Tips for Choosing a Space Heater

Consider your choices carefully

many kindsLooking ahead to this Valentine’s Day Weekend, weather forecasts are projecting some of the coldest weather of the season.  We will need to be mindful of over-exposure to the elements if we are outside, and protecting vulnerable pipes from freezing inside our homes.  Some will also be looking for alternate or supplemental sources of heat. 

Should you choose to do so, please consider your choice wisely and carefully.  Consider the energy costs, efficiency, and safety of using a space heater.  While space heaters can be convenient and helpful in the short term, they also can increase energy costs at the least; at worst they can be very dangerous.  One has to be very careful with what kind they are using (electric or fuel burning), location, how close other potentially flammable objects might be to it, and whether or not the electrical specifications and weight of the cord and wiring supplying power to it are adequate. 

A portable space heater can save heating costs, but only if you turn down your main heating system thermostat to compensate for the extra energy a space heater will use.  Otherwise, using one or more space heaters to heat a home will cost more than using a central system.  In addition, space heaters lose efficiency and effectiveness if they are operating in homes with high ceilings or open floor plans. 

Thanks to RR Donnelley and Northern Virginia Electric, here are helpful space heater tips:

How to Choose a Portable Space Heater

  • All space heaters can be dangerous if not used according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but kerosene, natural gas, and propane heaters can release fumes and carbon monoxide, and handling fuel adds extra risks. Therefore, these types of heaters should only be used very carefully in well-ventilated areas and only during extended power outages or emergencies.
  • Whether buying an electric or fuel heater, select a new one that has up-to-date safety features.
  • Heaters with a thermostat maintain the desired temperature best. Models without a thermostat require the user to turn the heater on and off frequently to stay comfortable. They also use more energy. Look for a heater with multiple settings and turn it to the lowest one. Wear wool sweaters or layers of clothes to compensate for less warmth.
  • Convection and radiant heaters work best. Convection heaters can heat an entire room; radiant heaters work well for spot heating.
  • Fit the model’s heating capacity to a room’s size. Most heaters come with sizing tables.
  • If you plan to move a portable heater from room to room, consider weight: most electric heaters weigh less than kerosene and propane models. Look for wheels and an easy-to-grip handle.
  • Buy a model that has a tip-over switch that shuts off a knocked-over heater. If shopping for a propane heater, choose one that has a low-oxygen shutoff valve.
  • Buy a model that will shut off automatically when over-heated.
  • For an electric heater, look for the Underwriters Laboratories mark that indicates the model has met UL’s voluntary safety standards.

Space Heater Safety

NFPA heating safety tips

View these Heating Safety tips from the NFPA

Kerosene, Natural Gas, and Propane Heaters

  • Apartment and condo residents should ask their building supervisors about use restrictions.
  • Never move a fuel heater when in use.
  • Clean and inspect it regularly.
  • Locate the heater in the middle of a well-ventilated room with a carbon monoxide and smoke alarm nearby.

    Do you have carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke detectors?  Have Brubaker Inc. install them for your family’s safety and peace-of-mind. Contact us at 717.299.5641 or email us.

  • Put the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic.
  • Keep it at least 3 feet from furniture, window treatments, or other flammable items.
  • Place the heater where it’s out of the reach of children.
  • Monitor it frequently.
  • Always turn it off when you go to bed or leave home.

Electric Heaters

  • Before using, inspect the power cord to make sure it’s in good condition. Frayed or undersized cords can cause fires, injuries, and deaths.
  • If you need an extension cord, use a 14-gauge type and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Clean the unit regularly.
  • Keep it at least 3 feet from furniture, window treatments, or other flammable items.
  • Place the heater where it’s out of reach of children.
  • Monitor it frequently.
  • Always turn it off when you go to bed or leave home.

The Dangers of Space Heaters

Image Credit: Shropshire Insurance Agency, Lubbock, TX

Image Credit: Shropshire Insurance Agency, Lubbock, TX

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of room (space) heaters. More than 300 persons die in these fires. An estimated 6,000 persons receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries associated with contacting hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.  In addition, many people get sick or die each year of asphyxiation or carbon monoxide poisoning from their fuel-burning space heater.

Before purchasing and using a space heater, please be very careful and be certain to get all of the facts before putting one to use.


See also:

  1. It’s Cold Out!
  2. Could this happen to you?
  3. How often should a furnace be serviced?
  4. Tips to cut your home energy bill.
  5. Seasonal tips for Winter.
  6. Winter isn’t over yet!


1. Choosing and Using a Space Heater…Safely Lancaster, January 20, 2016
2. Use Portable Space Heaters Wisely Cooperative Living Northern Virginia Electric — January 2015
3. Space Heater Fire Safety City of Grand Rapids, MI Fire Department
4. 25,000 House Fires Each Year Caused by Space Heaters, February 22, 2013
5. Use Space Heaters Safely Today’s Care and, February 1, 2016
6. NFPA Heating Safety Tips National Fire Protection Association
7. 18 Space Heater Safety Tips