Portable space heaters, while seemingly a convenient option for adding some warmth to a work or living space, are in fact extremely dangerous. It is estimated that electric space heater fatalities account for almost half of all home-heating related deaths. Statistics vary, but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cites approximately 25,000 space heater fires per year, as well as 300 deaths and over 6,000 emergency room visits. All sources strongly urge that electric space heaters should not be used as regular or permanent means of heating any living space; rather, they should only as a supplementary heating device and with strict precautions.
Consumer Reports recommends only using a new space heater that has been certified by a nationally-recognized testing agency. These include the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek ETL Semko (ETL), or CSA International (CSA), and the labeling should make it clear that the heater has been manufactured under UL or CSA standards. The heater should come with additional features such as a thermostat and automatic tip-over shut off. The heater should always be placed on an even floor surface that is entirely non-flammable (e.g. not on a carpet or on furniture, etc.). The heater should be entirely out of the way of children, pets, furniture, curtains and water or dampness (e.g. not in a bathroom, sink or by an open window). The heater should be plugged directly into the wall socket and the plug should fit snugly into the outlet. If an extension cord must be used, it should be heavy-duty: 14 gauge or wider. The heater should not be left on unattended or while people are sleeping. Even with safety devices, no winter heating season passes without a number of tragedies from defective space heaters.