What makes a home cozy? Is it the furnishings and textiles or how they're arranged? Partly. But it’s also warmth, that which you see, and also what you feel. Most homes rely on some type of heating system through colder months, but sometimes a central system just isn’t enough. And that’s when it's time to consider getting a space heater.
Small heaters are intended for use as supplemental heat. They warm chilly spots by windows and doors, and give a little boost to areas that just can’t seem to warm up otherwise. They may also be used to lower overall heating costs when you only need to keep one or two rooms warm during the day.
But using a space heater takes a lot of care. To get the most from your supplemental heater, and to keep your family safe, here are a few tips for using them the right way.
Choose the Right Heater for Your Home
Not all space heaters are created the same, and size doesn’t mean everything. (Read: 8 Smart Ideas to Keep Your House Warm)
If you’ve got a large space to heat, such as a living room or bedroom, an oil-filled, portable radiator is a good choice. They are more efficient than some heaters because the unit only switches on long enough to heat the oil inside. Oil holds heat longer than metal or water, so it can radiate warmth out into the room for a long time before the unit switches back on again.
For very small spaces, a ceramic space heater or fan-forced model might be a good choice. They heat up very quickly, and provide a lot of heat to a small space.
When buying a portable space heater, here are the factors you want to consider:
- All heaters should be Underwriters Listed (UL).
- Heaters should have a thermostat to automatically shut off when the desired temperature is reached.
- Heaters should have a tip over, automatic shut down feature.
- Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website for product recalls before buying a heater.
Bathrooms are another story. Water and electricity don’t mix, so space heaters in a wet area can be a dangerous combination. If you need supplemental heat in a bathroom, look for one that’s made specifically for the space.
Be Careful in How You Use a Space Heater
In most cases, it is not safe to leave any space heater unattended. This doesn’t mean you have to stay in the room and babysit the heater the whole time it’s running. It only means that you should turn it off if you leave the house, and when you go to bed at night. Some heaters also come with a timer so they'll turn off automatically, in case you forget to switch them off. This is one of my favorite features on my gas fireplace, where I can set the timer for one hour of enjoyment without worrying about what happens if I fall asleep.
Not convinced? Portable space heaters are the leading cause of home fires during the winter (December through February), following fires due to cooking equipment causing the most home fires year round. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “… only 32 percent of home heating fires involve space heaters, they are involved in 79 percent of home heating fire deaths”.
So follow these tips for using portable space heaters in your home:
- Always read the label and follow the directions. If one heater says it’s not safe in bathrooms or sleeping areas, look for another one that says it's meant for the intended area and keep this information visible with the heater at all times.
- Keep heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn. This includes furniture, clothing, drapes, bedspreads, and even your walls. Watch out for accumulated fur, if you have pets. A small tuft of dog or car fur can wedge under a heater, creating a fire hazard.
That means while the photo above looks great, it is absolutely not safe to place the heater this close to the bed!
- Avoid using extension cords because they can overheat easily, especially when a heater runs for long periods of time. That can cause a fire. (Read: Protect Your Family from Fire)
While many space heaters are black and not terribly attractive, the Dyson AM05 Hot + Cold Heater, comes in bright blue, gray/silver and black, so go ahead and match your decor (I like blue because I love bright colors).
A cozy home is one that you’re happy to relax in all winter long. And with supplemental heat, there’s no need to avoid any space, not even the ones where your central heating system just can’t reach. By and large, space heaters are perfectly safe to use. The problems more often arise from poor maintenance and careless use. Fortunately, those are issues that you can avoid.
Are you planning to use a space heater in your home this year? Which one will you choose, and why? We’d love to hear about how it performs.