Home Heating Safety: How to safely use space heaters and other items people use to stay warm

John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at Underwriters Laboratories, explains how to safely use space heaters and other items people use to stay warm this season.
January 15, 2014 4:28:42 AM PST
John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at Underwriters Laboratories, explains how to safely use space heaters and other items people use to stay warm this season.

Space Heaters

  • Look for the UL Mark on your electric heater. This means representative samples of the appliance have met UL's stringent safety standards.

  • Space heaters should never be used as a primary source of heat. When using a space heater as a supplementary device make sure it is at least 3 feet away from any household combustibles such as curtains, decorations, clothing items, newspapers and flammable liquids.

  • Make sure you are using the proper size extension cords for space heaters. If the cord cannot handle the current it will overheat and melt.

  • Inspect the heater's cord periodically to look for frayed wire or damaged insulation. Do not use a space heater with a damaged cord.

  • Heaters should be placed on a flat, level surface. Do not place heaters on furniture since they may fall and become damaged or break parts in the heater.

  • Unless the heater is designed for use outdoors or in bathrooms, do not use in damp, wet areas.

  • Always shut off space heaters when leaving the room and before going to bed.

Fireplace safety

  • Use small bundles of wood and ensure logs are dry and split to size, as they will catch fire quicker and reduce the risk of sparks and flyaways.

  • Stay away from using junk wood, like old pieces of furniture, and be aware that anything with varnish or a finish will release toxins and create chimney build up.

  • Use a fire screen to shield the room from popping embers. Chain link or glass screens are available, but be aware glass screens can get hot and should be protected from small children and pets.

  • Use the proper fire tools to stoke and clean your fireplace periodically. Sweep up the soot left over to avoid an uncontrollable fire next time around.

  • Remember to have your chimney cleaned at least once a year.

Wood Burning Ovens

  • Wood burning ovens are often used to heat a home. Read the instruction manual carefully to avoid improper installation.

  • Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges and door seals for smooth joints and seams.

  • Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs, or trash.

  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.

Additional Tips

  • Most importantly, the best defense is a good offense. Install smoke alarms to warn of a fire and have carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in your home to warn about a faulty furnace, fireplace or other venting problems.
  • Also, be sure your family has an escape plan in place should any issues arise.

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