric element. The heat transfer fluid provides some heat storage, allowing the heater to cycle less and to provide a more constant heat source. These usually look like an old fashioned radiator.
When using an electric heater:
- Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic.
- Plug all electric heaters directly into a wall socket. DO NOT USE AN EXTENSION CORD OR MULTIPLE OUTLET STRIP.
- Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.
- Avoid putting electric space heaters on tables, shelves or chairs.
- Keep all combustible materials, including yourself at least 3 feet from the heater.
- Make sure that open-face heaters should have a screen.
Vented and Unvented Combustion Space Heaters
Space heaters are classified as vented and unvented or “vent-free.” Unvented combustion units are not recommended for use inside your home, because they introduce unwanted combustion products into the living space—including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and water vapor—and deplete air in the space. Most states have banned unvented kerosene heaters for use in the home and at least five have banned the use of unvented natural gas heaters.
Vented units are designed to be permanently located next to an outside wall, so that the flue gas vent can be installed through a ceiling or directly through the wall to the outside. Look for sealed combustion or “100% outdoor air” units, which have a duct to bring outside into the combustion chamber. Sealed combustion heaters are much safer to operate than other types of space heaters, and operate more efficiently because they do not draw in the heated air from the room and exhaust it to the outdoors. They are also less likely to backdraft and adversely affect indoor air quality.
Less expensive (and less efficient) units use the room air for combustion. They do not have a sealed glass front to keep room air away from the fire and should not be confused with a sealed combustion heater.
In addition to the manufacturer’s installation and operating instructions, you should follow these general safety guidelines for operating any combustion space heater:
- For liquid-fueled heaters, use only the approved fuel. Never use gasoline!
- Follow the manufacturer’s fueling instructions. Never fill a heater that is still hot.
- Do not overfill the heater — you must allow for the expansion of the liquid.
- Only use approved containers clearly marked for that particular fuel, and store them outdoors.
Have vented space heaters professionally inspected every year. If the heater is not vented properly, not vented at all, or if the vent is blocked, separated, rusted, or corroded, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can enter the home causing sickness and death. CO also can be produced if the heater is not properly set up and adjusted for the type of gas used and the altitude at which it is installed.
NEVER USE A GAS OVEN TO TRY AND HEAT YOUR HOME. A DANGEROUS BUILD-UP OF CARBON MONOXIDE CAN OCCUR.
For a free fire safety inspection of your home and more information about the Lexington Fire Department’s free smoke/fire/carbon monoxide alarm installation program, please call their community service group at 859-231-5605.