Space heater safety
March 8, 2011 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Is it safe to leave a space heater plugged in all the time?

We have a 1500-watt space heater that we turn on in the morning to heat the bathroom quickly. We turn it off before heading to work. My question involves safety: I think a small appliance that generates a lot of heat--like the space heater--should be unplugged (not just turned off) before we leave the house.

My husband disagrees and says that turning it off is sufficient.

I don't want to burn the house down. I know it only takes a second to unplug it, so why not do it anyway?, but my husband is looking for evidence that this is / is not a fire hazard, before he will change his ways. We are both prepared to accept the consensus of the mefites, as the hive mind rocks!

So - who is right?
posted by parkerama to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
I always keep mine on a switched power strip, so I can cut off the power to it easier. I always worry about something falling on it and turning it on (push buttons) but it has numerous safety measures like overheat shutoff and a timer too.
posted by msbutah at 5:55 PM on March 8, 2011

If it is UL certified, then you don't need to unplug it.

But is it rated for use in the space that operate it in? Does it meet the requirements for clear space around it, and are there any warnings about operating it in a humid environment like a bathroom?
posted by zippy at 5:56 PM on March 8, 2011

What kind of space heater is it? I think that would influence a lot of the answers here.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:00 PM on March 8, 2011

oil-filled radiator = probably fine
ceramic or open heating element = do not use this in your bathroom ever

make sure you have plugs with the "stop" and "test" buttons on them
posted by miyabo at 6:16 PM on March 8, 2011

If it is UL certified, then you don't need to unplug it.

I might have said that too, but yesterday my UL certified washing machine came on by itself at 3 AM, overflowed, and flooded my downstairs neighbor, so today my answer may have changed.

What happened? I don't know, a mouse chewed through a cable, a switch corroded? It's still a mystery as of now. Another time a hair dryer, again UL certified, went on by itself. So, when it's not too inconvenient and the downside is high, I'll unplug.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:18 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the off switch is reasonably solid and it is not likely to get switched back on through some sort of incidental contact then off is off. If the off switch sticks way out and is kind of flooby such that incidental contact with a pant leg or skirt might quietly switch it on without you noticing, I'd unplug it (and then I'd replace the switch).
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:19 PM on March 8, 2011

Your clothes dryer is an appliance that generates a lot of heat in essentially the same manner as your space heater. Same with your stove.

When it's off, it's off.

The heater could malfunction and burn your house down, but so could your stove, your dryer, your fridge, your TV. It is in the realm of possibilities but product standards and years of testing make these highly unlikely events.
posted by davey_darling at 6:20 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mom always said - if you trust a 25 cent fuse to keep your house from burning down, there's no need to unplug it. My mom was no electrical engineer, but she had a serious fear of fire. I find myself thinking of her advice every time I waiver over whether or not to unplug. When in doubt, unplug.
posted by cecic at 6:48 PM on March 8, 2011

Best answer: Where is the switch on the heater? Do you have pets? Any way it could get knocked over and turned on accidentally? Does it have a tip switch, just in case?

Seems kinda stubborn to not unplug the heater, which really isn't any more trouble, just because it *should* be safe enough to just turn it off. I'd personally err on the side of caution.

Need a video verifying you should not just turn off your space heater but unplug it, too? The Electronic Safety Foundation International has a B-roll for that!
posted by misha at 6:55 PM on March 8, 2011

Best answer: All space heaters I've ever seen have been equipped with very short cords, which means the heater and the wall socket are right there together. How hard is it to just unplug the thing every time?

Difficult to quantify but very real possibility of extreme danger + easy fix = no brainer.

Like Pascal's Wager, only reasonable.
posted by jsturgill at 7:37 PM on March 8, 2011

I vote unplug it. Space heaters are notoriously dangerous. No reason to risk it, and it's not worth losing sleep over.
posted by 6:1 at 8:00 PM on March 8, 2011

Turning it off is fine. It can't magically turn itself on and start heating up - you have to physically close a circuit by hitting the switch. Unless you have a dog that could wander around and bump its nose against the on/off switch, you're fine.
posted by Dasein at 8:12 PM on March 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: UL certified = yes
pets = no
kids = no
very short power cord = yes

Thanks for the great responses, everybody! After reviewing it sounds as though it probably is totally safe, but that, for peace of mind more than anything (and I guess I want peace of mind), unplugging is the way to go. As jsturgill says, it's difficult to quantify. Thanks again, everyone.
posted by parkerama at 8:47 PM on March 8, 2011

Response by poster: Just a quick follow-up: I just viewed the ESFI vid and it pretty clearly states to unplug it (and, ahem, not use it in the bathroom). Okay, now I know. Thanks misha!
posted by parkerama at 11:15 PM on March 8, 2011

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