Making Wise Choices When Using Electric Heaters


With winter weather swiftly approaching, you may be thinking about how you’re going to keep your home and family warm more affordably this year. One cost effective method is to turn down the thermostat and run a small electric heater in the room where your family spends time together in the evening. If you decide this plan will work for you, make sure you use the heater safely!

Portable Electric Heaters and House Fires

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that portable electric heaters cause about 1,200 house fires annually. These high-wattage appliances can start fires by igniting nearby curtains, bedspreads, paper and other combustible materials. 

Wise Choices for Using Electric Heaters

To prevent your portable electric heater from causing a house fire, follow these safety tips for running the appliance:

  • When purchasing a heater, find out if it’s safety-certified. Ask the salesman or look for a safety certification mark on the heater or packaging.
  • Before turning on the heater, read the instruction manual and warning labels on the portable heater.
  • Check the cord, plug and heater itself for damage. Never run a heater if any part of it appears broken.
  • When you plug the heater in, make sure it fits tightly in the outlet. If the plug feels loose in the socket, use a different outlet.
  • Avoid plugging anything else into the same outlet as the heater since this could cause overheating.
  • Set the heater on a flat, stable surface where it will not be knocked over. The floor is the best place. Only consider setting the heater on a tabletop if specified as acceptable by the manufacturer.
  • Don’t allow anything to block the heater’s air intake and outlet.
  • Only run the heater if all surrounding combustible materials – beds, curtains, pillows, sofas, papers and clothes – are at least three feet away from the front, back and sides of the heater.
  • Keep the heater away from water to prevent electrical shock. Never touch an electric heater if your hands are wet.
  • Keep the heater away from flammable materials such as aerosol sprays, matches and gasoline.
  • Never power the heater with an extension cord or power strip since these could overheat from the electrical demand and start a fire.
  • Never allow the power cord to run under rugs or furniture. This could damage the cord and even overheat it to the point of ignition in extreme circumstances.
  • Prevent cords from passing in front of doors or crossing major walkways so people don’t trip.
  • Check the heater frequently while in use to test whether the plug, cord, wall outlet or faceplate is hot. If you discover that any of these components feels hot to the touch, turn off the heater and unplug it from the wall. If you hope to be able to use the heater again in the future, hire a qualified electrician to take a look at the wall outlet and the heater.
  • Don’t run the heater outdoors or in bathrooms unless it’s designed for use in wet areas. Excess humidity could damage sensitive components within the heater.
  • Don’t leave the heater operating if you exit the room or go to sleep. Don’t leave children unattended with the heater.
  • Unplug the heater when not in use. Always grasp the plastic plug and pull it straight out from the outlet rather than yanking on the cord to unplug the heater.

If you need help with a troublesome outlet, or you have other questions about using an electric heater safely, please contact Mr. Electric® for an electrical safety inspection.


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