To save money in the winter, it's tempting to use a space heater to heat a room rather than to heat the entire house. But it's important to be cautious with this option. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of room (space) heaters. More than 300 people die in these fires. An estimated 6,000 more receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries associated with contacting hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.
When setting up a space heater, remember to keep it at least 30 inches from any flammable materials and set it up on the floor, unless it is designed otherwise.
Areas where space heaters are used should be free of combustible materials like wood, paper, rags and flammable liquids. Do not set them up on easily ignited or flammable surfaces, such as rugs or carpets, or use them to dry wet clothing.
When using a space heater in an enclosed area, it is a good idea to leave a window or door partially open to allow for fresh air to enter. This will prevent carbon monoxide (CO) buildup or a depletion of oxygen. Never take a gas-fired or kerosene heater into a confined space. The results could be deadly.
All unvented heaters manufactured after 1983 should be equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). The ODS will shut off a heater if it detects a reduced level of oxygen in the area where the heater is being used.
All gas heaters should be equipped with a pilot safety valve. This device will shut off the gas to the heater if the pilot light should go out, preventing the risk of explosion by not allowing the accumulation of gas.
If the pilot light goes out, remember the following safety tips:
It also is a good idea to light a match before you turn on the gas to the pilot. This avoids the risk of flashback, which could occur if gas is allowed to accumulate before lighting the pilot.
Electric heaters should be kept out of wet or moist places like bathrooms. Water or corrosion could lead to a fire or shock hazard.
All gas and kerosene heaters should be inspected annually by a qualified person to ensure that they are properly adjusted and clean.
Maintenance and inspections should include checking the following items:
You should be aware of the following hazards when using propane, kerosene or electric space heaters:
CO is a colorless, odorless gas produced by the incomplete burning of any carbon-containing material, including gasoline, natural gas, propane, coal or wood. CO is dangerous because it replaces oxygen in the blood and interferes with the transport of needed oxygen to cells in the body
Symptoms of CO poisoning can mimic those of the flu or food poisoning. Early exposure symptoms may include:
Prolonged exposure can lead to the following symptoms:
Because CO poisoning symptoms mimic the flu or food poisoning, it is important to inform medical responders of the possibility of exposure to excessive amounts of CO. Poisoning can be reversed if caught in time, but acute poisoning may result in permanent damage to the heart and brain.
Be sure to check out our Tips and Info section for more home safety and maintenance tips.
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