The Dangers of Electric Space Heaters
Whenever we get a deep freeze, such as we are currently enduring, many people reach for a space heater that can be plugged into an electrical outlet. However, I want to warn you that there are many dangers associated with electric space heaters.
In this blog, I'm going to focus on the dangers to your home's electrical system from plugging in an electric space heater and how to ameliorate those dangers.
The first thing to realize is that it takes a lot of electricity to produce heat. This is one of the reasons that we primarily use natural gas to heat our homes in Alberta. Most electrical heaters in our home, such as electric clothes dryers or electric stoves, require their own 240 volt circuit, with larger wires and a larger circuit breaker, to accommodate the larger amount of electricity than is required for a standard receptacle circuit (such as for a computer or a lamp).
One of the most common emergency calls I get is that part of a house has no electricity all of a sudden, even though all of the breakers are flipped to the on position. On inspection, I often discover that one of the electrical outlets or wire splices in a circuit with a heater plugged into it, failed because of the large amount of current drawn by an electric space heater or electric fireplace (basically an electric space heater).
Let's say you buy a 1500 watt 120 volt space heater and you plug it into a traditional 120 volt household outlet. It will draw approximately 12.5 amps. The wires on this circuit are able to carry 15 amps maximum before they start to overheat. A typical household receptacle is on a 15 amp breaker, which is rated at 80% capacity i.e. it will eventually trip at any load over 12 amps. This means that any current draw over 12-15 amps on this circuit will put stress on the wires and connection points, which should cause the breaker to trip.
Your electrical system will be able to handle this heater by itself on a circuit, if you have brand new copper wiring with strong connections. However, if you plug anything else into the circuit at the same time, such as a TV, or vacuum, this will overload the circuit, which should cause the breaker to trip, as it is designed to do, to prevent a fire.
Keep in mind, if you have any problems in your home wiring, such as aluminum wiring (sometimes found in houses from the mid 60's - late 70's), or you have outlets or wire splices that were installed in a less than ideal method (I see this a lot), then you are much more likely to accelerate the failure of this circuit by plugging in an electric heater.
However, there are ways to safely use an electric space heater. Before using your space heater, I recommend that you ask an electrician if the circuit you plan to plug it into can safely accommodate the heater. If not, your electrician could run a new dedicated circuit for a plug-in OR hardwired electric heater. By using larger wire and a larger circuit breaker, your electrician can ensure that the new circuit will be able to safely handle the current draw from the space heater, thus protecting the heater and preventing a fire.
If you need any electrical help or help with an electric space heater installation, feel free to contact Barron Electric. Email me at email@example.com or check out my website at www.barronelectric.ca. Also, you can text / call me at 403 818 6256.