As temperatures cool and fall deepens, we’re strategizing about staying warm this winter without going broke. “Energy sources – natural gas, oil, electricity, propane, pellets, wood – have significantly increased in price. On average, we’ll spend nearly 20 percent more than we did last winter,” says Caleb Brunz, President of Paul Davis of Greater MSP, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. “Homeowners who choose auxiliary heating options and space heaters need to be careful.”

Heating equipment ranks second only to cooking for home fire risks and the most dangerous months are around the corner: December, January and February. Half of home fires related to heating equipment ignite during this three-month span. The frequent culprit? Portable space heaters, which cause four of five heating fire deaths and disproportionately affect poorer communities.

“They tip over,” explains Brunz. “Their glow attracts inquisitive children. Pets upend them. Circuits overheat. They malfunction. They’re placed too close to flammable materials. The ways space heaters cause fires are too many to count. That’s why it’s very important to take precautions.”

Brunz listed eight critical safety steps to follow when using space heaters:

  1. Ensure the space heater is certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL-certified). Many other organizations such as the Canadian Standards Association also issue standards for space heaters.
  2. Ensure home electrical circuit capacity is rated to handle the space heater you use. Plug the device directly into the receptacle and avoid extension cords.
  3. Never leave space heaters operating unattended or while sleeping.
  4. Keep flammable materials at a meter away.
  5. Keep space heaters away from water and damp locations.
  6. Place the space heater where children and pets cannot reach it.
  7. Follow manufacturers’ instructions and monitor the device in use. If plugs, cords, outlets or outlet faceplates become warm or hot, unplug the device immediately and do not use it again. These indicate that the device has become a fire risk.
  8. Test and maintain smoke detectors and, if using kerosene or oil heaters, carbon monoxide detectors.

“Homeowners are fond of space heaters for a good reason: they warm quickly and economically,” Brunz concludes. “Smart precautions make sure these handy devices don’t start fires.”