Portable heaters are big business — in fact, chilly Americans spend nearly $400 million on them each year. These heaters can do wonders to take the chill out of a room or even warm your entire home, but choosing the right one and using it safely should be your top priority. "Today" contributor Lou Manfredini, aka Mr. Fix-It, shares tips on how to pick the right heater and stay warm, cozy and safe.
According to the Consumer Products Safety Council, portable heaters cause about 120,000 residential fires in the U.S. each year, which is about 22 percent of all residential fires. While these units are safe, understanding how and where to use them will keep you and your family safe.
First you need to read all of the instructions that come with these units. These directions will show you proper placement and uses for the heater you choose. Never use a portable heater in a wet location unless it is specifically designed for that use. Never use a portable heater on a chair or counter top. Keep the heater at least three feet away from any combustible materials like drapes, furniture or walls. Also avoid using extension cords. Undersized cords can themselves be a fire hazard. For more tips you can get a free brochure from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers at www.aham.org.
Choosing the right heater
The two main types of heaters are gas (or fuel) and electric. Make sure that any heater you choose is either UL listed or ETL listed for safety testing. In my opinion, gas or fuel heaters should not be used inside a home. Kerosene heaters can be used indoors but require regular maintenance to keep them burning safely. Propane heaters can also be used indoors but that should only be in an emergency situation and under constant supervision.
Electric heatersElectric heaters come in different varieties. Ceramic technology heats a ceramic core to more evenly distribute the heat and make the units more energy efficient. The Holmes Group has a great line of heaters, such as the Bionaire Ceramic Heater. This heater has a wireless Galileo sensor that keeps the room at a constant temperature. It retails for about $60. (www.theholmesgroup.com)
Fluid-filled electric heatersFluid-filled electric heaters offer the same residual heating as water or steam radiators. These units come in either a baseboard design or a traditional-radiator design. These are filled with oil that heats up and radiates heat even when the heater shuts off (thus conserving electricity). Lakewood Engineering makes quality units that are priced around $60 (www.lakewoodeng.com); they also make a Parabolic dish heater that heats objects in a room rather than the air. You have to try it to believe it, but it works. It sells for about $50.
Portable gas heatersThe safest and easiest I have found is by Mr. Heater. This propane unit is great for working out in the garage, staying warm on a camping trip or used in an emergency to keep the pipes from freezing in your home. A small propane tank screws onto the side and will run the unit for up to three hours. It’s certified for safety and has an oxygen sensor that will shut the unit down in the event of low oxygen levels. It retails for around $89. (www.mrheater.com)
Finally, for rooms that are chilly because the forced air doesn't flow adequately through the register, try the Comfort Breeze register booster. This device fits over the register opening to boost the air flow. I tried it and it works great. Your cold room will get warmer, and it can actually save you money on your energy bill. They range in price from $79 to $229. (www.dndresearch.com)
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