Winter is here, and as always, it brings much colder weather. When temperatures drop, many people turn to space heaters to stay warm. And when used properly, they're a great way to heat the area around you. But this same source of heat can also be a danger in your home.
Each year, space heaters cause thousands of fires that can kill or leave people injured. The National Fire Protection Association found that from 2009 to 2013, there were an estimated 22,640 home structure fires involving space heaters each year, resulting in 400 deaths and 1,120 injuries. Closer to home, the state fire marshall's office has noted, "Home heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire deaths in Alabama, with almost half of these fires occurring in the months of December, January and February."
Sometimes, these results are especially tragic. In one case in Baldwin County, Alabama, a defective space heater started a fire that took the life of a 2-year-old. Our firm was able to negotiate a settlement of $14 million for the family. But no family should ever have to endure such a loss.
There are many benefits to space heaters. They are small, convenient and heat up the space around you pretty quickly. They do a great job of bringing warmth to parts of the room that your home heating system doesn't quite seem to reach. But when they aren't used properly, they may cause a fire that can spread rapidly.
The good news is, following some simple steps can go a long way toward keeping you and your family safe. Here are some tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (UPSC) for using space heaters safely:
- When buying a space heater, make sure it passes U.S. federal safety standards. Look for a label from a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as UL (United Laboratories).
- Plug an electric space heater directly into the wall. Don't use a power strip or extension cord.
- Don't run the heater's cord under a rug or carpet.
- Keep anything flammable at least 3 feet away from the space heater.
- Never leave the heater unattended.
- Don't put anything on the heater (such as a towel or items of clothing).
- Place the heater on a stable, level surface.
- Keep children and pets away from the space heater when in use.
- Turn off the space heater when you go to bed.
You should also have smoke detectors in your home to alert you when there's a fire, so you have time to escape. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that you put a smoke detector inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home. Test them regularly and replace the batteries at least once a year.
Some models of space heaters may start fires because they are defective. Make sure to check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website regularly for recalls involving space heaters. If yours is on the list, stop using it immediately.
The best part about the cold winter weather is that it's only temporary. Spring will be here before too long. Until then, stay warm and stay safe!