Be cautious when using kerosene space heaters

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2008

Dramatic increases in home heating costs have consumers searching for alternative fuel options. If you are thinking of purchasing a kerosene space heater for your home, there are important safety procedures you should consider before you buy. First, make sure local building and fire codes permit use in residential structures. Check with your insurance carrier to determine what impact the use of these heaters may have on your homeowner's policy.

Many fire officials and safety specialists contend that kerosene heaters present hazards not found with other heating systems. The major hazard is fire that could result from the use of gasoline instead of kerosene in the heater. Follow these recommendations when using this type of space heater: 1) Use only heaters that carry an Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) label; 2) Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets. Heaters should be kept a minimum distance of 36 inches from all combustible materials such as curtains or furniture. Never use heaters to dry clothes; 3) Use only as supplemental heat. The heater should never be used as the only heat source. Don't operate it while you are asleep because the heater could malfunction and cause asphyxiation.

Health hazards from the pollutants emitted from kerosene heaters are concerns as well. Burning kerosene consumes oxygen and produces carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other gases. Ventilation must be provided to replace oxygen and to remove gases in order to prevent asphyxiation or respiratory problems. The manufacturer's recommendations should be followed to provide adequate oxygen for combustion. Operate the heater in a room with a door open to the rest of the house. If you must operate the heater in a room with the door closed, open a window to the outside approximately an inch to permit fresh air to effectively dilute the pollutants.

To ensure the safe operation of the heater, every adult member of the family must become an informed consumer and operator. Adults should be aware of the equipment maintenance, safety considerations, operating procedures, emergency procedures and fuel storage requirements. Never allow children to operate the unit! Read and follow the procedures and safety alerts in the owner's manual before attempting to operate, service or perform maintenance on the unit.

The costs of various forms of energy are calculated in several different ways. Energy Cost Comparison Charts are available from the Juneau District Extension Service.

• Sonja Koukel is the Health, Home & Family Development program educator for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.

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