Electric Space Heater Safety Tips for RVers

The winter camping season is upon us and it’s time to get prepared for the freezing cold temperatures. One of the best things you can invest in for winter camping adventures is a space heater.

It could be a freak cold snap, the necessity of traveling through cold northern states to get to warmer states, camping at high elevations where the nights are almost always cold, living in your RV while working in a cold climate, camping in the spring and fall when temperatures go up and down—or maybe you just like to spend time in colder places.

When winter temperatures start plummeting, some RVers outfit their rig for winter RV camping and others prepare to put their RV in storage. If you’re going to brave the winter chill, however, it pays to know about the different types of space heaters for RVs. Even if you don’t plan on RVing during the winter months, a space heater will help you keep things toasty on cool days.

Exploring the world in your RV can take you to magical places. But those magical places can come with cold weather especially in the winter months. That means you will want a quality space heater to keep your rig warm.

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What to look for in electric heaters for RVs

When shopping for a portable electric space heater for an RV, consider the safety features of each model. When using high heat to warm small spaces it is paramount to use a heater that has safety features. Also be aware of the amount of space the heater will cover. There is no use buying a heater that does not have enough power to warm your rig. 

These little units are powerful and can easily warm up a small room. However, they’re also a fire hazard because they produce heat. Therefore, it’s important for every RVer to know some small space heater safety tips.

Most of these tips are just common sense because it should be obvious that any heater could lead to a fire if you’re not careful. Just treat every space heater as if it was a tiny campfire and you’ll be able to prevent most accidents and problems. 

Follow along with the small space heater safety tips below to keep your RV warm but also safe. Don’t be afraid to use space heaters if you take the appropriate safety measures. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep flammable items three feet away

Be sure to keep flammable objects out of range. Again, this is pretty obvious but it’s especially important within the limited space of an RV. Sometimes that three-foot radius can be hard to maintain but you should always be aware of the items that are near your heater. 

Papers, curtains, rugs, and other flammable items need to be kept away from any heat source. In addition, some items may not burst into flames but they could still be damaged if they’re exposed to high temperatures. For instance, a plastic garbage can might melt and warp a bit if it’s too close to a heat source.

Do not use extension cords

Another good rule for RVers is to avoid the use of extension cords. These cords can be useful but they also create a fire hazard. Exposed plugs and cords are easy to accidentally damage. If the plug connection is loosened, it could create sparks. In addition, extension cords are easy to trip over. Since this is dangerous for you and your electrical system alike try to avoid them if at all possible. Most small space heaters have an adequate cord length that allows you to position them wherever you want. Since space is limited in an RV, so you shouldn’t need to rely on extension cords anyway.

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuck power cords out of the way

Speaking of power cords, let’s talk about how to store them safely. A small space heater will usually sit on the floor so the cord may lie across the floor as well. This is a tripping hazard especially if you have pets or young children. 

Sometimes it’s tempting to place cords underneath rugs or carpets but this is a bad idea. The cord will still be stepped on even if you can’t see it. This can lead to damage and could potentially expose the wires and start a fire. It’s better to keep the cord close to the wall if possible. Secure it in place so it won’t create a dangerous situation for anyone who is walking nearby. 

Only use heaters when you’re in the room

Never leave a space heater unattended. If things unexpectedly malfunction you won’t be there to deal with the situation. It may be tempting to turn on the heater and do some chores while it warms up. This is a dangerous thing to do!

In addition, you are wasting electricity if you run a space heater in an empty room. When you plan to leave the room, turn off the heater, unplug it, and store it somewhere where it will be out of the way. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep it in a low-traffic area

As I’ve already mentioned, a small space heater is easy to trip over. That’s why it’s important to keep them in a low-traffic area where they won’t be in the way. You also need to ensure that they aren’t near a doorway/blocking an exit. 

Use models with built-in safety features

Sometimes accidents happen and a space heater is knocked over or left unattended in a room. In these cases, it’s good to have some backup from built-in safety features. 

Many modern space heaters are equipped with fail-safes that will activate if the model is knocked over. For instance, my space heaters will automatically turn off if knocked over. This prevents the floor or surrounding items from catching fire. 

Some heaters have temperature control options that enable you to set limits for how hot it can get. Once it heats the room to the ideal temperature, the heater will automatically turn off. 

Sometimes you can also set timers. If you tend to forget to turn heaters off when you leave the room, set a timer so it will shut off by itself. You don’t need to have a super high-tech heater to be happy, but safety features can give you some peace of mind. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ensure you have functioning smoke alarms

One of the key elements of space heater safety is setting up an advanced warning system. Again, space heaters can create fire and smoke. If this occurs it’s important for you to have early warning. If you have a heads up, you can put out the fire or at least save yourself and your passengers from getting burned. 

Smoke alarms will let you know if a heater has gone out of control. Maintain the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your RV. Check the batteries and test their effectiveness regularly. Make sure everyone in your RV knows what to do when the alarm goes off, so nobody is caught unprepared. 

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the heater away from kids and pets

Finally, it’s easier to abide by space heater safety tips if you don’t have kids or pets. They can knock over your heater and burn themselves by accident. 

If you do have these passengers as part of your crew, take extra safety measures to protect everyone. Set up a radius around your heater and keep it out of reach (if possible). For kids, teach them that the heater is dangerous and off-limits. For pets, use scented deterrents to convince them to stay away from the cords. As long as you follow the space heater safety tips above you should be able to keep everyone safe, warm, and happy!

Electric space heater © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV space heater safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association, always follow these safety tips when you purchase and run your space heater.

  • Purchase a heater with the seal of a qualified testing laboratory
  • Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including people
  • Choose a heater with a thermostat and overheat protection
  • Place the heater on a solid, flat surface
  • Make sure your heater has an auto shut-off to turn the heater off if it tips over
  • Keep space heaters out of the way of foot traffic
  • Never block an exit
  • Keep children away from the space heater
  • Plug the heater directly into the wall outlet. Never use an extension cord.
  • Space heaters should be turned off and unplugged when you leave the room or go to bed
Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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Worth Pondering…

My parents live in the part of the United States that is Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami. They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and That One Day of Summer.

—W. Bruce Cameron