Space Heater Safety

Space Heaters are the leading cause of home fires during winter months

The Worcester County Fire Marshal's Office encourages citizens to take fire safety precautions this winter when heating their homes.

If you plan to use a portable or fixed space heater this winter to offset high heating bills, use caution. Two out of three home fires associated with heating equipment involve devices other than central furnaces or water heaters, according to the latest statistics from the National Fire Protection Association. When used improperly, space heaters that are gas-fueled, kerosene-fueled or electric-powered, wood stoves, and fireplaces all lead to fires.

Portable kerosene heaters, which are illegal in some states, have the highest rate of deaths per household. Room gas heaters pose a similar risk of death from unvented carbon monoxide.

From 1999-2013, all forms of home heating caused over 56,000 fires, 470 deaths, 1,490 injuries, and $1 billion in property damage. Typically these fires occurred because the devices weren't cleaned regularly, were placed or installed too close to combustible materials, had basic flaws in construction or design, or were improperly fueled. Among these fires, space heaters accounted for 40% of all fires and 84% of all deaths.


Safety Tips

  • Space heaters need space. Portable space heaters need a three-foot clearance from anything that can burn such as furniture, draperies and walls. They should always be turned off when leaving the room or before going to sleep.
  • When buying a new unit, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing lab. Be sure that a qualified technician installs the unit or checks that the unit has been installed properly.
  • Only use approved containers for the purpose of storing and transporting kerosene and never store kerosene containers in the home.
  • Portable kerosene heaters must be fueled only in a well-ventilated area, free of flame and other heat sources, and only when the device has cooled completely. Use only the type of kerosene specified by the manufacturer for that device, and never use gasoline instead of kerosene.
  • When turning a space heating device on or off, be careful to follow the manufacturer's instructions. When buying heaters, look for devices with automatic shutoff features.
  • Be sure any gas-fueled heating device is installed with proper attention to ventilation, and never put unvented gas space heaters in bedrooms or bathrooms. Also, LP (liquefied petroleum) gas heaters with self-contained fuel supplies are prohibited for home use by NFPA codes.
  • Purchase at least one carbon monoxide detector and install it in the room that your space heater is located, if you can afford it install one in every sleeping room. Make sure you maintain the detector according to the manufacturer's instructions.