Is your space heater a cold weather killer?

Rusty Weston

Your home is cold yet you only want to warm the room you’re in. Using a space heater makes sense, except if it can kill you and others in your home.

What’s the chance of that calamity happening? Home space heater fires are involved in 19,300 home fires annually - half of which happen in December, January and February – according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Nationwide Insurance, which brought this possibility to our attention, says that the average space heater fire claim it pays is about $40,000. And to dramatize this for all of us, they sponsored a test fire, a “live bedroom burn” using a kerosene-fueled space heater to gauge how quickly these fires can spread and how much damage they can cause. To illustrate one problem they placed the lit space heater too close to bedding - within three feet.

“What families don’t realize is how quickly fires can spread,” says Matt Noble, Orange Township assistant fire chief, who participated in Nationwide’s space heater fire test. “From the time we lit the kerosene heater it was approximately 3 minutes – the heat coming off of the kerosene heater vaporized the bedding material. That caught fire and spread to the mattress.”

How do these things happen? Well for one thing, you want to keep the space heaters at least three feet away from whatever is flammable. And as with many consumer products, bad things can happen if they’re broken. “What we find is sometimes people store them away for spring and summer and when they bring them out they’re damaged,” says Noble.

This isn’t the first time Nationwide has sacrificed a room for the greater glory of training purposes, says Pete Lore, Nationwide’s associate vice president of claims. “We’ve burned this bedroom. We’ve flooded the basement. We’ve run a car into it. We dropped a tree on it. It’s a great training tool for claims associates.”

Nationwide Insurance’s space heater safety tips:

• Keep it Level: Always place the space heater on a hard, level, and nonflammable surface (not on rugs or carpets)
• The Three Foot Rule: Ensure the space heater is at least three feet from anything that can burn (such as bedding, furniture and drapes)
• Kid-free Zone: Keep children and pets away from space heaters
• Don’t Leave it Running: Never leave a space heater on when you leave a room or go to sleep
• Got Smoke Alarms? Install working smoke alarms on every level of your home and test them monthly
• Heat Does Expire: Use a space heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a recognized testing lab
• One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Ensure your heater is the right size for your home to avoid carbon monoxide
• Don’t Extend Yourself: Plug an electric-powered space heater into an outlet with enough capacity and avoid using an extension cord.