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Safety should come first when using space heaters

1/20/2017 2:01:52 PM

Space heaters can be a convenient way to add heat to your home in cold weather. But they can pose serious fire and electric shock hazards if not properly used.

The Minnesota Commerce Department advises that safety should be your top consideration when using space heaters.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths. 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.

Small space heaters can sometimes be a less expensive way to heat one room in a home. They can also boost the temperature in rooms used by individuals who may be sensitive to cold, such as the elderly or someone with a serious illness, 

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.

Combustion space heaters

Unvented combustion space heaters that use fuels such as kerosene, heating oil, propane, charcoal or white gas are extremely dangerous and illegal to use in a confined space. They pose deadly carbon monoxide and fire hazards. 

Vented combustion space heaters are designed to be permanently located next to an outside wall, so a flue gas vent can be installed through the wall or ceiling to the exterior. 

Look for sealed combustion or "100% outdoor air" units, which have a duct to bring outside air into the combustion chamber. They are much safer and operate more efficiently. 

Proper installation, venting, fuel supply and spacing from walls and furniture are essential for safe operation. Follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions and have the heater professionally inspected every year.

Electric space heaters

An electric space heater may be more expensive than a combustion space heater, but it is the only unvented space heater safe to operate inside your home. While avoiding indoor air quality and safety concerns, it can still pose burn and fire hazards . Follow general safety guidelines:

Plug the heater directly into the wall outlet. Always check and follow any manufacturer’s instructions on use of extension cords.

Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, which automatically shuts off the heater if the unit falls over.

Check the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Saver website for more on space heaters.

Minnesota Energy Tips is provided twice a month by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources. Contact the division’s Energy Information Center at energy.info@state.mn.us or 800-657-3710 with energy questions.

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