Electrical space heaters
November 21, 2011
According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment is a leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January, and February. Other agencies, such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, NFPA and Consumer Reports warn consumers electric space heaters should not be used as a regular or permanent heat source; they should be used only as a supplemental heating device and with strict precautions.
Consumer Reports recommends only using a new space heater certified by a nationally recognized testing agency. These include Underwriters Laboratories, Intertek ETL Semko or Canadian Standards Association, and the labeling should make it clear the heater has been manufactured under UL or CSA standards.
A space heater should include additional features such as a thermostat and automatic tip-over shut-off.
Other common-sense issues to remember when using a space heater include:
• Always place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes.
• Keep the heater away from children, pets, furniture, curtains and water or dampness such as a bathroom, sink or by an open window.
• If possible, plug the heater directly into the wall socket, and the plug should fit snugly into the outlet. If an extension cord must be used, it should be heavy-duty 14-gauge or wider (always check the manufacturer's manual).
• Never leave a heater unattended while people are sleeping or when you leave the house.
• In addition, the heater should have a guard around the heat source to keep children or pets from coming into contact with the heating element.
• Read the owner's manual to learn how to use it and where to place it.
Since space heaters consume a substantial amount of electricity, ask yourself if the electric circuit to which it is attached will handle the load. You may be surprised at what you discover.
Consider these facts:
• A 15-amp branch circuit could carry up to 1,500 watts of electricity and most home circuits are designed as 15-amp branch circuits. A portable electric heater alone draws approximately 1,200 watts of electricity.
• If one 1,500-watt heater uses approximately 12.5 amps, a 15-amp breaker can handle only one such heater on the circuit and very little else can be on when the heater is on.
• Read the instruction manual or check the data plate on the heater and do
the calculations to prevent overloading the circuit.
Even with safety devices, no winter heating season passes without reports of tragedies caused by defective space heaters. Make sure your home is equipped with both a working smoke alarm, and a space heater, which has been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards. If you are shopping for a new heater, check the tag on the heater's cord to confirm a certified testing authority approved it.
The CPSC collects information on problems with electric space heaters. For the latest information, go to http://www.cpsc.gov . The organization is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from consumer products.
To provide better service in alerting people to unsafe, hazardous or defective products, six federal agencies have created a "one stop shop" for U.S. government recalls of consumer products. This link is http://recalls.gov/.
Before using a space heater, go to the site and check -- your heater may have been recalled.
Precautions for the safe use of space heaters:
• They should be approved by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration recognized laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories, Intertek ETL Semko, or CSA International, and the labeling should make it clear the heater has been manufactured under UL or CSA standards
• Use the heater in areas free of combustibles
• Heaters should be equipped with a tip-over switch
• Heaters should NOT be used with extension cords
• Do not use heaters with missing or broken parts (such as knobs, grills, or stands)
• Check your installation for local policies on space heater usage
• Read the owner's manual or the unit data plate to determine the amperage of the device
• Mail in the warranty card or register your heater by email