With frigid temperatures well below normal and not much relief in sight, many West Virginia residents are turning to additional heat sources to help their primary heater keep up with the arctic chill that has dominated early winter.
One of the most affordable and common alternatives are space heaters. While they can keep certain rooms warmer, they’re a bit of a double-edged sword according to West Virginia University Safety and Health Extension specialists.
Space heaters are one of the leading causes of home fires through the winter months, and according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, roughly 25,000 residential fires occur due to misuse.
Consumers should be aware of a few key things before purchasing and using space heaters.
There are many different types of space heaters including room gas heaters, portable kerosene heaters (which are illegal in many states) and portable electric heaters. Regardless of the type of space heater, make sure that the heating element is not exposed.
Look for space heater models with thermostatic controls and automatic shutoff features to ensure the safest possible operation when using a space heater. Most new models of electric heaters also feature a “tip switch” which automatically shuts off the heater if the device is tipped over.
After purchasing the heater, read the manual and warning labels on the heater itself and always follow those recommendations.
The most important rule to follow when using a space heater is to keep all outside objects at least three feet away. A combustible object that is too close to the heater is the main reason that fires occur.
Also, when in use, keep all children and pets away. Space heaters can reach extremely high temperatures that can cause severe burns to those who come in contact with their surfaces.
Never plug your space heater into a light-duty extension cord or multi-outlet surge protector; both are too weak to handle a high-wattage appliance and can cause a fire. A space heater must always be plugged directly into a wall outlet, preferably using a three-prong plug that is capable of handling its high amount of electricity.
Regardless of where the heater is plugged in, its cord should never be exposed to a high-traffic area where people are likely to trip over it and cause the space heater to fall.
And finally, never go to sleep with a space heater left on.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, never use an oven or stove burners to heat your home, especially if you have a gas stove. As flames burn, they emit carbon monoxide, an invisible, odorless gas that can cause sickness at moderate levels of buildup and can be fatal at high levels of buildup.
While during normal operation this isn’t a problem, misusing the stove to heat a room leads to high levels of carbon monoxide and a dangerous situation for all occupants.
For additional information on space heater safety, contact Tom Stockdale, WVU Safety and Health Extension specialist at 304.293.3089.
Connecting the people of West Virginia to the University’s resources and programs is the primary goal of WVU Extension Service and its 55 offices throughout the state. Local experts, like WVU Extension’s agents and specialists, work to help improve the lifestyles and well-being of youths, workforces, communities, farms and businesses through trusted research in the counties in which they serve.
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