Modern electric heater in stylish room interior

As temperatures continue to drop throughout the fall and into the winter, you may find yourself looking considering a space heater. Space heaters are a portable, convenient alternative to whole-home heating and they’re a great option if you’re just looking to warm a particular room in your house. They’re effective, but are space heaters dangerous? 

Before you stock up on space heaters, however, it’s important to understand how they work, how much they cost to operate, and, most importantly, whether they’re safe. Here’s what you need to know.

Are Space Heaters Dangerous?

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters are involved in 43% of home heating fires every year. Home heating is the second leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, so that number is not insignificant. This begs the question – are space heaters dangerous?

The short answer to that question is no, but with a caveat. While space heaters are generally safe, that’s only true when they are used properly. The leading cause of space heater fires is placing the heater too close to objects that can burn – things like furniture, drapery, and clothing. Major fires can result quite easily from an ignition sparked by a space heater left unattended.

While many people opt for electrical space heaters, heaters powered by gas, kerosene, or propane are more powerful and more portable. That being said, they are generally unsafe for indoor use unless properly vented. These space heaters can release harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide into the air.

5 Space Heater Mistakes to Avoid

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t rely on space heaters as your home’s primary heating system. If your main system is broken, inadequate, or prohibitively expensive, however, they can offer a decent short-term solution. You probably won’t save much (if anything) by filling your home with space heaters, but it could be a good way to keep your bedroom a little warmer at night without turning up the thermostat.

However you choose to use a space heater, make sure you do it properly.

Here are the top 5 mistakes to avoid when using a space heater:

  1. Leaving a space heater unattended. Any device that creates heat poses a fire risk and should not be left unattended, especially overnight while you’re sleeping or in a child’s room.
  2. Using gas, kerosene, or propane space heaters indoors. While space heaters powered by burnable fuel are high-powered and cost-effective, they are not ideal for indoor use. These space heaters can release harmful gases into the air if not properly vented.
  3. Placing them on an elevated surface. While smaller space heaters may be light enough to place on a desk or dresser, it isn’t recommended. Not only can they fall off the surface and cause injuries, but they may end up too close to flammable objects.
  4. Leaving a space heater too close to flammables. The NFPA recommends creating a “safe zone” or at least three feet surrounding your space heater to reduce the risk of fire.
  5. Overloading a circuit. Always plug your space heater directly into the wall and they should be the only thing plugged into the outlet. Don’t use extension cords or power strips because they can easily become overloaded and could cause a fire.

For smaller homes or short-term heating, space heaters can be a convenient and affordable option. Before you start using one, however, make sure you know how to do so safely and avoid making the X mistakes listed above. You may also want to check out our post on how much electricity space heaters use to avoid doubling up on heating costs this winter.

What is a Space Heater?

A space heater is a stand-alone, often portable device that can be used to warm a small area. Modern space heaters are typically powered by electricity, though they can also run on burnable fuel like propane, natural gas, oil, or wood pellets. Heaters that burn fuel require some kind of permanent exhaust while electric space heaters do not – this makes electric space heaters a more portable option.

Here are some of the most common types of space heaters:

  • Ceramic – These space heaters feature ceramic plates which are attached to metal coils. Electricity passes through the coils, heating the plates which then release heat into the air.
  • Fan – Similar to a ceramic space heater, fan space heaters utilize metal coils that heat up and a fan blows air over the coil, pushing hot air out into the room.
  • Infrared – These space heaters are powered by electricity, but they do not incorporate metal coils or ceramic plates. Instead, they emit electromagnetic waves into the air that warm physical objects in the room – it’s a process similar to how the sun heats the earth.
  • OilFilled Space – Also known as a radiator heater, an oil-filled space heater runs on electricity but the heater itself is filled with diathermic oil. The oil heats up and circulates through a series of columns which warm up ad release heat into the air.
  • Propane – This type of space heater uses propane as its fuel source. They are highly portable because you’re not constrained by a power cord – they also produce high amounts of heat and are about 20% cheaper to run than an electric space heater.
  • Panel – One of the newest types of space heater, panel heaters can be mounted to the wall or set on a stand. They work in a similar way to oil-filled space heaters in that heat radiates off the device, though these heaters use electrical currents rather than oil to produce heat.

Before buying a space heater, consider where and how you plan to use it. This will help you choose the right model for the space. It’s also a good idea to brush up on space heater safety.

Are Space Heaters Dangerous FAQs

Can space heaters cause fires?

Yes, space heaters have the potential to cause fires when used improperly. Connecting the heater to an extension cord or power strip is not recommended and the heater should be positioned at least 3 feet away from combustibles. Never leave a space heater unattended and try to limit use to 3 to 4 hours.

Are electric space heaters safe?

Electric space heaters are the only unvented type of space heater safe for indoor use. That being said, they can still be a fire hazard if used improperly. It’s important not to leave an electric space heater unattended and position it away from furniture, drapery, and other flammable objects.

Are all space heaters dangerous?

Space heaters are generally safe when used properly, but improper use can lead to a number of problems. In addition to the risk of fire, certain types of space heaters that use propane, kerosene, and natural gas come with the additional risk of releasing carbon monoxide if not properly vented.