The holidays are over and winter is settling in. With the high cost of energy many people try to save money by lowering the heat or by not heating their whole living area. In this situation it is common to find people using portable or supplemental heaters. There are several options and each one comes with its own requirements for safe usage.
If you use a wood, coal, or gas space heater, you need to be sure it is vented properly. You also need to have a carbon-monoxide (CO) detector. (Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that keeps the blood from being able to absorb oxygen. It forms when there is incomplete combustion of fuels such as wood, coal, and gas. Every year people die from carbon-monoxide poisoning; this is why it is important to have a CO monitor and to have your heater properly vented.) Of course, it should be obvious that it is also important to keep materials that can catch on fire from being too close to the space heater. It is tragic, but every year some people lose their homes due to fires started by having combustible materials too close to a space heater.
If you use an electrical heater, you need to be sure it is UL (Underwriters Laboratory) approved. You also need to know how much power it uses and check what other electrical devices are on the same circuit to be sure you do not overload a circuit. Ideally, you should have a list of every outlet that is on each circuit of your electric service panel (This is where your circuit breakers or fuses are located.) Your heater and other devices are probably rated by the number of watts they use, while your circuits are rated in amperes (amps). According to Wiki Answers, watts can be converted into amps by dividing the number of watts by the voltage (usually 120 volts in most homes). In this way you can add up the total amps being drawn by all the electrical devices plugged to any single circuit. If you exceed the number of amps for the circuit, you risk starting an electrical fire. Even though electric heaters do not have flames, you still need to keep materials that can easily catch fire from being too close to the heater. Finally, you should feel the electrical cord for the heater periodically while it is in use. If the cord gets very hot, it is wise to turn the heater off to let it cool down. Finally, while it is best not to use an extension cord with an electric heater, if you need an extension cord for proper placement of the heater, be sure the wattage rating for the cord is higher than the wattage of the heater.
When it comes to staying warm this winter, Be Smart and Be Safe.
Elder Care Coordinator