Space heaters pose risk
CAPTION: Brad Watkins, manager at Watkins True Value Hardware, is pictured with a large selection of portable space heaters, including infrared models that have grown in popularity in recent years due to their reputation for both safety and efficiency.
By STEVE HARTMAN
As the cold of another Missouri winter arrives in full force, many people find it necessary to use auxiliary heat sources in order to raise the temperature inside their homes to a comfortable level.
For many that means plugging in a space heater.
While these heaters work well when used properly and connected to adequate wiring, they also pose fire risks and require some serious thought about safety.
According to information provided by Kansas City Power & Light, more than 25,000 residential fires every year are related to the use of space heaters, resulting in more than 300 deaths.
In addition, an estimated 6,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms annually for injuries associated with accidentally touching the hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.
When buying and installing a small space heater, KCP&L recommends that customers purchase newer model heaters designed with up-to-date safety features. They should also make sure the heater carries the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label.
Choose a thermostatically controlled heater, both for the sake of energy efficiency and the extra level of safety provided by the device automatically shutting off when a certain temperature has been reached.
Select a heater designed for the size of room you wish to heat, and remembers that bigger is not necessarily better or safer. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most of the devices come with a sizing table.
Electric heaters should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. If an extension cord is necessary, use the shortest possible heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger. Always follow manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to the use of extension cords.
Finally, place the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.
Shaun Wiederholt, a professional firefighter with Maryville Public Safety, says space heater trouble is usually caused by one of three basic issues.
"We see portable heaters start fires on occasion when a circuit is overloaded by plugging too many things into one outlet," Wiederholt said. "We also come across situations where a fire was caused by an extension cord that's worn or not heavy enough to support the load it's trying to carry.
"Finally, some older heaters, especially those that use propane or fuel oil, were made before automatic shut-offs were required, so when they tip over or are knocked over, they don't automatically shut off."
Brad Watkins, manager of Watkins True Value Hardware in Maryville, said age and wear are two of the biggest safety issues associated with portable space heaters.
"Much of the time, a cord issue is to blame when a space heater causes a fire," Watkins said. "Either the cord to the unit has lots of wear and tear, or too much extension cord is used when operating the heater."
Watkins said one of the safest and most economical choices in portable heaters are ceramic heaters.
"They used to be the $100 dollar heater, but now they run about $25," he said. "They're safe to use around children and pets, and they have thermostats, which shut the units off at a certain temperature, making sure they don't overheat and cause a fire."
If consumers want a larger, more decorative heater, Watkins recommends an infrared device.
"They are larger units than most ceramic heaters, but they are designed to look nice with wood-look cabinetry," he said. "Again, they are very safe in that the unit stays cool, and they're also thermostat-controlled."