Interior Home Safety

12 Things Never to Do With Your Space Heater

When Old Man Winter comes calling, many homeowners rely on space heaters to stay comfortable, rather than turning the thermostat up a few expensive degrees. But while a space heater is a great way to add a little cozy warmth to your home, these utility-bill-reducers can be risky if not used correctly. To keep your home and family safe, pay attention to these 12 space heater "don'ts."

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Keep Your Family Safe

While most house fires start in the kitchen, heating equipment is the second most common cause of residential blazes. You might assume that fireplaces are the main culprit, but according to the National Fire Protection Association, it’s actually space heaters that cause the most—and the deadliest—home fires. Of the 52,000 home fires started by heating equipment each year, 44 percent are caused by space heaters, followed by fireplaces at 32 percent. But that doesn’t mean you should get rid of your space heater: It just means that you need to take care to use the device as safely as possible.

Don't Forget the Safety Zone

Space heaters and fabrics of any type are a deadly combo. In fact, space heater fires are most commonly caused by some sort of fabric, including clothing, curtains, upholstered furniture, or even mattresses, that comes in contact with or sits too close to the heater. Always maintain a safety zone of at least three feet between your space heater and any type of fabric or other flammable material, including paper.

Don't Run Cords Under the Rug

It’s a common scenario: You want the space heater close enough to chase away the chill, but the nearest electrical outlet is all the way across the room. You decide to solve the problem by running the space heater’s cord underneath an area rug, figuring that you’ll get the space heater where you want it and you’ll eliminate a tripping hazard at the same time. Don’t do it! Running the cord under the rug introduces the much graver danger of fire, as the cord can fray or crimp beneath the rug, completely unseen, with potentially disastrous consequences. 

Related: 10 Space Heaters We Love

Don't Leave Pets in the Room Unattended

The pleasant warmth of a space heater is like a magnet for cats, but a curious—or chilly—dog may also be attracted. Though they may want to hang out near the device, never leave pets unattended in any room with a running space heater. Either lock Fluffy and Fido out, or turn the space heater off when you leave the room.

Don't Use an Extension Cord

As with any appliance or device that generates heat, never plug a space heater into an extension cord or a power strip. The high power demand of the space heater can cause the extension cord or power strip to short-circuit or overheat, potentially causing a fire. Instead, always plug your space heater directly into a wall outlet, and don’t plug anything else into the same outlet while the space heater is running.

Don't Place the Heater on Furniture

Don’t set your space heater on top of a dresser, table, or other piece of furniture. An accidental bump or a curious cat could knock the heater to the floor, leading to a burn injury or a fire hazard. Space heaters belong on the floor.

Don't Put the Heater on a Carpet or Area Rug

Not only must your space heater sit on the floor, but it’s safe only when the floor is a hard surface such as wood, laminate, tile, or vinyl. Never place a space heater on top of an area rug or carpeting. They tend to trap heat and could ignite if things get toasty enough.

Don't Expose the Heater to Moisture

It might be tempting to use a space heater to warm up your bathroom while you shower, but resist the urge. Unless the heater is specifically designed for use in humid environments (and very few are), it is never safe to use a space heater in a confined, highly humid space—like, for instance, a bathroom with a closed door and a running tub or shower.

Don't Run a Space Heater Overnight

Leaving your space heater running all night long while you sleep is a no-no. If the unit overheats, tips over, or short-circuits overnight, a fire could break out while you’re fast asleep. Use the heater to warm up your room before bed, and then switch it off right before you slide between the sheets.

Related: 8 Patio Heaters to Keep You Comfy Outdoors

Don't Use an Old or Secondhand Space Heater

While just about all of today’s space heaters have multiple safety features, including an auto shut-off if the unit gets too hot, tips over, or runs for too long, that’s not true of space heaters made a decade or more ago. If you’ve had the same space heater for many years, it’s time to upgrade to a newer and safer unit.

Don't Forget to Check for Certification

Before buying a space heater, check that it’s been certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Intertek (ETL). Normally, the certification will be indicated on the space heater’s packaging. These organizations perform rigorous tests to ensure that home electronics are as safe as possible.

Don't Leave Your Space Heater Alone

Even if you are leaving the room for only a few minutes, switch your space heater off before you go. You may just be running to the kitchen for a snack or down to the basement to move the laundry to the dryer, yet while you’re gone the device could overheat, tip, or short-circuit. The risk is small, but it’s still a risk—and it’s not worth it.

Related: 10 Things Your Local Fire Department Wishes You Knew

Don't Block the Doorway or Escape Route

Nothing should ever block the doorway of your bedroom or the route you would need to take from your bed to that doorway in an emergency—especially not something that gets scalding hot. To keep you safe from dangerous trips and tumbles, your space heater needs to be positioned at least a couple of feet to the side of any doorway, path, or high-traffic area of your home.