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How to safely use your space heater during cold weather

Before you turn on your space heater, there are several safety precautions to take and tips to keep in mind.

HOUSTON — With temperatures expected to plunge into the 30s, many Houstonians will likely break out the space heaters to keep warm.

As the temperatures outside go down, the dangers inside your home go up.

The National Fire Protection Association is urging folks to be extra careful when heating their homes.

Martee Boose with the Houston Fire Department said they see more than 100 fires related to portable or supplemental heating every winter.

“We want to make sure that we’re plugging those directly into the wall. That we’re not using an extension cord; that we’re using a portable heater that has an automatic shut off,” Boose said.

If you’re going to be using a portable space heater, make sure you never leave it unattended and remember to turn it off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

Always keep the space heater at least 3 feet away from anything that can catch fire, and place it away from busy areas of your home like doorways.

Boose said open flame space heaters also require special attention.

“Make sure that there’s no dust or dirt accumulation,” she said. “Make sure that it’s serviced properly and it also has a seal that tell you that it’s been certified and tested.”

She added if the flame is not blue, do not use it.

When it comes to other ways to heat your home, Boose said, “That is absolutely something we do not want to do. Never use your stove or your oven to heat your home.”

She said with the risk of home fires spiking this time of year, everyone should have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxides detectors.

Additionally, before you turn on your space heater, there are several safety precautions to take and tips to keep in mind. According to Electrical Safety Foundation International, a nonprofit that promotes electrical safety at home and in the workplace, heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States. The organization says more than 65,000 home fires are attributed to heating equipment each year.

ESFI suggests the following tips for safely using your space heater:

  • Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.
  • Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater.
  • Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you're leaving a room or going to sleep, and don't let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
  • Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas and test them once a month.
  • Proper placement of space heaters is critical. Heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.
  • Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a tripping hazard.
  • Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
  • Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
  • Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use.

For more information on space heater safety, click here.

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