How Does A Space Heater Catch On Fire? (7 Safety Practices)

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reveals that space heaters cause 81% of fatal house fire accidents. Furthermore, these heating equipment cause around 1700 fires every year nationwide.

Shockingly, according to the 2021 NFPA report, failure to clean the heating equipment was the leading cause of space heater fire accidents. Besides cleaning, keeping the space heaters too close to combustible objects is another leading cause of fire hazards. 

Space heaters are the go-to comfort heat source in the chilly season. These heating devices are known for their convenient portability, ease of use, and affordable power bills. Most houses that lack a centralized heating system opt for this source of heating to stay warm and cozy through the winter chills. However, not everyone is acquainted with the dangers and risks associated with the use of space heaters.

According to a report published by NFPA, more than 50% of the fires caused by space heaters between 2014 and 2018 occurred in January. This means the coldest month of the year calls for the most accidents.

So, when do space heaters cause fires? What is the leading cause of space heater fire accidents, and are there any ways to prevent it? You might already be brainstorming many other similar questions, and we are here to help.

In this write-up, we will talk about the causes behind space heater fires and the ways in which we can prevent them. We will also talk about the important safety precautions that will help keep you and your family protected.

Do Space Heaters Catch Fire Easily?

Yes, space heaters can catch fire easily, especially when you leave them unattended. Space heaters are prone to various risks and dangers, which is why the experts advise you to use these heating devices under intense supervision.

Statistically, the most significant threat associated with using space heaters is fire. According to various reports, space heaters are the cause of over 55,000 fire accidents each year, which involves 450 deaths and 1,500 injuries every year.

Besides fire, space heaters can also lead to shock hazards, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc. Therefore, it is extremely crucial to operate a space heater only when an adult is around to monitor the device.

How Likely Is It For A Space Heater to Catch Fire?

A space heater will likely cause a fire even at the minutest negligence.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, inappropriate use of heating equipment is the primary cause of fires in U.S. homes. In this context, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has reported that around 1,200 fires a year are caused majorly by a malfunction space heater. 

Space heaters start fires even at the slightest negligence. This is why manufacturers advise you to keep the heaters at least a 3-foot away from any other object in the room, particularly flammable objects.

Besides, it is also advised that you keep your kids and pets away from this heating device, as they are more likely to knock it down, resulting in fire hazards. So, the most important precaution you must follow is keeping all the safety tips in mind as long as the space heater is switched on and plugged into the electric circuit.

How Does A Space Heater Catch on Fire?

How Does A Space Heater Catch on Fire
Chernetskaya /

Space heaters are one of the most preferred heating equipment, especially when the temperature outside gets too chilled to handle. People are largely shifting to this heat source for its ease of use and affordability. However, there are many risks involved, ironically making it one of the most dangerous heating equipment.

According to research published by Iowa State University, which was corroborated by data from the NFPA, most of the fire accidents in U.S households were caused by inappropriate use of a space heater. Shockingly, these accidents involved 81% of civilian deaths.

This data leads us to the ultimate question about the cause of space heater fires. Let’s get into the relevant answer to this big question.

Keeping the heater on unattended

One of the leading causes of space heater fires is leaving the heating equipment unattended. This negligence is not only dangerous with space heaters, but this applies to all kinds of electric appliances. When using an electric appliance, especially a heating appliance, you should always monitor it and never leave it unattended.

Space heaters emit heat to raise the temperature of the area they are being used in. These heating appliances use a heating element that gets extremely hot when used for a prolonged period. When you use this heating device for an extended time, the temperature of the heating element and the heater goes beyond normal, which increases the risk of a fire outbreak.

Most people keep their heaters on throughout the night, even when they are asleep, and little do they know that this act of negligence could cost them their life. The worst risk when you leave your space heater on overnight is the accumulation of carbon monoxide that can be a silent killer, or it could be your pet knocking off the device out of curiosity, causing the fire. So, keeping the heater unattended is one of the predominant causes of fire.

Wrong placement of heaters

Another common reason for space heaters fire hazard is the wrong placement of a heater. For instance, suppose you’ve kept your heater in a cluttered space surrounded by other flammable objects like curtains, pillows, papers, etc.; you’ll never be able to stop fire (if it happens). In addition, keeping the heater in front or at the back of the furniture will not only obstruct the passage of heat but can also overheat the furniture, leading to a fire.

Therefore, it is always recommended that you follow the 3-feet rule to place your heater appropriately. This 3-feet rule means that no object should be kept within this 3-feet diameter. It is always better that you place your heater in a corner that’s uncluttered and unreachable for kids and pets.

Moreover, you should always place the space heater on an even, flat surface to prevent it from tipping down. Keep the heating unit on a flat tile floor. Avoid placing them on a piece of furniture or the carpet unless it is designed and safe to be used on these surfaces.

No or Faulty Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are meant to detect the presence of abnormal smoke and the level of carbon dioxide in the room. If the air quality in the room deteriorates, these alarms shout out loud to convey the dangers involved in the situation, which makes them a crucial tool to avoid fire dangers.

In most homes, people don’t pay much attention to checking the smoke detectors, which often leads to fire hazards. Therefore, you should focus on installing smoke detectors and servicing them occasionally to avoid fire accidents.

Smoke detectors are one of the most effective ways to avoid fire accidents caused by space heaters. 

Overloaded electric circuit

When it comes to electrical appliances, you need to be doubly sure to avoid all sorts of dangers. Most people make the mistake of plugging a lot of devices into one circuit, for which they often use extension cords. For your information, using extension cords can be extremely dangerous as they involve fire risk. How? Keep reading to know more.

When we plug multiple electronic devices into one wall outlet using extension cords, we often forget the load-bearing capacity of the electrical circuit. As a result, we overload the circuit, which results in overheating. Overheating the electrical circuit can cause a fire if not attended at the right time.

Improper ventilation

Space heaters can be generally divided into two categories, fuel and electric. Fuel heaters run on gas, which needs to be filled from time to time. During the refilling process, gas leakage is common, which can lead to a massive fire outbreak.

On the other hand, when the room is properly ventilated, the chances of fire decrease.

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Safety Practices That Can Help Prevent Space Heater Fires?

Safety Practices That Can Help Prevent Space Heater Fires
Freerlaw /

As we already read before, space heater fires are common. However, like any other fire accident, space heater fire can also be avoided using the right precautionary measures. Below are a few important safety tips that can help you avoid fire hazards.

Always buy certified heaters

Safe heaters will always be tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Therefore, you should always buy heaters tested for safety from potential fire hazards to ensure optimum safety. To check the certification, you can read the instruction booklet of the device

Follow the 3-feet rule

Most importantly, following the 3-feet distance as the rule of thumb for using space heaters. This rule indicates that you should keep a space heater at a minimum distance of 3 feet from any other object in the room, especially flammable objects like curtains, upholstery, stationary, etc.

In addition, you should also keep in mind to place the heater at a spot where children and pets don’t reach. The best is to create a pet and kid-free zone to avoid danger.

Besides, you should never keep your space heater in a moist place, like your bathroom or beside the sink in your kitchen. The contact between moisture and electricity can get extremely harmful.

Never leave a space heater on unattended

As already discussed above, space heaters involve a lot of danger, making strict supervision mandatory. You should never leave your space heater on unattended. It is very important to be mindful and shut down the device when you go to sleep or get out of your home.

Leaving a space heater on for a prolonged period can result in the accumulation of fatal carbon monoxide gas or a fire in the case of an electrical heater. Besides, not turning off the device at regular intervals will also hamper the machine’s efficiency.

Plug out the heaters after use

You should always plug out an electrical device after use, doesn’t matter it is a space heater or any other electronic device. When a device is plugged into an electric circuit, it consumes a certain amount of energy, which can result in overheating or even electronic shocks.

On the other hand, keeping a space heater plugged in will also add to your power bill; it doesn’t matter if you are switching it on or not.

Don’t overload the circuit

Overloading the circuit is one of the most common causes of fire accidents. Therefore, you should never plug in a device whose load is greater than the load-bearing capacity of the electric circuit.

Most people use extension cords to plug more than one device simultaneously, resulting in a fuse blow that can eventually lead to a fire. So, avoid using extension cords and never overload a circuit.

Check and maintain the heaters regularly

All electronic devices demand maintenance, and so do space heaters. These heating units can work for several years, but it is extremely important to check and maintain them regularly to avoid fire accidents.

Often, the thermostat, heating element or other components of the space heater start deteriorating, and we fail to notice it unless it gets too late to repair. Therefore, check the device regularly to avoid fire accidents.

Install and check smoke detectors

Installing smoke detectors is one of the most important safety tips to avoid space heater fires. Malfunctioning electric space heaters are quite common, and smoke detectors can prevent the situation from taking the worst turn.

Ensure installing smoke detectors, and if they are already installed, check the batteries and other functions before you begin using space heaters or any other heating device extensively.

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The Bottom Line

Space heaters are the most comfortable heating units, and most people use them for their user-friendly features.

Modern space heaters come with various safety features like the auto-off timer, tip-off shutdown, in-built thermostat, cool-body, etc., that ensure optimum safety.

However, there are still a lot of risks involved in operating these heating devices. Therefore, it is vital to monitor these heating units when in use.

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