Electric Heater Explosions (Here’s Why They REALLY Happen)

One of the greatest feelings in the wintertime is getting all snuggly on the couch with a pair of your favorite sweatpants, a good old hoodie, and hot cocoa. As you are just getting comfortable, you find that it is frigid in your house and get a portable electric heater to keep the area where you are most at nice and toasty.

However, after you purchase it, the question of if electric heaters explode creeps up into your mind, and you immediately start panicking, wondering if you made the right choice or not. 

In short, electric space heaters have been known to explode, but this is only when it is placed near objects, such as walls, furniture or clothing. Although we know not to place items ON a heater, it is imperative to keep the heater 3 feet away from all objects on all sides of the product. This alone can help to prevent any possible explosion.

Today, we will go over a lot of information to ensure safety within your home while dealing with electric space heaters and how many times a year portable heaters cause fires in your home. It is essential to know how to remain safe, especially during the winter months, when the weather is freezing and musty.  

Why Do Electric Heaters Explode?

The main reason these heaters can explode is that objects are surrounded by the general area. In order to keep these issues from happening, allow the heater to stay 3 feet away from any items, including the walls. Many people do not follow these protocols, resulting in 25,000 fires per year and roughly 300 deaths. 

One of the most significant examples that we can give of this instance is a story from the NY Post back in 2019. A homeowner used an electric heater for the first time but hung it up on the wall.

He soon realized the heat was emitting strongly, so he turned it down, not realizing it would cause an explosion in just a few short minutes.

The explosion in itself resulted in his entire garage collapsing and him in 3rd-degree burns all over his body. Thankfully, he survived, but it could have very quickly ended his life. 

We implore you to do as much research on any portable heater and make sure to read the instruction manuals before usage to avoid anything such as this. This is why we are here to help you make the right decision for you and your household.

How Do Electric Heaters Cause Fires?

Since we know that is it possible for electric heaters to explode, how can they cause fires? These household items include but are not limited to:

  • Curtains & blankets
  • Newspapers & books
  • Clothes
  • Furniture
  • Plastic objects
  • Flammable drinks (alcohol)
  • Carpeting or rugs

Another leading cause that many homeowners may not know about is if the wiring behind your wall is a little loose or defective due to wear and tear over multiple years of usage, it will cause heat to build up, and an electrical fire can occur through this.

How Often Do Electric Heaters Catch On Fire?

Space heaters are the leading cause of fires within homes. According to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), between 2011 to 2015, space heaters created roughly 43% of home heating fires, resulting in 85% of associated deaths.

Anywhere between December to February is when it is more than likely a chance for any space radiators to cause a fire. Still, it can happen anytime throughout the year, except that we do not use them but for those three months until it starts getting warm again.

In fact, 27% of fires from space heating equipment typically happen between 4 to 8 PM. The fires may be since most homeowners keep their heaters on during those times and could be improperly used or a short circuit happened in the wires, as mentioned previously. Another large fire spike is between midnight and 8 AM, roughly 18% of the time. 

How Do You Prevent Heaters From Catching On Fire?

There are many ways you can prevent a fire or explosion from happening. After all, our goal is to be comfortable in our home and not live in fear as to what could potentially happen. As long as you follow all of these protocols, it will ensure overall better safety in the house.

  1. Make sure the heater is on only when you are in the room. In other words, please turn it off when you leave the room or fall asleep.
  1. Purchase a heater that automatically shuts off. If the heater were to tip over, this is a huge plus because the auto-shut-off will trigger the off button.
  1. Never allow your children to go near the heater, turn it off or on, and move it by any means. Even if they are old enough to do so, accidents can still happen, and it is best to do it yourself in this case.
  1. Keep your electric heater on a flat and stable surface and stay clear of heavy traffic areas and doorways. Overall, keep the heater somewhere it may not be accidentally pushed, tipped over, or bumped into by any means. 
  1. Always keep your heater away from water and never touch your heater if you are wet anywhere in your body. This will overall protect it from electric shocks or electrocutions. 
  1. Never put the chord underneath something, such as a rug or carpeting. 
  1. Do not use your heater to dry your clothes. If you think using your electric heater as a dryer for drying clothes is a good idea, think again. This can cause fires or explosions very quickly, as we learned from the story above.
  1. Inspect your portable heater and the surrounding areas for any broken plugs, damaged areas, or loose connections. If you find any of these things, it is vital to replace the heater before using it.

    Never operate a heater that is defective in any sort of way. Some heaters come with a warranty, so check to see if this is an option before going and buying a new one. 
  1. Plug the cord directly into the outlet itself and NEVER an extension cord. Although some places may state that using an extension cord is okay, it can overload the circuits and cause electrical fires.

    On top of this, NEVER plug it in a surge protector, plug timers, GFCI outlets, or anything that is not a wall outlet, as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Can You Keep An Electric Heater On All Night?

Although it is incredibly tempting to keep your portable heater on overnight due to the warmth it provides, it is imperative to NEVER leave your electric radiator on at night. Your life is more worth any potential fire hazard. Even electric blankets are designed for short-term use instead of left on overnight, so use extra blankets if needed for extra warmth. 

When you are awake, make sure to always keep a close eye on it, and as soon as you leave the room or have to go somewhere, such as the store or run other errands, always make sure you turn it off FIRST and then unplug it completely.

You will then store it in a place that it will not get in the way for anyone to trip on, such as for younger children who like to run around the house and do not necessarily understand, “don’t run in my home” yet. It is better to be extra safe than sorry when it comes to these things. 

Can Electric Space Heaters Kill You?

All space heaters can cause electrical shock, which can be a life-threatening situation in itself. Get emergency help if it is through a high-voltage wire or lightning. However, it is typically self-diagnosed through yourself through these symptoms:

  • Severe burns
  • Muscle pain & contractions
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Breathing & irregular heartbeat, which may be hard to tell

Not only that, but any heater, whether it is electric, coal, or gas, can overload a circuit and always has the potential to cause burns, even by the slightest of touch.

So can space heaters truly kill you? Since they have the potential to cause fires, by and large, they can be the source of death through fires within your home. 

How Dangerous Are Electric Space Heaters?

Electric space heaters are generally safe to operate in your home but can still be a fire hazard or burn you if not careful enough. Make sure you use it sparingly and always follow the protocols per the installation process. However, they are usually safe to use. 

Electric Heater

Conclusion

As a result, electric space heaters have been known to explode, but this is mostly because the radiator was improperly used. It is essential to always read the instruction manual before using any space radiator to avoid potential product failure. This ensures the safety of you and whoever else is within your household. 

Photo of author

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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