High heating bills are one of the biggest expenses during the cold season, and people often resort to supplemental heating sources throughout winter to warm their homes without raising the expenditure. But space heaters and wood burners pose fire hazards when used improperly, and can result in flames, electrical shock and carbon monoxide poisoning.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), two out of three house fires are caused by supplemental heating devices. If you use a space heater, make sure you understand what your home insurance policy says about such devices and if you are covered against fires.
Does homeowners insurance cover space heaters?
As a homeowner, you must be mindful of what your policy does or does not cover so you may be better prepared in the event of a catastrophe. A standard home insurance policy includes three types of coverage:
- Liability coverage, which pays for bodily injury sustained by others on your property
- Dwelling coverage, which pays for damages to your house
- Personal property coverage, which pays for loss of belongings contained inside the house
House fires are included in dwelling as well as personal property coverages. However, your coverage limits will determine exactly how much you are paid for a claim. If the fire was caused by your space heater and the damages are more expensive than your policy’s coverage limit, you will need to bear the rest of the cost. When you file a claim, your insurance company will investigate the circumstances that caused the fire and if negligence played a part in the disaster or if fire safety codes were violated.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, space heaters cause over 25,000 house fires every year, resulting in over 300 fatalities. The NFPA estimates that 43% of residential fires are caused by space heaters and in 2014 alone, portable heating equipment blazes resulted in about $1.3 billion worth of property damage in the U.S.
Requirements for space heaters
A supplemental heating device is useful for keeping the house warm during the cold weather and offsetting costly heating bills. But space heaters are a known cause of residential fires and cost insurance companies every year in claims. Because of this, your insurance rates have a high chance of going up if you install a space heater in your house. In the event of a heater fire, your claim payout might be affected by material and installation of the heater or wood stove. It is generally recommended to get a heater installed by a professional to adhere to fire safety codes.
Not only should your insurance company be notified when you install a heater or wood burner but you are also obligated to ensure that the equipment adheres to all safety standards, has an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Intertek label and undergoes regular checks and inspections. The NFPA indicates space heaters should only be placed on the floor, plugged to a wall outlet and never left unattended.
Although space heaters are good for providing additional warmth to a home, the following mistakes can often result in a fire:
- Using an extension cord
- Using an old, outdated, or malfunctioning heater
- Running the cord under a rug or carpet
- Leaving pets or children in the room unattended
- Placing the heater on furniture or in close proximity to fabrics
- Exposing the device to moisture
- Running the heater overnight
Do space heaters increase homeowners insurance rates?
Heating systems may have a direct impact on home insurance costs. The kind of heating equipment you use will typically affect your premiums, although the specific impact may vary from one company to another. The reason for this is simple: the greater the risk of a fire posed by your heating system, the higher you will likely pay in insurance premiums.
When you use a central heating system in your house powered by electricity or natural gas, it may not have much of an effect on your insurance costs because such systems have a lower risk of causing a fire. However, if you use an oil-based furnace, a wood stove or a space heater, your insurance prices might rise because of the increased risk of a home fire. Insurers are always wary of such risks and the damages they might have to pay for. Since prices vary across the industry, the best way to find out about the impact to your home insurance premium is to speak to your insurer or a local agent.
Fire safety discounts
As a homeowner, it is possible to save on insurance premiums by leveraging certain discounts. The safer your house seems to your insurance provider, the more likely you are to save on the annual cost. Since fires are the most common disaster to affect a property, some insurers may offer perks and price cuts to homeowners who add extra layers of protection to their house.
You may be eligible for fire safety discounts by equipping your house with the following:
- Sprinklers: Having a sprinkler system installed in your house can potentially earn you a discount on home insurance.
- Fire alarms: Even when fire alarms are not a mandatory requirement, having them fitted in your house can lead to discounts from your insurer.
- Fire extinguishers: Not only should fire extinguishers be placed around the house as a safety measure, having them on your property can get you a price cut on your insurance premium.
- Fire-resistant materials: When your house is made of fire-resistant materials, such as concrete, brick, or gypsum, it is deemed safer than a house made of wood or log and can earn you a home insurance discount.
How to prevent space heater fires
When used correctly, space heaters are not as likely to cause a fire. The following safety measures should be observed when using a portable heating device and prevent accidents:
- Always place the heater on the floor: Never put the heater on top of furniture from where it can fall, dislodge, or break.
- Supervise pets and children: Never leave children and pets unattended near a space heater or wood stove, as any contact with the equipment can cause burns and toying with the cord can result in sparks and flames.
- Keep away flammable materials: From bedding to paper to perfumes and sprays, keep the heater away from anything that can catch on or trigger a fire.
- Plug heater only into a wall outlet: Never use extension cords for a space heater, and if you absolutely must, make sure it is compatible with the device.
- Check for auto shut-off features: Heaters that shut off automatically prevent overheating as well as the likelihood of causing a fire.
- Keep the device in good condition: Never use an old heater that has not run in a long time. When storing away the heater for the season, make sure it is in a cool and dry space.
Taking safety measures will not only allow you to run your space heater without endangering life and property but also help you avoid an insurance claim and save some money.