Rules for Using Space Heater Without Burning Your House Down

As more residents use fireplaces and space heaters, the number of residential fires increases.

Space heaters will likely be cranked up as Maryland is hit with below-freezing temperatures. Here's how to use them safely. File | Patch
Space heaters will likely be cranked up as Maryland is hit with below-freezing temperatures. Here's how to use them safely. File | Patch

As the temperatures drop and residents use fireplaces and space heaters to supplement home heating systems, more fires results, says the Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department.

The department is reminding everyone that home fires are more prevalent in cold weather than in any other time of the year, in part because of an increase in cooking and heating fires. Winter storms can interrupt electrical service and cause people to turn to alternative heating sources, which also contribute to the increased risk of fire in winter.  

Fire safety and prevention are especially important during times of cold temperatures, the department said in a news release.

“Temperatures drop and fires increase,” said Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor.

According to national statistics, space heaters account for about one-third of the home heating fires, yet more than 80 percent of the home heating fire deaths. 

An estimated 108,400 winter residential building fires occur annually in the United States, resulting in an estimated average of 945 deaths, 3,825 injuries, and $1.7 billion in property loss.  

Cooking and heating are the top causes of fires during cold weather. 

“The winter season brings the highest number of home fires than any other time of year,” said Bashoor. “Each winter season, home fires increase in part due to cooking and heating fires. Fire safety and injury prevention must not be lost in an effort to stay warm. Stay warm and do so safely.” 

The Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department recommends the following safety tips for space heaters. 

Electric Space Heaters

• Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories.

• Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.

• Heaters are not dryers or tables; don't dry clothes or store objects on top of your heater. 

 • Space heaters need space; keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater.

• Always unplug your electric space heater when not in use. Turn off at night or whenever you sleep. Never use an extension cord with space heaters - plug directly into wall socket.

Using a kerosene heater? Never refuel indoors. Remove the kerosene heater outdoors, turn off and wait for it to cool down before refueling and only use the correct type of fuel.

General Heating Tips     

  • Furnaces, fireplaces and chimneys should be cleaned and checked each year by an appropriate professional prior to using. Clear away any clutter from these heating devices, at least 3 feet away.
  • Only use seasoned wood in fireplaces and never use ignitable liquids to start a fire.
  • The 3-foot rule also applies to furnaces and fireplaces. No combustibles items within 3 feet of these heating appliances.
  • Dispose of fireplace ash into a metal container and store outdoors away from structures on a concrete surface.  Fireplace ash can ignite a fire days after they have been discarded.

Finally, ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working by pushing the test button on the front cover. If you do not hear an audible warning, replace your alarm with a new 10-year, tamper proof, with hush feature alarm. Having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. A working CO detector will protect you and your family from deadly "silent killer" fumes that may be building up in your home. Remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.

For additional information from the USFA on Winter Fire Safety; click here.usfire.gov.


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