Get ready to make space for space heaters in your home

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
- posted Tue., Sep. 13, 2011
- Contributed Photo

Fall has arrived, and you know what that means. The temperature will begin to drop for real, and the thermostat will wake up your heating system. You may have already taken measures to ward off “Old Man Winter” by sealing windows and doors, and adding insulation in the ceilings and walls. But you may also be thinking about a standby heat source that will let you turn the thermostat down, while you snuggle in a single room to watch TV. You may also be considering something to take the chill off the bathroom in the morning, until everyone can get out of the house for the day. These are all opportunities that call for a space heater, and store shelves are full of them right now.

If you already have one, take some time to review all the safety items for yourself and also with your family. Give it the once-over to be sure it is in good working condition. Consider its age. If it’s an electric heater, examine the cord and the heating elements to check for fraying or brittleness.

If you are looking for the first time or to replace what you have, there is some variety of space heating devices to choose from. Kerosene is one type of heater that may quickly come to mind for many. But there are propane fire devices, liquid fuel units, oil-filled, electric-powered systems and several types of electric heaters. These may have fans that drive the warm air out into space. Some electric heaters use conventional heating elements. Others use ceramics. If you are leaning toward one type of device over another, check with your local government to find out what is approved and what is not. Some towns, for instance, may not allow kerosene heaters in the home.

When shopping for a device for your home, be sure to get one that will automatically shut off if it’s tipped over. When you leave a room or go to bed, shut the space heater off completely. While they are in use, they should be sitting on a firm, flat surface. Power cords should be plugged directly into a wall outlet, rather than an extension cord.

A study done for the National Fire Protection Association only a few years ago noted, “Space heaters collectively pose a much higher risk of fire… than does central heating.” It went on to say that it didn’t much matter which type of space heater was being considered, “except for electric-powered devices, which show the lowest risk.”

From that same study, it’s pretty clear what the common causes of fires, injuries and deaths are: having the heat source too close to combustible material tops the list. About one third of the fires and more than 50 percent of the associated deaths are related to this cause. The second most frequent cause of fires, damage, injuries and deaths is equipment that is unattended.

Beyond that information, all the advice and warnings seem to come down to using common sense. If you are choosing a liquid fuel heater, make certain the fuel you are using is the right choice. Read and comply with the manufacturer’s instructions. Install all space heating equipment according to local codes, as well as the manufacturer’s instructions. Don’t guess! Find out what these documents say, and comply with them.

If you are burning a fuel, be certain you have adequate and unobstructed venting. Carbon monoxide can build up, causing toxic conditions.

There should be a 3-foot space completely surrounding any space heater. Extreme caution is in order when there are children present, and it’s best to have a noncombustible screen to keep little ones and inattentive adults clear of the heat source. Don’t think only of keeping people away from the heater; keep anything remotely combustible away, as well. Don’t use the heater to keep food warm or to take the chill off a jacket. Use the space heater for heating space only.

Finally, educate and inform everyone else in your household about the space heater, regardless of their age. Be smart, be safe and be warm.

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