Space Heaters: Staying Warm While Protecting Your Home

Sometimes the heating system in your home or office just isn’t keeping you cozy—either because temperatures have dropped unusually low or the system is older and not able to evenly distribute the warmth. A space heater can provide room-by-room comfort, but there are risks to using these handy mini heaters.

Space Heater Dangers

The type of space heater and how you maintain it will be part of the level of risk involved in using this electrical device. According to *National Fire Protection Association, heaters are responsible for at least 56,000 residential fires, over 470 deaths and more than 6,000 trips to the ER per year. Even when you’re present, they have the potential to pose the same threats.

Consider these space heater dangers:

  1. Electrical shocks
  2. Circuit overload (leading to power failure)
  3. Burns, particularly to children or pets who don’t understand to keep their distance
  4. Fire

You should always take care when using a space heater and follow advice on fire prevention provided by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). This includes keeping the electrical device firmly on the ground when in use, plugging the heater directly into an outlet (no extension cords), and never leaving the heater unattended.

Types of Space Heaters

There are different types of space heaters and they each work differently.

Vented and unvented (vent-free) heaters are not safe to use inside because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. They are intended for outside use. “Home” unvented kerosene heaters have been banned from home use as have many unvented natural gas heaters. Find out more here.

If you’re going to use a space heater, the safest way to go is to purchase an electric heater. While more expensive, these units pose less of a risk of fire than fuel-gased heaters (no open flame or pilot light) and are better for indoor air quality. Among electric heaters, it is best to avoid ones with direct exposure components like metal coils or glowing bulbs. Here are some you might consider:

Oil-filled Heaters – An electrical heating source warms thermal oil, which emits heat through coiled fins. These are thought to be the most reliable but take longer to warm up.

Hydronic Heaters – Similar to oil heaters, these units use warmed water to heat the air.

Ceramic Heaters – Metal coils encased in PTC (Positive Temperature Coefficient) ceramic are used to produce heat, decreasing the chance of fire or contact burns.

Electric Convection Heaters – Operated by air convection currents that circulate through the unit, heating up the air.

For outdoor use: Radiant & Infrared Heaters (best for workshops, garages & patios) – Works through direct infrared heat transfer.

Whichever space heater you choose, make sure to read the directions for use and maintenance, which will prolong the device life and keep your home and family safe when staying warm.

Costs of Using a Space Heater

When temperatures fall, heating bills typically go up. Savvy consumers looking for a way to save money without sacrificing comfort might ask: Can I cut down on my winter heating budget if I lower the thermostat and make up the difference with an electric space heater?

The answer: It depends.

The first thing to consider is what kind of fuel you use for your main furnace. Natural gas is the cheapest, while electric heat and oil are usually much more expensive. Your specific furnace model and its efficiency rating also play a role. The general rule is the cheaper your heating costs are overall, the less you are likely to save with a space heater.

Savings are possible, though, no matter what kind of central heat you have. According to Grist magazine, if you are using a space heater for less than one half to one third of your living space, and you lower the temperature on your thermostat for the rest of it, you can save money even if your main heater is an efficient gas model. If your family spends most of their winter indoor time in just a few rooms of the house, go ahead and experiment with a portable heater and see if you can reduce your bills.

Contact Mister Sparky to do a home safety inspection to determine if your outlets are up-to-date and assess the safety of your electrical devices being used.

Space Heater Safety Tips

Electric space heaters are usually quite simple to use; nevertheless, make sure you read and follow all instructions and manufacturer safety precautions. Additionally, take the following steps to ensure that your pleasant heat source doesn't become a fire hazard:

  • Keep your heater at least three feet away from walls, furniture and anything else. Be especially vigilant about combustible material—i.e. anything that burns.
  • Make sure your device has an automatic shutoff in case it tips over.
  • Don't leave the heater on if you leave the house.
  • Be sure the cord isn't cracked, frayed or damaged and doesn't heat up when the unit is in use.
  • Avoid using an extension cord.
  • Keep the heater out of the bathroom or anywhere else it might get wet.

*Between 2009-2013