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Using Portable Space Heaters: Keeping Safe & Warm

Dec 07, 2021
Portable space heater

When temperatures drop outside, some families turn to space heaters to warm up their home. While space heaters can be an easy way to heat rooms, they should be used with caution. Space heaters are involved in thousands of home heating-related fires every year and are a common cause of burns to children.

There are two types of space heaters: fuel-burning and electric. Fuel-burning space heaters are ones that burn wood, gas, kerosene, propane, or pellets to create heat. Electric heaters use electricity to create heat and are often able to be moved around inside the home. Fuel-burning space heaters are only safe to use inside if they are installed to the wall or fireplace with a vent or pipes that direct the smoke and chemicals outside. They should not be moved once installed. Fuel-burning space heaters that are not installed and vented to the outside should never be used inside a home or garage. Unfortunately, one of the most common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home is from unvented, fuel-burning space heaters. If you plan to use a space heater this season, know the risks and keep safety in mind.

What to look for in a space heater:

  • Make sure that your space heater is intended for use indoors. Electric heaters are the only unvented option intended for indoor use. Permanent vented gas or vented wood stoves allow air pollutants to escape outside when they are installed properly. Unvented fuel-burning units should only be used outdoors in a well-ventilated area – never inside.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for use and choose a model that has a testing laboratory label. Check to make sure your space heater has a safety certification label from a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Setting up your space heater:

  • Plug your heater directly into a wall outlet. Plugging the heater into an extension cord or power strip can cause overheating and can lead to a home fire.
  • Place your space heater on a flat, level surface, at least three feet away from anything that can catch on fire (like curtains, clothes, furniture, or bedding), and away from water. Never use a space heater in the bathroom. Don’t place the heater where a child or pet could accidentally knock it over. Never place anything on top of a space heater.

How to use your space heater safely:

  • Only use your space heater while adults are home and awake. Do not leave your space heater running while you’re sleeping or not home. Do not leave pets or young children alone in a room with a space heater.
  • Install carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke alarms in your home and test them every month to make sure they are working properly. Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Learn where and how to install smoke alarms by visiting our page.
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Laura Dattner
Laura Dattner, MA
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Laura Dattner is a research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. With both a health communications and public health background, she works to translate pediatric injury research into meaningful, accurate messages which motivate the public to make positive behavior changes.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.