The Bankrate promise
At Bankrate, we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. To help readers understand how insurance affects their finances, we have licensed insurance professionals on staff who have spent a combined 47 years in the auto, home and life insurance industries. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation of . Our content is backed by Coverage.com, LLC, a licensed entity (NPN: 19966249). For more information, please see our .
If you live in an area with a winter season, you’re likely well aware that heating bills can be one of the biggest expenses once the weather turns cold. As such, it’s not uncommon for people to turn to alternative or supplemental heating sources, like space heaters and wood burners, to warm up their homes without adding to their high heating bills. But while space heaters, wood-burning stoves and other supplemental heating sources can help to warm up a home, they can also be fire hazards if they’re used improperly, and may result in other issues, like electrical shock or carbon monoxide poisoning as well.
According to a 2021 report from the National Fire Protection Agency, heating equipment is a leading cause of fires in U.S. homes. From 2014 and 2018, local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 48,530 fires per year, according to the NFPA. These fires resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage, and what’s more is that 81 percent of the home heating fire deaths were caused by stationary or portable space heaters. If you choose to use a space heater, you may want to be sure that you understand what your homeowners insurance policy says about such devices and know whether you are covered against any fires that they may cause.
Does homeowners insurance cover space heaters?
As a homeowner, it’s important to be mindful of what your homeowners insurance 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, among others:
- Liability coverage, which pays for bodily injury and damage to the property of others that you are found liable for
- 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 coverage. However, your coverage limits may impact 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 may need to bear the rest of the cost unless you have extended or guaranteed replacement coverage. 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.
Space heaters and homeowners insurance
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, and the following mistakes may 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
As such, your insurance company should be notified when you plan to install a heater or wood burner, and 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. Keep in mind that not all home insurance companies will continue coverage for homes with wood burning stoves, so you may need to seek out a different company.
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 home insurance discounts
As a homeowner, it may be possible to save on insurance premiums by leveraging certain discounts. The safer that the insurance provider considers your house to be, the more likely you are to qualify for certain safety discounts. And since fires are a common disaster to affect a property, some insurers may offer discounts to homeowners who add extra layers of fire protection to their house.
You may be eligible for fire safety discounts from certain insurance companies 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, but 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-framed or log and may 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.
- Adhere to manufacturer guidelines: It’s important to use the header according to manufacturer guidelines to avoid unnecessary risks to your home or family.
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.