When the winter months come rolling in, staying warm can be a challenge. If you don’t have central heating and can’t simply adjust your thermostat, you can turn to space heaters—they’re portable, efficient, and perfect for small rooms or if you only need specific areas to heat up. But can you put a space heater anywhere, including on a carpet?
You should never sit a space heater on a carpet or area rug. The carpet will trap the heat, and the build-up of heat may cause a fire. Instead, put the space heater on a hard and level surface like wood or tile. Make sure the heater is at least 3 feet away from carpets and other flammable objects.
The rest of this article will talk about the most common types of space heaters and whether or not they’re safe to use. We will also further discuss where you should put your space heater. Then, keep reading for some safety tips and dos and don’ts of using a heater.
What Is a Space Heater?
Space heaters are portable devices used to heat small rooms or areas in your home, as well as outdoor spaces. They are convenient and the perfect solution for when you only want to heat the room you are in and not the whole house, effectively reducing your electric bill, especially in the winter season.
Types of Space Heaters
There are many types of space heaters that people use, but the most common are the following:
- Convection heaters: If you want to heat the entire room, convection heaters are the most efficient way to go. This heater type pulls the cool air towards its heating elements and then pushes it back out to circulate the warm air, generating gradual and even heat. Many convection heaters are also built with a fan to help distribute the heat farther and much faster.
- Radiant heaters: Radiant or infrared heaters, as they’re also called, generate infrared radiation, which directly heats you, your skin and clothes, and the objects that are inside the room. However, a radiant heater does not heat the air, so you need to be close to the heater or practically be sitting in front of it to feel the full effect.
- Combustion heaters: This type of space heater uses combustible fuels like propane, natural gas, or kerosene. They are cheaper to operate, but they’re not recommended for indoor use because they emit dangerous byproducts, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, affecting air quality. Thus, they are only ideal to use outdoors.
Are Space Heaters Safe?
Although they help keep you warm, the use of any type of space heaters still poses some serious safety concerns.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy advises against using unvented combustion heaters because the byproducts are harmful to your health and home. The state of California even bans the use of such space heaters.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), “local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 52,050 fires involving heating equipment each year in 2012-2016.” That is 15% of home fires reported at that time!
Additionally, according to the same research, “space heaters accounted for more than two in five (44%) of home heating equipment fires, but these fires were responsible for 86% of civilian deaths and 78% of civilian injuries caused by heating fires.”
However, despite these worrying figures, the space heaters available on the market right now are more advanced and much safer than they used to be.
The Safest Space Heaters
Electric convection and radiant space heaters are generally safer than combustion heaters, but they still have heating elements, which will always pose some risks. Fortunately, technology has vastly improved, and modern space heaters are better designed and equipped to minimize the risk of fires and overheating.
The ‘safest’ and best electric space heaters are those that include some key safety features:
- Tip-over switch: This is a switch that automatically turns off the heater if you, a child, or a pet accidentally knocks it over. This feature is important because the number one rule in using space heaters safely is to keep them on a flat surface. Having this protection just in case the unit gets tipped over is a significant safety assurance.
- Overheat sensor switch: This acts as a sensor that immediately shuts off the unit when it reaches a certain unsafe temperature. Although manufacturers have worked hard to eliminate overheating issues, there is always that risk even in a space heater on a low setting.
- Heat-resistant exterior: Newer models are now designed with surfaces that are cool to the touch. This eliminates the risk of burn incidents that used to be an issue with older space heaters.
- Certifications: Space heaters should be approved and recognized by a testing laboratory. Certifications to look for are U.L. (Underwriters Laboratories), ETL (Intertek Group), or CSA (Canadian Standards Association), and you should make sure that the unit you have or are getting carries any of these labels.
However, even with these advanced features, space heaters can still be fire hazards if not used correctly or monitored properly.
Why a Space Heater Can’t Sit on a Carpet
Many people have carpeted floors, and one of their most frequently asked questions about heaters is: “Is a space heater safe for carpet floors?” The quick answer is no.
Space heaters should never be put on a carpet or rug; a space heater on a table is also a no. They might seem like safe options, but rugs and carpeting can overheat and catch fire. Also, furniture like tables are high up, so the risk of the heater tipping over or falling down is greater, which, consequently, could also start a fire.
So, where should you put a space heater? It is generally recommended that you place it on a flat, smooth, and level surface. Not only that, but the floor should also be hard, such as wood or tile.
Keep reading for more tips on how to use your unit safely and what not to do with your space heater.
Space Heater Safety Tips: The Dos and Don’ts
Safety should always be the number one priority when it comes to using space heaters, and below are some dos and don’ts that you need to remember.
Keep Your Space Heater Away From Combustible Objects
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a “3-foot rule.” It’s basically to keep your space heater at least 3 feet (0.9 meters) away from any flammable objects, which includes:
- Upholstered furniture
- Carpets and rugs
You should also place it far away from matches and painting and cleaning materials as advised by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).
Don’t Leave Your Space Heater Unattended
The safest way to use a space heater is to never leave it unattended. Don’t leave the room without turning it off, especially if there’s no one else there to monitor it. Even if it’s just for a quick toilet break, or you’re going to the kitchen to grab a snack, you have to turn it off. Also, keep the space heater unplugged when you’re not using it.
If you have curious toddlers or pets, don’t leave them alone in the room, and don’t let them get too close to your unit, for that matter, even if it’s unplugged. They might burn themselves, get an electric shock, or knock the heater over.
More importantly, don’t leave your space heater on overnight. Your unit might overheat, blow a fuse, or topple over while you’re sleeping, and it could cause a fire to break out.
To reduce the chances of accidents because you fell asleep before you could turn your heater off, try going for newer models that have built-in timers. This way, you could set a time for them to automatically power off and not worry too much about leaving them unattended.
Don’t Use an Extension Cord
Always directly plug your space heater into a wall socket, but still position it a few feet away from the wall where the outlet is. It is important that your heater has sufficient breathing room and ventilation behind and around it, so put it in a more central location and preferably not in a crowded corner.
Avoid using an extension cord or power strip, and don’t plug anything else in the same socket because they could overload, overheat, and cause a fire.
Additionally, don’t put the cord under a piece of furniture, like your couch, in a cabinet, or on a rug. Yes, this can prevent you from tripping over the wire, but it creates a fire hazard because it can trap the heat, or the wire can fray without you knowing it, which can even be more disastrous.
Keep Space Heater Away From Water or Moisture
Bathrooms are among the coldest areas in your home, and you would think that a space heater would be the best solution. However, water and electricity are a dangerous combination, and putting a heater near any type of water source or in an enclosed space that’s highly humid isn’t safe.
Unless the unit is designed to handle such situations—and few models are—it is a bad idea to equip your bathroom with one. The buildup of steam or even a bit of water can trigger an electrical fire.
What you can do, instead, is warm up your bathroom by running your shower on the hottest setting before you get in. This is a much safer way to feel warm.
If you want a portable and efficient way to keep warm in the cold months, a space heater is a great option. It can also be cost-effective since you’re only heating the room you’re in, not the entire house. However, space heaters are one of the main causes of house fires, and in order to avoid accidents, you should know how to use them safely.
Two of the most important things you need to remember are never putting your space heaters near flammable objects and don’t ever leave them unattended.