Electric Space Heaters – Purchasing and Maintenance

Last night I had a dream about an extremely important home component, electric space heaters. Now I know that sharing dreams, especially in this genre, is not a normal occurrence for any home improvement writer, but this dream was something that just begged to be shared. First, let me share the dream with you and then I will explain exactly how it affects you, in your own home, and how you can avoid the same mistake yourself.

Infrared Electric Portable Space Heater
Infrared Electric Portable Space Heater

In the dream, I was helping a cousin repair her home. She had to go somewhere on an errand and left me alone. After a few hours, I decided it was time to leave since I was the only one working and that really wasn’t getting us all that much ahead. Doing as I always do at all home improvement sites, I went about the house checking for things that needed to be turned off or unplugged before I locked up. In the library, sitting on the shag rug, was a very old electric space heater. Knowing this was unsafe I approached it to unplug it. As I touched it began to malfunction, sending sparks every which way. Soon the rug was aglow with burning tufts of shag. Unable to get through the heat to unplug the unit I ran to the main power switch to the house and flipped it to the off position. As I ran back to the room to put out the embers, my uncle, aunt and cousin showed up. My uncle quickly tamped out the fire with his work boots and the house was ultimately saved.

I see far too many fires started by lack of knowledge by homeowners. Just recently a fire, of which I don’t know its origins, killed an entire family of five. One of the victims was a small toddler who had their entire life ahead of them. My dream was just a dream but it could easily become all too real for any homeowner reading this article. So how could the scenario in my dream have been avoided completely?

First, let’s look at the heater in my dream. It was an old one from maybe 20 years or more back. Old electric heaters tend to lack the amazing safety features that the newer ones have, like the automatic turn off the feature. This is a feature that automatically turns the unit off when it tips over, is knocked about or begins to overheat to dangerous levels. At this point you are probably saying, “But Doc, I cannot afford a new heater with this bad economy so I’m going to check the local dump, thrift stores and yard sales to acquire a newer used unit then what I already own.” Your family’s life is far too valuable to do that. There is a better way to make a brand new heater fit into your budget. The key is to buy the heaters offseason. No one else is thinking of heaters when the weather is hitting 80 and stores are desperate to get rid of them to make way for such things as pool supplies. Buy off season and you could score a heater for as much as 75% off. I’ve seen large heaters for as little as $10 during the offseason, which would be right now. So get out there and purchase that heater now, before it is too late.

Now let’s look at the environment that the heater in my dream was placed in. In the dream, my cousin had the heater setting directly upon a shag rug. Never ever do this in real life especially with older carpets like hers. Instead, place your heater on a tile or stone floor, far away from any combustibles. Don’t have a tile or stone floor? Place a piece of sheet metal or a piece of stone or tile under the heater. For small heaters place them on a table or countertop that is flat and stable.

When you take your heater out of storage to be used for the coming heating season, check the plug and cord thoroughly for any damage. If you find minor damage which doesn’t penetrate past the wire’s inner protective insulation, you can wrap the cord securely in electrician’s tape, found at any big box hardware store or electrical specialty shop. However, if you find damage penetrating into the wire’s protective insulation you must dispose of the heater, it is not safe to run. Should a child, pet or yourself touch the exposed wires it would be catastrophic. Should the exposed wires short-circuit a fire could ultimately occur. Also, check the heating elements for dirt and debris. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove any and all debris as these could spark a fire as well.

Should you find that, even though you have followed all of the above safety precautions and still have a fire on your hands, you will need to do as I did in the dream. Find your home’s main circuit breaker and turn it off. The electricity flowing into the heating unit is your catalyst for the fire. Take it away and you take away the fire’s fuel. Also, electricity and water don’t mix, as everyone knows. Once the electricity is cut then you can safely douse the fire with water and it won’t flare back up again.

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