Safe Space

Be safety smart when using space heaters


Brrr … Did the unusually cold temperatures that kicked off the New Year have you searching for a little more warmth in your life? Portable space heaters are an easy way to turn up the heat. Just be sure to do your homework to find the best type to suit your needs while keeping safety in mind.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that portable electric heaters are involved in about 1,100 fires per year, resulting in roughly 50 deaths, dozens of injuries, and millions of dollars in property loss. The National Fire Protection Association reports that each year, 32% of home heating fires involve space heaters and account for approximately 80% of home heating fire deaths in the United States.

There are several different types of space heaters, including fan, ceramic, infrared, oil-filled, propane, and panel units. Both fan and ceramic models are similar in that they use a fan to distribute hot air. The difference is that traditional fan-based heaters have a metal coil element that is heated, while their counterparts have ceramic tiles inside that retain heat. Oil-filled heaters give off radiant heat, much like the old radiator home heating systems of yore; however, they are powered by electricity, which heats up the oil within the unit. Panel styles, too, give off radiant heat, but use electrical currents to produce heat instead of oil and typically don’t generate as much heat as other models, making them less effective in warming up an entire room.


Infrared heaters work in a different way in that they don’t actually give off heat. Electromagnetic waves emitted into the air heat up objects in the room, like walls, furniture, carpeting, and of course, people. Propane-driven heaters work like infrared varieties but are powered by liquid propane rather than electricity, and therefore can still be operated in the case of a power outage. It should be noted, however, that with an open flame, these models pose a greater safety risk of fire and explosion, and some models cannot be safely operated indoors.

There are many options, and all can be both beneficial (or even necessary in these cold months) and dangerous. Cal Fire estimates that half of all home heating fires are reported during the months of December, January, and February. So no matter which style you choose, it’s important to keep safety in mind when operating a portable space heater.


  • Keep all flammable materials from within 3 feet of the heater on all sides. This includes things like clothing, papers, furniture, blankets, curtains, etc.
  • Select a heater that has the seal of a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as UL. This ensures that it won’t ignite if tipped over.
  • Pick a model with an automatic shut-off mechanism should the unit overheat or tip over.
  • Ensure that your home has properly working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on all floors.
  • Place your unit on a smooth, flat surface.
  • Have a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.


  • Do not leave space heaters running when exiting the room, going to bed, or leaving the house.
  • Do not use an extension cord or power strip to run portable space heaters. This poses a greater risk of fire.
  • Do not run a space heater continuously, 24/7. This increases risk of overheating.
  • Do not plug more than one heater into a single outlet.
  • Do not use a unit that has a damaged plug or frayed cord.


  • Juliana Demarest

    Juliana Demarest is a Jersey girl with ink in her blood. She fell in love with print journalism at a young age in the '80s when her Uncle Tony would take her to "work" at his weekly paper. In 1997, she co-founded a weekly newspaper in North Jersey. One day, she went to photograph a local farmer for a news story. She ended up marrying him and leaving journalism to become a farmer's wife. In 2010, they packed up their two children and headed to Truckee in pursuit of the outdoor life. She didn't realize just how much she missed journalism until she joined Moonshine in 2018 after taking time off to be mom. Connect with Juliana

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