Winter Accidents: Space Heaters

Winter Accidents: Space Heaters

A big winter storm system hit our part of the country this weekend.  Indiana had it all:  snow, sleet, ice, freezing rain, and really low wind chills.  Illinois, ditto.

This meant travelers got stuck in airport terminals (like those 100+ travelers who were forced to spend Saturday night in the Indianapolis International Airport), as well as folks who found themselves stranded in their cars, like those caught for 10+ hours along on I-465.

It also means that most Hoosiers and everyone in Illinois are trying to find ways to stay off the roads and huddle at home in these frigid temperatures, and that means staying warm with space heaters.

Space Heaters Can Be Defective in Design or Simply Malfunction

Products are not supposed to be dangerous.  There are all sorts of laws – federal and state – that protect the consumer against harmful and dangerous products.  If you buy a space heater, then you assume it’s safe to use, just like any other product.  That’s the law.

However, the reality is that some space heaters may be defective in design.  They can be dangerous just by how they are constructed and made.  Other space heaters may be okay in design, but an individual heater may malfunction.  Or it may be misused.

There are laws to help accident victims of space heaters under defective product laws as well as product liability and negligence actions.  However, the key warning for all of us this winter is to keep safe and avoid accidental injury or death from a space heater if at all possible.

Warnings Against Using Space Heaters

Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson warns that 1 out of 6 home fires are caused by space heaters.  Indiana Fire Marshall Greeson would prefer that Hoosiers use something other than space heaters to heat their homes this winter.  He thinks they are way too dangerous to have in your home.

The National Fire Prevention Association studies find that space heaters are involved in 2 out of 5 home heating equipment fires, and are responsible for “… 84% of associated civilian deaths, 75% of civilian injuries, and 52% of direct property damage.”

Ask around, and you’ll find that most fire and safety professionals warn against the use of space heaters.  They consider space heaters to be dangerous and deadly. 

Space Heaters Are Popular

Nevertheless, space heaters are a very popular means of keeping warm here in Indiana and Illinois.  Lots of families rely on them.

They’re sold most everywhere.  Space heaters are especially popular products at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s, as well as Walmart and TargetConsumer Reports currently has 57 different space heaters it has reviewed and rated online for the general public.

Today, you can get a device that promises to heat your room for around $50.00 (or less).  This makes good sense financially to people who want to keep their utility bills under control.

Space Heaters Can Be Deadly

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, most space heater injuries are the result of fire.  Something catches fire because of the space heater, and the flames get out of control.

Rooms can be destroyed, entire houses engulfed in flames.  People can die from the flames themselves, as well as from carbon monoxide inhalation. 

Most deaths from space heater fires are not caused by a flaw in the space heater, though.

NFPA reports that 56% of space heater fire deaths (56%) are caused by something catching on fire from being close to the space heater.  Things like curtains, bedspreads, clothing, etc.


Tips for Using Space Heaters Safely

The Department of Energy has all sorts of safety tips for using space heaters in your home.  The site explains that a space heater can help when you just want to heat a single room, or when one room just doesn’t get warm enough despite your CACH system.

The DOE explains that space heaters range from 10,000 – 40000 BTUs per hour.  They can be radiant heaters or convection heaters.  Radiant heaters need to be watched more carefully; always be in the room monitoring a radiant heater.

The DOE advises that you should:

  • Buy newer models of space heaters with the latest safety features
  • Make sure the space heater has a tip-over automatic shut-off feature
  • Buy only those space heaters that have a Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label on them
  • Make sure your space heater has a thermostat, so it will not run continuously
  • Research the needs of your room and buy a space heater that will heat that square footage
  • Arrange your room to accommodate the space heater, keep it away from foot traffic and from drapery, etc.
  • Plug the space heater directly into the wall outlet.
  • If you must use an extension cord, then use a heavy duty cord and keep it as short as you can
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on both the extension cord and the space heater


Accidents and Injuries from Space Heaters

This week, the Springfield Fire Department confirmed a space heater was the cause of a major house fire on East Laurel Street.  Luckily, no one was injured in that blaze.

What happened?  Indiana fire fighters report that the space heater was too close to a bed and fire erupted.

During this harsh winter, Indiana and Illinois homes will have space heaters helping to keep families warm inside their bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens.  Space heaters are popular and lots of people rely on them.

However, fires are a real danger when using a space heater.  Accidents can happen.  People can be severely injured or killed because of a space heater.

Make sure that the space heater you are using is not defective in design.  Know the safety protocols for using a space heater and make sure everyone in your home abides by them.

And if a loved one is near a space heater at their day care, school, or office, or while visiting friends, studying in their dorm, or visiting with relatives, then speak up and make sure they know the risk and danger of a space heater.  As well as their employers, caretakers, and others who are responsible for space heaters being used in that environment.

Laws protect not only against defective product design and individual product failures, but also against the negligence of those responsible for keeping others safe from harm.   Both accident damages as well as wrongful death awards are possible after a space heater tragedy. Stay warm and stay safe.  Let’s be careful out there!

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