It is almost that time of year again. The time of the year when the weather turns cold and families and businesses use a variety of options to keep warm. A popular choice is the use of a space heater. Every year there’s stories about a home or business burning down because of a space heater. As you have probably heard before, homes and buildings can be rebuilt, lives can’t.
A widely talked about rule suggests keeping a minimum of 3 feet between the space heater and anything combustible. Sounds simple. The reality is that there are many precautions, not just that one. Unfortunately the number of space heater fires is continuing to increase year over year. If it was only as simple as making sure there is at least three feet of space. The numbers going the wrong way and the numbers are staggering when looked at nationwide.
There was an estimated 53,600 structure fires nationwide in 2011 caused by various heating equipment. A total of 400 people lost their lives that year and the damage to property was almost $900 million dollars. While space heaters are responsible for 30% of heater fires in the winter, they cause 80% of the deaths. Alarming numbers, however, as some experts point out, one of the best ways to reduce the risk is to treat a space heater for what it is, a fire.
When homeowners are home and a fire is roaring the fireplace to keep warm, they put the fire out before they go to bed. People see the flames and it’s a natural response to not want a fire going when sleeping. People tend to see space heaters differently though. There are no visible flames and as a result space heaters are not treated with the proper amount of caution. Since many disasters happen when people are asleep, the rate of death for space heater accidents is so high.
As serious as the risk is with fire and space heaters, it is not the only deadly risk. Space heaters can also cause electric shock and more commonly, carbon monoxide gas. Every year there are stories in the news of families and loved ones passing away due to carbon monoxide accidents. Fortunately there are many different safeguards that a homeowner/business-owner can do to mitigate the risk of space heater usage:
- Treating space heaters the same way you would treat a fire going in your fireplace.
- Make sure that working carbon monoxide detectors are in place everywhere the fire department suggests. This is a must regardless of the use of a space heater or not.
- Never leave a running space heater running unattended. Unplug when not using.
- Ensure that the electrical cords and plugs are not frayed or damaged. Always plug the space heater directly into the wall outlet and never into an extension cord or power strip.
- Make sure that there is at least 3 feet of distance where there is nothing combustible around the entire space heater, not just the front.
- Place the space heater in an appropriate place where there is no risk of someone tripping over the cord of the heater or anything else where someone could fall into the heater.
- Check to make sure that the space heater is listed or labeled by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
For many businesses, especially those in the trades, space heaters are a must to keep workers warm when working during the winter. This actually poses some more specific risks to consider. Commercial space heaters have more power and many times are rented, not owned by the company using it. Carefully examine the unit and check that it is proper working order. Keep the space heater away from high traffic areas and allow for extra space between the heater and anything/anyone. If it’s a fuel fired space heater the safety devices need to be checked, fuel lines and tanks should be inspected for damage, exhaust ducting and flues must be free of blockage and the exhaust flow must be unobstructed. Talk to and train as necessary the employees that will be working around the space heater. Make sure they know how to properly work the unit and follow the safety procedures.
Do not let yourself, your family/loved ones/employees become statistics added to a troubling trend. Be prepared and take advantage of the time when you can prevent a disaster. The opportunity to do something goes away after it happens. Insurance Associates is an independent insurance agency that has been in business for more than 60 years. With tremendous knowledge in both personal and commercial insurance, Insurance Associates has the risk consultants and insurance professionals that can keep you, your family, your business and your employees safe and covered for all risks. Give Insurance Associates a call and let one of their experienced professionals help you with any of your insurance needs.
Information about the Author: Before coming to Insurance Associates, BJ spent twelve years working for several property and casualty insurance companies with four years in management. He completed his studies through The Institutes and earned the prestigious Chartered Property & Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation in 2012. BJ graduated at the gold level from ABC of Metro Washington’s Leadership Development Program. At Insurance Associates, BJ is first and foremost an advocate for our clients. Whether it’s helping a client to lower their experience mod or using his expertise to get a claim paid for a client, he is always available to help a client with any of their claims needs. In his free time BJ is most likely to be found on the golf course.
William (BJ) Westner Jr., CPCU, CRIS
Senior Claims Consultant