HIBBING — Space heaters are often a convenient way to add extra warmth on cold winter days. But without proper care and attention, space heaters can be a very real fire hazard.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires — resulting in more than 300 deaths — every year are associated with the use of space heaters
An estimated 6,000 people receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries from contact with the hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.
“The general rule of thumb with space heaters is using a listed (either UL or other listing agency) heater, keeping items at least 3 feet away, keeping them in proper working order, plug them directly to an outlet, and like candles, turn them off when you leave the room,” said Hibbing Fire Marshal Bryan Fagerstrom.
It is also important to remember that space heaters must be plugged directly into the wall.
“A couple of years ago we had a near half-million dollar fire loss due to a heater being plugged into a power strip,” Fagerstrom said. “Heaters need to be plugged directly into the wall, not an extension cord or power strip. “
Fagerstrom noted that another item to consider is the number of heaters plugged into a circuit. The average electric space heater draws between 750 and 1500 watts of power. This is about the maximum a 15 amp household circuit can handle, he explained.
“Many of the homes in Hibbing have older ‘knob and tube’ or cotton jacketed wiring which is only rated for a maximum of 15 amps,” Fagerstrom said. “Many people replace their 15 amp fuses with 20 amp fuses to be able to run multiple heaters or electrical appliances.”
When too much demand is put on old wiring, there could be consequences.
“When multiple heaters or appliances are put on the same circuit of these older homes, with too large of a fuse, the wiring could fail and potentially cause a fire,” Fagerstrom explained.
To assess the safety of older wiring in a home, Fagerstrom recommends contacting a licensed electrician to evaluate the condition of your electrical service.
Follow these guidelines when buying or installing a small space heater:
• Only purchase a new model that has all of the current safety features. Make sure it carries the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label.
• Choose a thermostat-controlled heater to prevent energy waste.
• Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not buy an oversized heater.
• Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Keep children and pets away from it.
Source: Minnesota Department of Commerce