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Tips on Using Space Heaters

Space heaters can be very effective, but they have a bad reputation as fire hazards. Here are some tips for using portable heaters as a safe alternative to heating the entire house.

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At one time or another, most people wish they could heat up one area of the house, perhaps for a visiting grandparent or a new baby. Portable heaters have gotten a bad reputation as fire hazards. In most cases, though, the fires resulted from failure to follow instructions and common sense. Today's space heaters are safer and more high-tech than ever.

Read the instructions that come with the heater. They are very detailed about how to use it safely. For example, rule No. 1 is that a heater needs to be 3 feet away from any combustible material, such as drapes or bedding.

Never put a portable heater on a countertop. It should be on the floor to minimize the danger of being knocked over and starting a fire. (The exceptions to this rule are models specifically designed for tabletop use.)

Do not use an extension cord with a space heater. Most manufacturers provide a cord that's long enough to reach the power outlet. However, if an extension cord must be used, use a heavy-duty one. Never use the same kind that might be used for a table lamp. Those cannot handle the wattage space heaters require.

The new portable heaters have some very practical features. For instance, the Holmes Tower Unit has ceramic technology and a blower. It's adjustable and it turns to distribute the heat evenly throughout the room. It can even be laid on its side and used as a baseboard heater. Many manufacturers include automatic turn-off if the unit tips over. Some have features that sense excess heat in front of it, so if it's too close to a drape, for example, it will turn itself off before a fire can start.

Bionaire makes a model with a removable thermostat that you place at the other end of the room. It maintains the right temperature throughout the entire space. Some have remote controls with a nightlight feature.

Parabolic models heat only what they "see" instead of heating the air in the room. You point the heater at the chair you'll be sitting in; you'll feel the heat, but it doesn't heat the air around it.

Oil-filled units are probably one of the most efficient units because they actually mimic the idea of a radiator. An electric element heats the units. When they reach the set temperature, they shut down. But since the oil has residual heat, they continue to provide heat.

The Comfort Breeze Duct Booster isn't a heater, but it can increase the efficiency of an existing system. Slide one over the duct, and it will pull more heat out of the duct and into the room. Wire the duct booster so that it runs only when the HVAC system fan runs for maximum efficiency.

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