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How to use space heaters safely

Local fire departments are advising Minnesotans to be cautious when using alternative heat sources.
Space heater at dog shelter

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Our cold snap is putting a significant strain on Xcel Energy's natural gas system.

After service stoppage in and around Princeton, the utility company asked all Minnesota customers to turn down their thermostats to 63 degrees through Thursday.  

RELATED: Xcel expands urgent natural gas conservation request to all MN customers

One solution for warming up during this freezing weather is using space heaters. But, that solution can sometimes be dangerous. 

The Minnesota State Fire Marshal says most home fires occur in the winter and peak in January. Candles, clogged vents and space heaters can all be culprits of winter fires. 

After Xcel asked some Minnesotans to conserve energy on Wednesday, the MN State Fire Marshal posted these tips for safely using space heaters on Facebook:

  • Don't leave space heaters and other alternative heat sources unattended
  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet from anything that can catch on fire (wood, cloth, plastic, combustibles, paper, rugs, etc.) 
  • Plug space heaters directly into an outlet, not an extension cord

Click here for a fact sheet from the MN State Fire Marshal titled "Freeze Out Winter Fires."

The City of Minneapolis also used social media to post these warnings about space heaters from the Minneapolis Fire Department:

  • Always turn space heaters off when no one is around and before going to sleep 
  • Never use a stove for heating 
  • Have working smoke alarms on each floor

Another way to avoid a winter fire is to remove all snow and ice around the windows and exits of your home.  

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is a non-profit organization that works to promote electrical safety at home and in the workplace. 

ESFI recommends these steps and the ones mentioned above for using a space heater safely: 

  • Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.
  • Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater.
  • Don't let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
  • Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas and test them once a month.
  • Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a tripping hazard.
  • Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
  • Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
  • Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use.

The MN State Fire Marshal puts it this way: you may be cold, but you need to put safety first. 

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