BY ERIK J. MARTIN
MAYBE YOUR FURNACE is out. Perhaps you’re
at work in a chilly garage or office. Or you want to
turn down your thermostat but keep one room
nice and toasty. For these and other scenarios, a
portable electric space heater sure comes in handy
at home or work.
But these compact and convenient advantages
come with a trade-off: Extra diligence and careful
operation are required to prevent fires, injuries
and property damage.
In fact, according to the Office of the Fire
Marshal and Emergency Management in Ontario,
one in ;; home fires in Canada between ;;;; and
;;;; were caused by space heaters and other
Many portable electric heaters employ convection heat—circulating air in an interior
space—while others use radiant heat in the form
of infrared radiation that directly warms objects
in front of it. The important thing to remember
is that electric portables are the only unvented
space heaters safe to use indoors. That’s because
they don’t fill your living space with undesirable
combustion products like carbon monoxide.
But they’re safe for indoor use only when
used correctly, of course. Costco member Kyle
Chamberlain, fire prevention inspector for Ajax
Fire and Emergency Services in Ajax, Ontario,
says the most significant risk posed by these
appliances is poor placement: being set too close
to combustible materials like bedding, furniture,
drapes, carpets or clothing.
“Keep at least ; metre [;.; feet] of distance
between the heater and any other object, particularly combustible materials,” Chamberlain says.
Another inherent danger is “not leaving a
sufficient amount of space around the heater,”
says Lewis Smith with the Canada Safety Council
in Ottawa. “Restricting either the airflow or the
space surrounding the heater could result in a fire.”
Be the adult in the room
Kids and pets are particularly vulnerable to
injuries or damage caused by a portable heater.
“Try to keep a barrier like a dog or baby gate
between space heaters and children or pets, and
teach all members of your family that heaters can
be a source of burns and fires,” Smith says.
For these and other reasons, never leave a
working space heater unattended, cautions Paul
Catchpole, district chief, Public Education
Section, Toronto Fire Services.
“Turn the heater off before leaving the room,
going to sleep or leaving the house,” says Catchpole,
who notes that the Ontario Fire Code requires
having smoke alarms installed on each floor of
your home and carbon monoxide detectors placed
near all sleeping areas in homes at risk of CO.
“And avoid using the heater in a bathroom, as
the high humidity could create a shock hazard.”
Electrical fires can be avoided with the right
precautions. “The heater needs to be firmly
plugged into a dedicated electrical outlet that has
over-current protection from a circuit breaker
or fuse at the main electrical panel,” says
Chamberlain. “Extension cords shouldn’t be used,
because they can fail and pose a fire safety risk.”
Use with caution and confidence
Lisa Braxton, associate project manager for
the National Fire Protection Association, which
is headquartered in Quincy, Massachusetts, says
it’s important to know a space heater’s limitations.
“These devices are designed for temporary heating of a small area and are not intended to be a
primary heating system in a home,” she says.
Nevertheless, when operated properly (see
sidebar), a plug-in portable heater can be a prized
appliance in a pinch. “Space heaters tend to be
very safe, so long as you use them as directed in
the manufacturer’s instructions and follow recommended safety measures,” says Braxton. C
Erik J. Martin ( martinspiration.blogspot.com) is
a Chicago area–based writer.
Turn up the heat;
turn down the risk
Play it safe with portable
Various heaters, including portable electric heaters,
are available in the warehouse and on Costco.ca.
© TRUBITSYN / SHUTTERSTOCK
The Lasko Tower Heater
right, is available in all
and on Costco.ca.
FOR YOUR HOME
• Buy a newer-model device
that carries a CSA Group or
ULC Listed mark, indicating
that it meets their safety
• Select a unit with current
safety features, including:
; Tip-over safety switch.
; Element guard.
; Overheat protection.
; Auto shutoff.
; Adjustable thermostat.
• Choose a device properly
sized for the room you
intend to heat.
• Read and follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions carefully.
• Set the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic.
• Keep the cord away from
the heat, and occasionally
inspect the cord and plug
• Dust off and lightly clean
the unit’s surface regularly
to improve efficiency and
decrease fire risks.—EJM
HOW TO CHOOSE
AND USE AN