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Keep safe when using space heaters

Precautions are key with any type of heating device

By: By Lucy Haines

  |  Posted: Saturday, Feb 15, 2014 06:00 am

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  • ESTHETIC APPEAL – Infrared quartz heaters come in a decorative look that makes them popular with homeowners.
    ESTHETIC APPEAL – Infrared quartz heaters come in a decorative look that makes them popular with homeowners.
    LUCY HAINES/St. Albert Gazette
  • SAFETY FIRST – Any space heater should be kept well away from other objects.
    SAFETY FIRST – Any space heater should be kept well away from other objects.

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On Boxing Day 2012, a space heater caused a fire that destroyed a St. Albert home. A few weeks ago in Edmonton, two people were killed in an explosion and fire after a propane heater ignited a gasoline-vapour mixture in a home’s garage. Both incidents could have been prevented, according to fire safety experts, and serve as a reminder that precautions must be taken whenever using space heaters in or around the house.

“People work on vehicles in the garage at this time of year, getting ready for warm weather, and they often choose propane heaters because they’re efficient and provide more heat than electric ones,” said Les David Mroz, fire prevention safety officer with St. Albert Fire Services.

“But spilled gasoline vapours near that heat source – it creates a dangerous set of circumstances that can be deadly.”

While homeowners wouldn’t usually think of working with gasoline in the basement, around a hot water tank, etc., they don’t have the same worries in the garage, Mroz said. He recommends this space have a permanent heat source, if possible, such as overhead forced air, though he recognizes that not many houses, new or old, are constructed with a heater in the garage.

“Even with electric heaters, such as the popular new infrared types, you still have to take universal precautions,” Mroz said. “Keep a heater away from any combustible materials – not near, below or even above.”

According to consumer products safety data, portable electric heaters cause hundreds of fires each year in North America.The high-wattage appliances can ignite nearby flammable materials like curtains, sofas, newspapers and clothing, so it’s advised to keep the device on a level surface and at a safe distance from other objects. Also, avoid using extension cords and running the plug under carpet, as even the cord can get overheated.

Space heaters, like many seasonal products, are at sale prices at St. Albert’s big-box retailers. A 1,500 watt quartz heater said to heat 1,000 square feet, sealed in a wood cabinet and safe for kids and pets, is one such model on clearance at The Home Depot.

While electric heat is more costly to use, customers like the decorative look of the infrared quartz heater and the larger area it will heat, said seasonal department supervisor Albert Wong.

“If you only want to heat one room or one area, this is a convenient choice,” said Wong, “but as with all space heaters, use them carefully.”

In fact, radiant heaters such as the quartz type use electric elements packed inside a fragile quartz glass tube, which is easily broken. Metal rod radiant heaters use a heating element placed in front of a shiny reflector that radiates heat, and even this type can focus too much heat in one place, Mroz said. The moral of the story – use all with caution.

Whether you use a radiant or convection electric heater, or kerosene or propane type, it’s important to follow manufacturers’ instructions and turn the unit off when going to bed or leaving the room, Mroz said. And fuel-burning heaters should only be filled with the proper grade fuel in a ventilated area, preferably outside.


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