Portable heaters: The fire risk

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The use of portable radiators to heat the home is a universal practice. These heaters are loaded with oil and have heating elements that gently warm and circulate the oil through the radiator chamber. While they can pump out an incredible amount of heat, some consideration and care are needed around these appliances.

Simply put, you need to perform safe working practices with the use of this kind of heater. After all, we are talking about incredibly hot oil here. A spill or accident with this substance carries a potential risk for serious harm or danger. This blog will be providing easy and straightforward safety tips for the safe use of such appliances.

To get started, we need to understand how common portable heater fires are. In fact, in 2018, portable heaters have accounted for approximately 40% of home heating fires. Fires occur when the user places combustible materials too close to the heaters, causing ignition of upholstery furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding, which remains the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal house fires.

It may be of no surprise that nearly half of home heating fires occurred within the winter months, no doubt due to the turn in the weather. However, there are accidents with these kinds of heating elements all year round.

I have been involved in cases where portable heaters were used to substitute for mains central heating. A cost-effective technique, by only heating one room, brings the costs down. But all it takes is for the user to fall asleep, leaving the heater unsupervised and making it highly probable for ignition to occur.

Fires occur when the oil leaks or is accidentally spilled from a crack onto the floor. This oil can not only ruin porous surfaces, it can also catch fire if it’s close to heating elements, resulting in a potentially dangerous fire.

Portable radiators come in various brands. Delonghi heaters have hit the headlines in recent years due to defective components within the appliance. Certain types of heaters produced by the Italian manufacturer have been known to cause fires, deaths and several lawsuits. You only need to enter “Delonghi heater fires” onto YouTube and you will be bombarded with fire related videos.

It is important to note, however, that Delonghi is not the only manufacturer that has been affected by such problems, which is why I am bringing this information to your attention. If you are worried that you may have a defective heater in use in your home, a simple online check can put your mind at ease.

Portable heaters can be a great asset to the home, whether you want to heat a room or a small house. There are several safety tips which if followed, will minimise your chances of fire occurring in your home.

  1. Only power your portable heater into mains wired sockets which can handle the load from the heater. Never use an extension cord or wiring that cannot handle the required radiator load.
  2. If your portable radiator has wheels, secure it to a place where it cannot be easily knocked over. While portable heaters are generally safe, its best to check if they have overheating protection such as tilt switches, that automatically turn off if anything happens to the heaters.
  3. Although radiators heat indirectly through oil, and don’t glow red like other space heaters, they can still get very hot. Keep the unit at least one foot away from all combustible materials, including walls and furniture.
  4. Keep pets and small kids away and prevent them from touching hot surfaces.
  5. Manufacturers warn against keeping portable radiators in damp places, bathrooms, etc where there is poor ventilation.
  6. Turn heaters off when you leave the room, and never leave a heater unattended.

On closing, portable heaters can provide a cost effective and efficient heating system for rooms and small homes. When maintained and operated correctly, portable heaters are safe to use. If we all know the potential risks faced with the appliances, we can avoid the dangers and provide a safe home for the family.

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