Portable Heater Safety Tips
Most portable heater fires are caused by people making basic mistakes that could easily be avoided, like knocking heaters over – easily done, particularly if you have young children and pets running around.
Elderly people and children are particularly at risk, so when you are making sure elderly relatives and neighbours are warm, or your children are playing, follow our simple tips to make sure that they are safe.
- Put your heater on a level surface, well away from anything that could knock it over.
- Make sure your heater is at least a metre away from combustible materials, such as paper, furniture or curtains.
- Never dry clothes directly on or in close proximity to your heater.
- If you need to dry clothes in the same room as your heater or open fire, ensure they are placed well away from the heat to reduce the risk of a fire starting.
- Don’t leave your heater unattended whilst in use or while you are asleep. See our additional advice on this below.
- Never power a heater from an extension lead – they can easily be overloaded and cause fires.
- Unscrupulous sellers are taking advantage of those looking to save on rising energy bills by promoting hazardous heaters through targeted online advertisements. To avoid the risk of buying a defective heater online, it is advisable to purchase from reputable retailers.
- Avoid second hand heaters. Make sure you buy from recognised manufacturers and retailers.
- Always register a new portable heater with the manufacturer. That way you can be contacted easily if a safety notice or recall is required. To find out more information about registering your appliances, visit our Product Registration page.
- Use our free online Product Recall checker to see if your portable heater or any other electrical items have been recalled.
- Running heaters overnight or unattended.
Our advice to not run heaters overnight or unattended is the safest policy to adopt. The safest heater is one that is unplugged (just don’t step on the plug). However, we understand that if your feeling cold and vulnerable you may be tempted to ignore this advice. We still want you to be as safe as possible and there are things that you can do to reduce the risks.
- Choose a heater that has a relatively low risk in terms of igniting any items nearby, such as an oil filled radiator.
- Ensure that any combustible items such as paper, bedding curtains and furniture are at least 1 metre away from the heater.
- Make sure your route is clear; place the heater out of the way, you do not want to trip over the lead or the heater if you need to get up in the middle of the night.
- Smoke alarms and heat detectors are essential in keeping you safe by raising the alarm in the event of a fire. There should be a minimum of one alarm/detector per floor and enough to cover all areas where a fire could start, and make sure they are tested regularly.
Alternatively, warm the room before going to bed. An oil filled radiator will heat the room for quite a while after being turned off.
Types of Portable Heater
There are many different types of portable electric heaters each type comes with its own set of advantages and risks. Some of the most popular types are convection heaters, halogen heaters, fan heaters, and oil filled radiators.
We have put together some tips and advice for each of the different types to help keep you safe this winter.
Halogen heaters operate by radiating infra-red light, they use halogen elements enclosed in lamps or bulbs which directly heats objects the light reaches. Halogen heaters therefore technically do not heat the air in the room.
Halogen heaters produce an intense directional heat. It is particularly important that this type of heater is kept at a safe distance from flammable materials such as curtains, bedding, furniture and people. Some designs of Halogen heater can also be prone to toppling over so make sure you buy one that’s fitted with a tip-over switch and that it is relatively cool to the touch on the outside.
Fan heaters heat the air in the room in which they are placed. They work by heating up a coil of wire, which heats the air around it and then forcing the air into the room with a fan. They are usually small and cheap and provide instant heat. Although they can be noisy.
The heating element relies on the operation of the fan to keep it cool so it is important that vents are not blocked and the flow of air is not restricted by the build up of dust and fluff.
The hot air coming out of a fan heater can be quite intense and it is particularly important that this type of heater is kept at a safe distance from flammable materials such as curtains, bedding, furniture and people.
Convection heaters are in many ways similar to fan heaters, they heat the air in the room in which they are placed, they also work by heating up a coil of wire. The difference is that they don’t use a fan to force the air into the room, they use the natural movement of air to heat the room. Air heated by the coil rises and is replaced by cooler air which is then heated and the cycle continues until the room reaches the set temperature.
Because they rely on the natural (slow) movement of air they tend to be larger than fan heaters and heat the room more slowly. Convection heaters need clear space above and around them to work effectively. Convection heaters can overheat if air grilles are blocked (for example, by materials draped over the appliance) or if dust and debris accumulate inside.
Oil filled radiators
Oil filled radiators also work by heating up a coil of wire. However, instead of heating the air directly, the coil heats a reservoir of oil. The heat from the element (coil) is transferred to the oil, which then circulates around the appliance and heats the metal fins. As the fins get hotter, the surface temperature does too, and heat is then released out into the air.
Oil filled radiators don’t have exposed heating elements and the heat from them is less intense than a fan heater or a halogen heater, so they are less likely to ignite any items near-by. They do take longer to warm up, but they also continue to give out heat after they have been switched off. They are generally more economical to run than a fan heater or a convection heater. The fins do still get quite hot so avoid children touching the radiators whilst they are still hot.
Electrical Fire Safety Week 2022
For Electrical Fire Safety Week this year, we’ve worked with fire and rescue services across the UK to help spread the word on electrical heater safety in the home.
Our research shows over 4 million more people in the UK are turning to these devices this winter compared to last year. As energy costs are increasing this winter, it is understandable that more people are looking to use these devices to stay warm. But using them incorrectly can pose massive risks in the home and can cause devasting fires. We urge everyone to look out for their family and friends to spread the word and avoid more tragedies.