Space Heaters: Stay Warm and Safe this Winter

Dependaworthy On Time Electrical Logo
Let’s be honest, when we say “space heaters”, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

An affordable, portable, easy option to heat a room or a potential fire hazard?

With space heaters, both attributes are accurate, however, there’s no reason to fear using them. With common sense, simple precautions, and awareness, space heaters offer a myriad of benefits in the colder months to heat areas of your home.

While most homeowners will simply adjust the thermostat of their central heating system to stay comfortable as outside temperatures dip, space heaters can be a great option in those “transitional” weeks between fall and spring when warm and cold days still leap frog throughout the week. This eases the on-again-off-again burden on your central heating and air system. Sometimes, it makes more sense to use a space heater to keep your toes warm in your favorite reading nook or in a kitchen dining area, as examples, versus deploying your entire whole-house heating system.

And yes, while the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that space heaters are culprits in nearly one-third of all home fires nationwide, and 4 out of 5 home heating fatalities, their potential danger can be greatly reduced or eliminated with careful setup and sensible monitoring.

Before we get to those safety tips, let’s take a quick look at the types of spaces heaters most commonly used in homes.

Gas / Propane / Kerosene Heaters

The key thing to remember with these types of portable heaters, while popular and effective, is that they generate dangerous, combustible gases or fumes due to the fuel they are burning; gas, oil, or kerosene. It’s best to use them only in an area that is well-ventilated, ideally with access to the outdoors. You might have seen or experienced these types of heaters in large event tents, restaurant outdoor seating areas, or screened-in porches.

If you are looking to size a fuel-burning space heater for your needs, here are some general guidelines using British Thermal Units, or BTUs, which is how their heat output is measured.

  • Smaller heaters have outputs ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 BTUs, which are great for heating 150 to 200 square feet, like an event tent.
  • Medium heaters will produce 12,000 to 30,000 BTUs, suitable for spaces approximately 600-800 square feet.
  • Larger heaters generate 150,000 to 200,000 BTUs and, in combination with an electric fan to circulate the hot air, can heat spaces over 3,000 square feet.

With any size model, an important safety feature to look for is a low-oxygen shut-off or oxygen depletion sensor. If oxygen levels drop in a space, the sensor will detect that change, stop fuel from flowing to the heater and shut off the flame.

Electric Space Heaters:

These are very popular for residential use because they come in a variety of sizes and they are easy to transport and setup. Many people prefer them because you simply plug them in versus the need to purchase and use fuel. They produce heat by passing current through substance such as wire, ceramic, quartz or a radiator that collects the heat and then radiates it away, sending that warm air out into the space where it’s needed. Heaters with ceramic and quartz elements inside do not get as hot to the touch as heaters with metal interior components.

Safety features to look for here are a tip-over switch, overheat sensor, and a touch sensor. One of the most important safety features is the style of cord. Look for models that offer a longer, heavy-duty power cord which will allow you to avoid using an extension cord. Smaller cords that can fray easily elevate the spark risk that can lead to a fire.

While fuel-burning models measure output in BTUs, electric models measure output in watts. Most that you will find on the market today offer output ranges of 400 to 1,500 watts, with a feature that allows you to adjust the heat output that will work best in your space. In some models, built-in fans can circulate the hot air through the space and a thermostat will maintain the heat output to a desired temperature automatically. This keeps you from having to manually shut the heater off and on to manage the warmth of the room.

Safety tips:

The style of heater you choose can vary, but safety tips are universal. To reduce the risk of injury and fires, be mindful of the following:

  • Before you even purchase a heater, make sure you see a “UL Listed” label. This stands for “Underwriter Laboratories”, an independent organization which tests products for safety.
  • Once you get a heater home, read and follow all of the manufacturer’s directions for your space heater before you use it.
  • Establish a “safety zone” around space heaters, approximately 3-feet in diameter, and never use a space heater in a child’s bedroom.
  • As part of that safety zone, ensure no bedding, furniture, curtains or other flammable material can touch the heater.
  • Don’t run power cords underneath rugs or carpet and keep them out of foot traffic areas (and off of tables and countertops where they can be knocked over easily.) Stepping on cords will cause them to wear and fray, causing a fire hazard.
  • Don’t use a space heater in a damp or wet area unless it’s specifically made for that purpose.
  • IMPORTANT: Install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and test monthly.

Space heaters, when used properly, can be an efficient and cost-effective supplement to using your whole-house central heating system. However, they are not a recommended sole heating source for your home. In fact, the Department of Energy’s EnergyStar program doesn’t even provide efficiency ratings for space heaters. Your home’s interior heat will last longer if you also keep windows and doors well-sealed. There are affordable DIY products on the market to help you keep drafts at bay.

If you have any questions about space heaters or concerns about your home’s electrical system or safe ventilation, call On Time Electrical customer service 24/7 at (704) 675-7400 for a free consultation. We are Charlotte’s go-to electrical contractors, ready to service all of your residential or business power needs.

You can also visit us online anytime at Check out our weekly and monthly specials, plus we waive the service call fee on ANY repair! Locally owned and operated, we’re On Time Electrical. It’s electric!