Start a Quote

Space Heater Safety

As cooler weather settles in, some organizations may choose to use portable space heaters to help warm parts of their facilities.  These small appliances may present serious risks to your organization or business and should be used only in extreme situations after careful consideration. We do not recommend using space heaters as a regular method to heat buildings.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that in 2018 space heaters were the cause of “43% of U.S. home heating fires and 85% of associated deaths.” The following recent incidents highlight the need to review space heater safety before turning up the heat:

  • November 16, 2020: space heater blamed as 15 residents were displaced in a house fire in Everett, WA.
  • November 5, 2020: heating elements caused four fires in a week in Walker County, TN.
  • November 5, 2020: space heater caused blazing house fire in Baton Rouge, LA.


Consider taking the following precautions to ensure safety before using a space heater as a last resort.

What to Look For

Before trusting a space heater, look for these features which will help ensure its safe operation:

  • Evaluation – The heater should be evaluated by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Also check for worn or damaged electrical cords and plugs before use.
  • Thermostat and Control Mechanism – The heat should be able to be set to a desired level.
  • Fall Over Switch – An electric space heater should switch off automatically if it falls over from the upright position.
  • Low Center of Gravity – The chances of the heater tipping over will decrease the lower to the ground it is.

Proper Use

Follow these precautions to minimize risk of fire, once you've determined the space heater can safely operate:

  • Follow the manufacturer's safety instructions.

  • Keep the space heater at least three feet from anything that can burn, such as furniture, fabrics and decorations. “More than half (53 percent) of all home heating fire deaths resulted from fires that began when heating equipment was too close to things that can burn,” reports the NFPA.

  • Always place the space heater on a hard, level, and noncombustible surface, such as a tile or concrete floor – not on rugs or carpets. This decreases the likelihood of the heater tipping over and causing a fire.

  • Remember to turn heaters off when leaving a room, and unplug electric space heaters when they are not in use. Space heaters should not be left on while unattended.

  • Plug electric space heaters directly into wall outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip.

  • Don’t use a space heater to dry clothes, and don’t place objects on top of the device.

  • Don’t place the space heater under a desk or in a path of travel.

  • Space heaters that run on fuel, such as kerosene, present additional safety hazards, including the generation of carbon monoxide. They are illegal in some states and jurisdictions. Patio heaters and other portable fuel powered heaters are not designed for indoor use and should not be used inside. Only electric space heaters should be used indoors.

  • Keep children away from space heaters. Maintain at least a three-foot “kid-free zone" around the heater.

  • Don’t use a portable heater as a permanent source of heat in your facility. Space heaters are designed as a temporary means to provide targeted heat to a small area. If the room regularly requires heat, furnace heat should be expanded to this area by a licensed HVAC contractor.

When using a space heater in your business or organization, ensure both warmth and safety by selecting a unit with appropriate features and following precautions for its use. To learn more about preparing your building for winter weather, visit our frozen pipe prevention resources.


© 2023 GuideOne Insurance. GuideOne® is the registered trademark of the GuideOne Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.