Was it really worth it
As part of our testing and monitoring, we visit consumers around the country to see how the heaters we recommend perform in their homes.
The way we see many portable electric heaters being used gives us cause for concern, so what can we do to help consumers stay safe?
Portable electric heaters are convenient because they can be moved from room to room and in used different areas, but as a high wattage electrical device they use a lot of power and present a fire risk so must be used carefully, see our post on Portable Heater Safety.
Three things we recommend when using portable electric heaters are:
- Never use an extension lead
- Never use a plug-in or external timer
- Never leave them in a room unattended
This is because
- Extension leads can overheat leading to fires
- Timers may not be able to handle the power a heater draws and may overheat, also they can be set to switch on a heater when a room is unoccupied which leads us onto...
- If a heater is on in an unoccupied room and develops a fault, or is positioned too close to a flammable object it can catch fire or cause a fire.
Unfortunately, it seems nothing we or RoSPA or any advice body can do or say will encourage more consumers to follow these guidelines. Just saying don't do it because...... is never enough.
We have asked people why they don't follow the safety guidelines and the top 3 answers are:
- The supplied lead is too short and I need my heater further from the socket
- I need the heater to turn on/off at a certain time and I can't be there to do it
- I need to warm up the room before I get home or before I go into it
What the authorities say :
The Electrical Regulations (IET Wiring Regulations, 18th edition Appendix 15) recommends that any appliance that has a wattage rating of over 2000W (2kW) should be supplied by a separately fused spur that is a dedicated circuit with its own fuse or RCD.
An RCD or Residual Current Device is a sensitive safety device that switches off electricity automatically if there is a fault, we sometimes call them circuit breakers.
Appendix 15 is usually taken to mean fixed appliances such as electric ovens, hobs, showers and immersion heaters
We read this it as needing extra precautions when using any electrical appliance rated over 2kW.
This is because the power they draw can put a strain on domestic electrical circuits causing overload which means overheating and potential fire risk.
Many councils are instructing landlords that where 2kW or above portable electric heaters are supplied they must be fixed to a wall and be hard-wired into a fixed spur.
This means they cannot be unplugged and moved around or fitted with external timers.
In normal domestic situations, this would remove the best feature of portable electric heaters, their portability.
We know that nothing we say is going to prevent some consumers from using portable electric heaters as they see fit, including using them with extension leads and timers.
While not condoning or encouraging this we are offering the following advice if you choose to do so.
1. Make sure you have smoke alarms fitted, the minimum is one on each level (floor) of your home, we advise one in every room.
2. Use an RCD plug adaptor for all portable heaters, not just 2kW. They act as a mini fuse board for your heater and will cut off the heaters electric supply in case of some (but not all) electrical faults. They will also prevent the fault from tripping the RCD on your consumer unit (fuse board) and switching off the main circuit and cutting power to the rest of the appliances (TV, Computer, Phone etc...) that might be plugged into the circuit.
3. If you really must use an extension lead then buy one with a much higher wattage rating than your heater and with an RCD adaptor fitted. Buy the shortest length one for your needs and never coil, wrap or loop an extension lead as this will cause it to overheat.
4. THINK. If you are timing a heater to switch on in an unheated room how do you know someone else hasn't been in while the heater is off and draped something over or near it, or moved the heater a little too near the curtains or a chair? A heater only takes a few minutes to heat up a room, is it really necessary to take that risk?
5. If you need to use a timer then buy a heater with one fitted, if not make sure the plug-in timer you buy has a greater wattage rating than your heater so it doesn't overheat and melt or catch fire.
6. Finally: If your plug is overheating an RCD adaptor won't stop it happening, buy a decent plug and replace the faulty one (they cost about £2). If that overheats then get your electrics checked by a registered electrician to see if your home has a wiring fault or if it's a dodgy heater.
Please be aware that these protective measures will not prevent accidents due to the misuse of portable heaters, an RCD will not prevent a fire if the fan stops working in your fan heater, or if there is a towel draped over your convection heater when it is turned on in an unoccupied room.
Smoke alarms save hundreds of lives a year and is a must-have safety device.
In the UK 80% of all domestic fires are caused by electrical appliances, portable heaters are at the top of the list. Most portable heater fires can be avoided by taking sensible safety precautions.