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Are Space Heaters Safe to Leave on At Night?

Nothing beats having a nice, toasty bedroom in the middle of the winter. Unfortunately, not all homes are equipped with central heating. To add a little extra warmth, you might need a space heater. But are they really okay to use as overnight warmers?

Are space heaters safe to leave on at night? Though engineers improved safety measures in heaters during recent years, the general recommendation is to turn off space heaters before you go to sleep. They are still considered to be potential fire hazards.

If you’re worried about using a space heater in your home, it’s a good idea to learn why fire experts are concerned about their use. With a little knowledge, you’ll be able to make the most of your heating.

Why Are Space Heaters Dangerous?

Space heaters conduct a lot of heat and can make air become dry. This can increase the chances of nearby items (like paper) catching on fire. Additionally, if they malfunction or have frayed wiring, space heaters can spontaneously ignite.

When you are awake, you will be able to notice smoke coming from a space heater. When you’re asleep, however, you’re likely not to notice that your heater is malfunctioning, or if you do, it might be too late.

Even if you take fires out of the equation, there are other risks that come with space heater use. These include:

  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
  • Dry Skin
  • Nosebleeds (as a result of dry skin)

How Many House Fires Are Caused By Space Heaters?

Indoor heating equipment is the second most common cause of house fires in America. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission states that 25,000 house fires occur every year as a result of space heater use.

They also say that improper heater use also causes 300 deaths and 6,000 burn injuries annually.

To back that up, the National Fire Protection Association reports that, “Most home heating fire deaths (86%) involved stationary or portable space heaters.”

Do Space Heaters Turn Off Automatically?

This can vary from heater to heater. Most cheap space heaters won’t turn off automatically.

Even if you have a space heater with an automatic shutoff function, you shouldn’t rely on its auto-shutoff to keep you safe.

What Kind Of Automatic Shutoff Functions Can Space Heaters Have?

Automatic shutoff functions can take a wide range of different modes. These functions include:

  • Timed Shutoff – this function lets you set a timer on how long a space heater will push out air. Once your goal time has lapsed, the heater will turn off.
  • Overheat Sensors – a model with this shutoff feature will turn itself off if temperatures get close to overheating. 
  • Tip-Over Sensors – this function uses sensors to determine if your space heater has been knocked over. If it’s not properly positioned, the sensors will trigger its automatic shutoff function.

Consumer Reports also recommends getting a space heater that has:

  • a ground fault circuit interrupter plug (GFCI) to help reduce the chance of an electrical shock
  • a safety  certification label from an independent testing company
  • a sturdy cord. They advise never plugging a space heater into a power strip or using an extension cord with it.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you, “Use electric space heaters with automatic shut-off switches and non-glowing elements. Make sure to keep them away from any flammable materials, like curtains or blankets.

Can You Leave A Space Heater Unattended If It Has An Automatic Shutoff Feature?

Although you don’t have to be in the same room as the space heater, it’s still best to at least stay in the house while the heater is working. That way you will be there if a problem arises.

How Long Can Space Heaters Be Left On?

Thanks to modern advances in space heater technology, it’s possible to leave space heaters on for quite a long time. If you have an upscale heater, you can easily leave it on for 10 hours or more without an issue. 

Most fire safety specialists suggest heating up a room for two to three hours before you sleep, then turning it off.

Can You Use A Space Heater On A Carpeted Floor?

Though a lot of families use space heaters on their carpets, it’s not a smart move.

Carpet fibers that get caught in space heaters cause fires every year. It’s best to keep your space heater on tile, wood, or a similar fiber-free surface.

Can You Use A Space Heater Near Your Bed?

As much as you might want that warmth, space heaters should never be used near a bed. Much like with carpet fibers, materials from your bed may catch fire if they’re left too close to the heater.

The leading factor contributing to ignition for home heating fire deaths (54%) was heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding. – National Fire Protection Association

When using a space heater in your bedroom, the best place to put it is across the room from your bed. Ideally, this will be a corner that isn’t cluttered.

Should Space Heaters Be Unplugged When Not In Use?

If a space heater isn’t in use, there’s really no reason to keep it plugged in.

Keeping any electrical equipment plugged in will increase your energy bills, even if it’s not on. “This phenomenon is known as standby power, or the electric power consumed by products when they are switched off or in a standby mode,” says the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (an office of the U. S. Department of Energy) . “We may not notice it, but standby power is a big issue. It accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of residential energy use, costing the average U.S. household $100 per year.”

So unplug your space heater! Besides – a plugged-in heater won’t pose a hazard as long as it’s turned off. 

Can I Plug A Space Heater Into A Timer?

If you don’t want to leave your space heater on all the time, but don’t want to manually shut it off, using a timer may be a smart idea. However, you need to make sure that the space heater doesn’t surpass the timer’s power limits.

In other words, most timers use about 1500 watts of power, so you must use a timer that is capable of handling at least that much (so, a timer that can take 1800w, for example).

Remember, though – using a timer still doesn’t make a space heater safe to use overnight. And it’s especially important to know that you should NEVER plug more than one space heater into a timer – never try to plug multiple heaters (or one heater plus other devices) into one outlet. Which is part of the reason why you should NOT plug a space heater into a power strip!

That said, a smart plug like the ConnectSense smart plug (in the image to the left), might be a good alternative (provided it meets the voltage requirements for the product).

That way, you could monitor its power usage and also control it remotely from your phone or other device (and some, like this one, also can be controlled through Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri (Apple HomeKit).

How Can You Make Space Heater Use Safer?

By now, you’ve already read a bunch of tips that can help improve the safety of your space heater. But wait, there’s more! These tips below can help you keep your family safe without sacrificing warmth:

  • Install fire alarms and carbon monoxide alarms in your home, if you haven’t already. And if you have them, then check batteries.  It’s something you should be doing anyway, right?
  • Check your space heater’s wiring. Never use a space heater that has frayed wiring, as this could cause an electrical fire.
  • Energy.gov says, “Electric heaters should be plugged directly into the wall outlet. If an extension cord is necessary, use the shortest possible heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger. Always check and follow any manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to the use of extension cords.”
  • If you own pets, make sure they’re not chewing on the space heater’s wiring. This isn’t just a matter of fire safety; it could electrocute your pets! Using a chew-proofing spray like Bitter Apple can help keep them away from the cords. 
  • Don’t nap while your heater is on. Even if it’s just a short nap, it’s not worth risking waking up to an out of control blaze.
  • Pay attention to safety recalls. If a space heater you bought has a safety recall associated with it, pay attention to the warnings, and get your heater replaced. Recalls exist to protect consumers.
  • Don’t use space heaters as the primary heat source in your home. Space heaters are just meant to warm up a room or a corner of an office. Heavy use of space heaters increases the chances of a fire.
  • Keep your space heater dust-free, and don’t use it around clutter. The less material that could ignite near it, the better. Fire experts suggest a 3-foot radius away from combustible items.
  • Choose a heater that has safety features. Overheating sensors and tip-over shutoffs can save lives.
  • Never use a broken or old space heater. The older the model, the less likely it is to be a safe option for your family. If a space heater is broken, it should be discarded immediately since it is a fire hazard.

Conclusion

Space heaters are not safe to use overnight and can pose a potentially lethal fire hazard if they’re used the wrong way. Even taking a nap when one is running can be risky and should be avoided.

Although they can cause fires, space heaters aren’t killing machines. They are tools to keep people warm. By using them sparingly, choosing safety-oriented heaters, and keeping safe use practices in mind, you will be able to keep your home safe from fires without sacrificing warmth.

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