7 Space Heater Mistakes That Could Burn Down Your House

svedoliver / Getty Images

With winter in full swing, your home might not be as cozy as you’d like, especially if you have drafty rooms and chilly floors.

The fix? Plugging in a space heater. Particularly if you just need to warm up a small area, heaters can help you save energy—and money.

Yet using these appliances isn’t always intuitive, and setting them up incorrectly can be a recipe for disaster. In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, portable space heaters cause 1,100 fires every year, injuring and killing dozens of people.

So before you plug in a space heater, learn how it works and commit these mistakes to memory of things to never do.

1. Leaving a space heater unattended

The biggest mistake homeowners make is plugging in a heater and then exiting the room.

“Leaving a space heater unattended could lead to a fire if there’s an electrical malfunction with a circuit or the cord, or another risk that combines electricity, water, and the heating elements,” says Josh McCormick, vice president of operations at Mr. Electric.

A sealed oil system means you never have to refill it. Amazon

If you leave the room where your space heating is working, turn it off first. Or consider a portable version with wheels, as shown abovee, which can slide into the next room. This device has different heat settings and a thermostat so you can control the level of output ($88, Amazon).

2. Buying an old space heater without the latest safety features

A quality space heater that carries the sticker from a testing lab or safety organization is key. (Look for UL, which stands for Underwriters Laboratories.)

“The best heaters are the newest models with the latest safety features—like an automatic shut-off if the device accidentally tips over—and no exposed heating elements,” says McCormick.

Older models or anything you pick up at a yard sale may not have the most up-to-date safety mechanisms.

3. Plugging a space heater into an overloaded circuit

Photo by Hammer Design Build Remodel

Ever trip a breaker because you’ve overloaded an outlet? Doing this with a space heater is another no-no.

“These appliances draw a lot of electricity and can easily trip your home circuits, so be certain each heater is plugged into a single circuit,” says McCormick.

And don’t reach for power strips or extension cords either.

“Space heaters must be plugged directly into a wall outlet as cords and strips could overheat and become a fire hazard,” he explains.

If you really need an extension cord to run a heater, ask an electrician for advice. And definitely call in a pro if you discover that the outlet, faceplate, or any part of the heater’s cord feels hot to the touch or is emitting an acrid, burnlike odor.

4. Using a space heater in the bathroom

Photo by Design Lab Home Design Center

Of course you know never to mix water and electricity, so forget the idea of warming up your bathroom with a space heater, even on frigid winter mornings. The same goes for using these appliances in the kitchen—it’s just too risky to bring them close to a sink, dishwasher, or other water source.

5. Using a spacer heater in kids bedrooms

Photo by JAC Interiors

Kids love to tinker with things—and they poke their army men and Lego bricks into tiny crevices, so you can imagine what might happen if they’re left alone with a space heater.

Along with a firm no-heaters-in-the-kids-room decree, establish the same rule with your family pet. Don’t leave your pooch or kitty alone with a running heater lest it get bumped or topple over.

6. Putting your heater in a cramped space

Photo by Houzz

A flat surface is important for space heaters, even though the risk of tipping is reduced with modern iterations. Still, keep your device on a hard, stable surface, away from stairs or slopes and off of thick pile carpets and throw rugs.

And speaking of fabrics, space heaters should always be surrounded by a 3-foot clearance to limit potential fire risk, says David Flax, vice president of operations at Window Genie. In particular, steer heaters away from such combustible materials as newspapers, books, bedspreads, curtains, throw pillows, blankets, and upholstery.

7. Expecting a space heater to make up for a drafty house

When used as intended, a quality space heater can take the chill off, making your space feel cozy and comfortable. Keep in mind, however, that these electrical wonders can’t work miracles, which means larger heat-loss issues should be addressed pronto.

“Very often leaky windows are responsible for letting out heat, so think about installing residential window film to insulate and reduce the need to constantly run your heating system or turn on portable heaters,” says Flax.

Article by Jennifer Kelly Geddes