Portable Heaters

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Portable heaters can be a convenient and economical means of providing supplemental heat during cold winter months. When used improperly, however, portable heaters can present a serious fire hazard. Each year, approximately 55,000 home heating equipment fires are reported to U.S. fire departments. Those fires result in about 220 civilian deaths, 1,100 civilian injuries, and $500 million in property damage. Two of every three home heating fires and two of every three related deaths are attributed to portable and fixed space heaters and related equipment.

The City of Fairfax Fire Department offers the following recommendations for using portable heaters safely:

  • Only use portable heaters that have been approved by nationally recognized testing agencies (like Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.).
  • Always buy new portable heaters; second-hand heaters may not be safe.
  • Only use heaters that turn off automatically if tipped over.
  • Place portable heaters at least 3 feet away from all combustible materials including walls and furniture.
  • If using an electric heater, make sure the cord is not frayed or worn; do not place the cord underneath rugs or carpeting. Never use an extension cord with a portable heater.
  • Do not plug your portable heater into an outlet that is controlled by a light switch; the heater could be switched on accidentally.
  • Place portable heaters on level, flat surfaces; never place heaters on furniture or other objects that might tip over.
  • Keep portable heaters away from children and pets; never place a heater in a child’s room without supervision.
  • Turn portable heaters off when you leave home or go to bed; it is not worth risking your life to leave a portable heater on all night!

If you are using a kerosene heater, use only the type of kerosene specified by the manufacturer (never use gasoline); also recognize that the indoor use of kerosene heaters can pose a serious risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you have any doubt about the safety of your portable heater, discontinue using it or replace it with a new heater. If you have any questions about portable heater safety, please call Life Safety Officer at 703.385.7830 or send an email at