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Heat Small Spaces Sensibly

Choose and use space heaters carefully

Ah, the luxurious warmth a space heater provides. It can feel like a godsend during the coldest days of winter, particularly if your home has chilly areas. But that increased comfort comes at a price: a higher risk of fire, burns and electrical shock, not to mention a serious reduction in energy efficiency. It’s worth noting that no space heaters currently qualify for the government’s Energy Star rating, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which applies the designation, has no plans to label them in the near future.

So to enjoy the cozy warmth that space heaters give off as economically as possible—and avoid endangering your family and home—keep the following guidance in mind.

  • Purchase only new space heaters that have up-to-date safety features, including a tip-over switch, which automatically shuts off the heater if it falls on its side. Make sure the model you choose displays the certification mark of a reputable independent testing laboratory.
  • Select a space heater that is designed to heat a room comparable in size to the room you plan to use it in, and compare wattages of similar models of heaters to determine which uses less energy.
  • Place the space heater on a level surface out of the way of foot traffic.
  • Be especially mindful of keeping children and pets away from space heaters.
  • The space heater should be plugged directly into a wall outlet only, not into extension cords or power strips. Also, don’t plug anything else into the same outlet as the space heater.
  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything flammable, including draperies, rugs, furniture and paper.
  • Opt for a space heater with thermostat and timer settings to save energy and prevent overheating the room. In the absence of a timer setting, always turn a space heater off when leaving the room or going to bed. Don’t forget to unplug it, too.

A final word of caution in putting supplemental heating methods to work: Never use an oven for home heating. Since it can emit carbon monoxide, which can be fatal, an oven’s door should be opened for short periods of time only. By heeding this advice and the steps outlined above, you can stay warm and safe this winter.