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When the cold weather arrives, many people rely on portable electric space heaters for supplemental heat. This popular appliance comes with some risks, however. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters, and 6,000 people end up in hospital emergency rooms from burn injuries they incurred by coming in contact with the hot surface of a space heater.

This winter, protect your home and family with these safety tips.

  • Look for the safety certification logo. Make sure the portable heater you purchase has been safety-certified by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Intertek (ETL).
  • Commit to the 3-feet rule. Portable heaters should be positioned at least 3 feet from any combustible material, such as curtains, papers, clothes and furniture.
  • Place the space heater on a flat, stable surface. To eliminate any chance that the heater could be knocked over, position it on the floor rather than on a table. And keep it away from areas with high foot traffic.
  • Keep children and pets away from your space heater. Never leave a child unattended in a room with a space heater.
  • Look for safety shut-off features. Newer heaters are equipped with a smart sensor that automatically shuts off the heater when it overheats and a tip-over switch that does the same when the heater topples over.
  • Plug the space heater directly and securely into the wall outlet. Make sure the cord is not frayed or damaged, and NEVER use an extension cord or power strip.
  • Keep an eye on your portable heater. Turn off the heater or unplug it when you leave the room or when you're sleeping.
  • Avoid using a portable electric heater around water. Most space heaters don't have a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) plug, which prevents electrical shock. Touching the heater when you're wet could result in shock or electrocution.
  • Keep portable heaters away from flammable liquids. This is especially true in the garage or other work areas where paint and gas cans may be stored.

A necessary precaution

It's important to follow the safety rules when using a portable space heater, but properly installed and well-maintained smoke and carbon monoxide detectors provide an additional, necessary layer of protection. If a fire breaks out, smoke from the fire ignites the alarm so you can escape safely. Similarly, a carbon monoxide detector alerts everyone in the home about the buildup of this dangerous gas.

Space heaters can be an effective way to boost the heat in your home. Make sure safe, responsible use is a top priority.