In 2011, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 400 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries, and $893 million in direct property damage. These fires accounted for 14% of all reported home fires.
- Space heaters, whether portable or stationary, accounted for one-third (33%) of home heating fires and four out of five (81%) of home heating fire deaths.
- The leading factor contributing to home heating fires (28%) was failure to clean, principally creosote from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys.
- Placing things that can burn too close to heating equipment or placing heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding, was the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal home heating fires and accounted for more than half (53%) of home heating fire deaths.
- Half (50%) of all home heating fires occurred in December, January and February.
When buying and installing a small space heater, follow these guidelines:
- Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater carries the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label.
- Choose a thermostatically controlled heater, because they avoid the energy waste of overheating a room.
- Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.
- Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.
Space heater safety tips
- Keep all space heaters at least 3 feet away from household combustibles.
- Use space heaters only as a supplementary source of heat. These devices are not intended to replace the home’s heating system.
- Do not use extension cords with space heaters unless absolutely necessary.
- Inspect the heater’s cord periodically to look for frayed wire or damaged insulation. Do not use a space heater with a damaged cord.
- Check periodically for a secure plug/outlet fit. If the plug becomes very hot, the outlet may need to be replaced by a qualified technician. This could be the sign of a potential home wiring issue.
- Heaters should be placed on a flat, level surface. Do not place heaters on furniture since they may fall and become damaged or break parts in the heater.
- Unless the heater is designed for use outdoors or in bathrooms, do not use in damp, wet areas.
- Look for the UL Mark on your electric heater. This means representative samples of the appliance have met UL’s stringent safety standards.
- If you have a liquid-fueled space heater, use only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer. The wrong fuel could burn hotter than the equipment was designed for and cause a serious fire.
- When refueling, turn off the heater and let it cool down completely before adding fuel. Wipe away any spills promptly.
- Before you buy a kerosene heater, check with your local fire department to ensure that it is legal.