Help me not burn my house down.
October 27, 2008 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Can I put a piece of furniture - sofa? bookcase? - in front of a 5 foot installed electric baseboard heater without burning my house down? The guy who did our renovations, who we like and trust a lot, insisted when he installed it that it would be perfectly safe to put a sofa right in front of the heater, which would prevent our kids from sticking their hands in it and possibly burning themselves. But now that I see how hot it gets, I'm afraid our house will go up in flames. That would not be good. What say you, electric-baseboard-heater-owning-Mefites?
posted by missuswayne to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sofas are find, if you leave about 6 inches between it and the heater.

Book cases are not fine. First, you'd need that same 6 inches, and it would look strange. But more important is that it would block the air flow over the heater, rendering it useless for heating your room.
posted by Class Goat at 10:54 AM on October 27, 2008

I have baseboard heaters, and I've always heard you should allow at least a foot to 18 inches clearance for combustibles. I currently have things like a desk and an end table, but with steel legs, and no wood below the tops.

As far a a couch, I did have mine on the same wall at one point, but I kept it pulled out at least 18 inches. That didn't seem to be a problem, but you have to be vigilant about keeping pillows, throws, coats, or other such items from falling behind and becoming a hazard.

There may be different kinds of heaters with less required clearance, but I wouldn't chance it with any of the kinds I have ever seen.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:59 AM on October 27, 2008

A quick google-news search for "fire close heater" reveals lots of news stories that blame the fire on combustibles too close to a "space heater", with this one recommending A space heater needs three feet of space in all directions clear of any combustible material. I personally think 6 inches is WAY too close to any sort of combustible fabric.
posted by nomisxid at 11:02 AM on October 27, 2008

A space heater is not the same as a baseboard heater, I would think. The space heaters I have experience with are basically heating elements like those in a hair dryer inside of a fan. I wouldn't think they're the same in terms of clearance requirements.
posted by MadamM at 11:50 AM on October 27, 2008

No, our baseboard heater is not like a space heater, at least the ones that I've owned. All the heating elements are sealed inside.
posted by missuswayne at 12:16 PM on October 27, 2008

If you have any of the information about the baseboard heaters, contact the manufacturer and inquire. They will have correct information for the model you have installed.
posted by mightshould at 12:18 PM on October 27, 2008

One downside of your plan is that you are paying a lot of money to keep your sofa warm. The sofa will absorb incident heat and prevent it spreading to the rest of the room. I would keep the space in front of the baseboard heater clear.
posted by Susurration at 12:57 PM on October 27, 2008

I have a wicker love seat pulled out about 10 inches in front of my baseboard heater. I am insanely vigilant about making sure nothing falls down behind it, since one day I left the plastic laundry basket too close to the bedroom heater..and it melted and burned.

If you can avoid it, I would, since burning down your house is pretty bad on the scale of things, compared to moving around your furniture.
posted by MissSquare at 1:10 PM on October 27, 2008

Rats. I had a feeling my plan would be foiled. Now the only question is how to keep my kids from sticking their hands in the heater...
posted by missuswayne at 1:55 PM on October 27, 2008

Adding to the "bad idea" crwod, it dramatically reduces the effectivness of the heat it's generating. Books are a good insulator, so you won't get any heath through the book shelf, it will all go up the wall and to the ceiling where it will stay. And who needs a hot ceiling?

The only way I'd put a bookshelf near that wall is to sit it at least 12 inches away from the front of the heater, and only if the bottom two shelves were empty and see through (no cardboard or hardboard backing on the shelves) on order to get air circulating. And yeah, it would look weird. Having a non-optimal furniture arrangement is better than a house fire.

Do you have per-baseboard circuits in your circuit breaker? Maybe you could just pull that one and live without. (Or have it wired up to do so.)
posted by Ookseer at 1:58 PM on October 27, 2008

No, you don't have to worry about a fire hazard. As you can see from this PDF drawing, you can have drapes that hang right in front of the baseboard heater with only two inches of clearance. The important thing is that nothing blocks the convective flow of the air as in comes at the bottom of the baseboard on the floor, flows out of the top of the baseboard and then up and into the room. So just make sure you don't push the couch all the way against the wall so that the headrest on top of the couch blocks off air flow. If air cannot flow in under your couch, then you may want to pull it out at least 6 inches so air can flow in along the floor behind the couch.

The heating elements in a baseboard heater don't get hot enough to start a fire. The reason for the clearance to to allow the air to flow so that your room is heated efficiently.
posted by JackFlash at 2:14 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

how about doing the same thing as a fireplace and put one of those metal screens around it on the floor where the kids could get to it.

example Fireplace Screen

this will also add a decorative element to the room. All you have to do is figure out how to attach it to the wall so it can't be pulled away. I'm sure that can be done easily with a trip to Home Depot..
posted by smart_ask at 2:24 PM on October 27, 2008

Now the only question is how to keep my kids from sticking their hands in the heater...

When I was young we lived in some houses with those electric baseboards. You only have to stick your finger in once to learn that that is a bad idea -- unless your kids have some kind of unusual condition where they can't feel pain, they will figure out how to not burn themselves on their own.

However, if they are like me, they will get the really bright idea that the gap in the baseboard heater is just wide enough to allow you to push in your plastic toy soldiers, which will then melt and stink up the whole house in the fall when the heat comes back on. So if I were you, I'd worry less about the childrens' fingers and more about the much more creative ways they may find to cause trouble.
posted by Forktine at 3:57 PM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Forktine - yes, my 18 month old has that same impulse. That's what I'm afraid of!
posted by missuswayne at 4:49 PM on October 27, 2008

I have baseboard heating throughout my house. In my bedroom, I have a particle board dresser, a nylon hamper, a canvas wardrobe, a plastic cat box, and particle board bookshelves and CD shelves immediately in front of the heater. In the living room, we have a leather couch immediately in front of the heater.

This has been the case through two winters. We have not died yet.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:11 PM on October 27, 2008

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