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Illinois Country Living

December 2007 Issue: FeatureCommentaryCurrents SafetyGardenEnergy SolutionsFinest Cooking More

Molly Hall
Molly Hall is the Director of Safe Electricity.

Safety & Health:

Don't Get Burned by Space Heaters

Consider replacing old heaters with new safer models

Falling temperatures and rising heating costs have many looking at ways to lower home heating bills. Safe Electricity urges extreme caution for those planning to use electric space heaters to help warm homes this winter.

Approximately one-third of all house fires nationwide occur during the cold home heating season of December, January and February. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the major cause of these winter fires can be attributed to faulty and improper use and maintenance of supplemental heating equipment, such as space heaters.

Portable heaters can help take the chill from areas of your home, but are very dangerous if used improperly. Stay warm and safe, and give space heaters space - at least three feet from anything that can burn, including little fingers.

Some cities have banned the use of many types of portable space heaters. Before purchasing or using any type of space heater, check with your local fire department to find out if it is legal in your community.

Safe Electricity offers the following precautions when using electric space heaters:

  • Purchase only space heaters that have been safety tested and UL approved. Make sure the unit is equipped with an emergency tip-over shut-off feature and heating element guards. Read and follow all of the manufacturer's instructions for operation and care.
  • Before use, check to make sure the heater is clean and in good condition, and have all problems professionally repaired.
  • Place heater out of high-traffic areas and on a level, hard, non-flammable floor surface -- NOT on carpets, furniture or countertops. 
  • Remember to keep space heaters at least three feet from all combustible liquids like fuel, spray cans and paint, as well as flammable items such as draperies, blankets and sofas.
  • Never allow pets or children near an electric heater. Accidental contact could result in serious shock or burns.
  • Do not overload circuits. Never use extension cords or multiple plugs with a space heater, and make sure the unit is not plugged into the same circuit as other electric appliances.
  • Never leave space heaters unattended. Turn off your space heater and unplug it before leaving the room or going to bed.

Consider replacing older space heaters with newer, safer models. Additionally, look for features that enhance the safety of the unit including an electronic thermostat that allows precise temperature control to avoid overheating.

Many people also use electric blankets to keep warm during cold winter nights. Before plugging in electric blankets, check for any damage and inspect cord for frays, cracks or cuts. Electric blankets should not be tucked under the mattress and nothing should be placed on top of the blanket while it's in use, including comforters and bedspreads. Never dry-clean an electric blanket; the chemicals can damage the heating insulation and increase the risk of fire. Also, pets should never be allowed to sleep on the electric blanket.

In addition to these safety tips, remember that a functioning smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. Replace the batteries twice a year, and remember to practice a home escape plan and share these safety tips with your family.

For More Information:

For more electrical safety information, visit Safe Electricity is an electrical safety public awareness program created and supported by a coalition of several dozen organizations, including electric utilities, educators and other entities committed to promoting electrical safety.


© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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