As bitter winter weather approaches, some Oklahomans will turn to the warmth of space heaters to keep their homes hospitable. Too often, comfort is achieved in exchange for safety.

The National Fire Protection Association says supplemental heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January and February. Home heating equipment is second only to cooking equipment as the leading cause of home fires year-round. Travelers Insurance adds that from 2004-2008, 82 percent of home heating fire deaths, 64 percent of injuries and 51 percent of associated direct property damage involved stationary or portable space heaters.

With the increased fire threat due to home heating – and even in some cases, Christmas decorations – now is an ideal time for a review of your homeowners insurance. Contact your agent to be certain your policy is up to date and you have sufficient coverage to make your losses whole in the event of a catastrophic fire.

If you don’t presently carry homeowners or renters insurance, there is no time like the present to inquire about them. These policies are among the most basic and critical types of insurance any household could purchase. What better gift could a family receive than the peace of mind and financial security of knowing their home will be rebuilt if lost to a fire?

Meanwhile, if you must use a space heater this winter, follow these recommendations adapted from advice given by Farm Bureau Insurance.

  • Only purchase new space heaters that have all current safety features. Make sure the heater carries an Underwriters Laboratory label.
  • Select a space heater with automatic shutoff features and heating element guards.
  • Choose a heater with thermostat control to avoid wasting energy by overheating a room.
  • Select a heater appropriate for the size of room you need to heat.
  • Place the space heater on the floor; never on top of furniture. A toppled space heater can cause a fire or could break and become a shock hazard.
  • Unless certified for the purpose, do not use space heaters in moist places, such as the bathroom.
  • Do not hide cords under rugs or carpets; placing anything on top of the cord could cause overheating and become a fire hazard.
  • Do not use an extension cord unless absolutely necessary. If you use an extension cord, be sure it is the right wire gauge size and type for your heater. Using an extension cord that is not of the correct size and type is a fire hazard.
  • Keep flammable objects at least three feet away from heaters, including bedding, curtains, clothes and paper.
  • Always turn off the heater when unattended and at night.
  • Check older heaters for frayed insulation, broken wires, or overheating. Have any problems repaired by a professional technician before operating.
  • Supervise children and pets at all times around a space heater. Even the slightest contact with a heating coil or element can cause a severe burn.
  • Keep the space heater’s power supply cord away from high-traffic areas in the home.
  • Do not use or store flammable solvents, aerosol sprays or lacquers in the same room as a functioning space heater.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s operating instructions.

By following these rules for safe space heater operation and visiting with your local agent about homeowners or renters insurance needs, your household can be warmer, safer and more protected throughout Oklahoma’s cold winter.

For more information about insurance topics or to file a complaint, visit the Oklahoma Insurance Department online at or call our Consumer Assistance Division toll-free at 1-800-522-0071.