Space Heater Safety for RVs, Boats & Tiny Spaces

Drastic increases in propane costs are forcing many RV owners to rely on portable space heaters to supplement their furnace heat during cold weather. However, that has the potential of putting their RVs at a greater risk of fire if space heater safety isn’t taken seriously.

If you’re cold weather camping in your RV, you can appreciate the necessity of having an alternative heating source to supplement your furnace heat. Hence, why space heaters are a popular appliance to keep the inside of your RV warm. 

But, here’s a not-so-fun-fact that should make RV owners take urgent note. An RV can burn completely to the ground in less than 10 minutes. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 2018 report, the #1 cause (approx. 50%) of a home fires were due to space heaters. This should be a serious cause for alarm for anyone using portable heating appliances to heat their home (or RVs). It’s of utmost importance to know when, where and how to use these portable heaters wisely.

So, let’s dive into these space heater safety tips that will help keep you, your family and your RV safe from becoming a statistic.

Space Heater Safety Tips to Keep Your Family AND Your RV Safe!

Always On Liberty - Space Heater Safety Tips-2

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Features to look for when shopping for a space heater

Electric Space Heaters

Get the appropriate size heater to handle the area to be heated. Each should specify square footage, how many watts and how many amps the heater draws

Make certain to select a space heater that also has an automatic shut-off feature. In case it tips over, the heater should shut off completely. And, only use space heaters that are UL certified. It should have it listed on the attached safety tag on the electric cord.

NEVER use any type of kerosene heater (K1) in your camper or motorhome due to it requiring a flammable liquid to operate. But also, kerosene heaters produce carbon monoxide quickly, which is fatal in small spaces.

If you’re not able to use an electric space heater (if you’re boondocking), opt for a catalytic propane heater equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor. As always, it’s still a good idea to crack a window open as well.

RELATED:  8 Best Space Heaters for RVs, Boats and Small Spaces

Things to know before using your space heater

Space Heater Safety - Oil Heater

The first thing you should do after buying your new space heater is to read the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, adhere to the warning labels for safe operation of your heating appliance.

It’s also important to know what your RV’s electrical system will handle for amperage and wattage. Remember, you will not be able to run even one space heater if you’re plugged into a 15 amp or even 20 amp power source when other appliances are being used. Should your RV be plugged into a 30 amp power source, you may be limited to operate your space heater simultaneously with your microwave oven, hair dryer, or other high wattage appliance.

Make certain that you have an ample number of fire extinguishers and that your fire extinguishers have not expired. And, know how to use them in case of fire.

Always make certain your space heater is set on a large, flat and even surface. If you’re concerned about your floor or other surface warping from the heat, you may want to put a board down first to lift it a few inches. We actually use a wood cutting board.

Plugging in your space heater

Plugging in Electric Space Heater

Be sure your electric heater’s electrical plug fits snugly into an electrical outlet. Do not overload any electrical outlets in your RV, boat or small space. Unplug electric portable heaters when not in use.

If the cord and/or plug on your heater feels hot when plugged in or operating, you need to unplug it immediately and discontinue use.

You should never plug your heater into an electric power strip (or power brick) or extension cord; even heavy duty outdoor power cords. According to Portable Power Guides, in their article, Can You Plug a Space Heater into an Extension Cord,

“The considerable volume of electricity space heaters consume can overwhelm extension cords. If multiple devices are plugged into the extension cord, you could also overload the wall outlet, melting the insulation, causing a short circuit, and starting a fire.” 

But also, extension cords shouldn’t be used, especially in RVs or small spaces, as they can be tripping hazards. 

If you are using a propane space heater, make certain to open a window slightly for ventilation. Otherwise, you’ll be subjecting yourself and your family to carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, propane heaters are known culprits of adding to condensation issues in your RV.

Where you should NOT use a space heater

You should never use electric space heaters in bathrooms or areas of moisture or water as it may cause electrocution. Also, you should avoid using any heater near combustible materials or flammable liquids.

Small portable heaters should never be used in closets, inside cabinets, or small compartments. Keep it at least 3 feet from anything that can catch fire (i.e. curtains, clothing, furniture, bedspreads, rugs, pet beds, etc.)

Never leave space heaters unattended; whether sleeping or just stepping out for a moment. And, keep children away from space heaters, heat sources and controls at all times. It’s a good idea to also monitor your pets near heaters. All it takes is a split second that a child or pet knocks it over.

Can I use a space heater that’s old?

Old Electric Heater

You should never use an electric space heater if the electrical cord is split, frayed, cracked, wires exposed and/or plug is loose or damaged. Unless you’re a certified electrician and are familiar with repairing space heaters, do not try to fix a broken heater yourself. I highly recommend getting your portable heater serviced by a certified appliance service specialist.

If your electric space heater is no longer serviceable, cut the electrical cord at the base of the unit and try to pry off knobs before disposing of it.

Does your RV have a Carbon Monoxide Detector?

If your RV, boat or tiny home has a Carbon Monoxide Detector, it’s important to make sure it works properly at ALL TIMES.

According to Begin RV, “If you have a battery-operated CO detector, you should replace the batteries no less than every six months (or when it indicates low battery). If you have a hard-wired RV carbon monoxide detector, you should be checking it on a monthly basis to ensure it’s operational.”

Practice FIRE SAFETY in the home; including RVs, boats and small spaces

Space Heater Safety - Emergency 911

It’s important to discuss fire safety and how it applies to your RV or boat. Also, practice family fire drills and emergency evacuations regularly. And, show each family member how to properly use  a fire extinguisher and know where to secure the electrical power.

It always bears repeating that everyone who is with you knows how to dial 911 and communicate with the dispatcher. Know your campground or marina name and location, your slip or campsite number and how many are in your party. 

If you practice all of these safety guidelines on a regular basis, your family chances of escaping injury or harm will decrease drastically.

RV SAFETY TIP:  Anytime you relocate to a different campground or RV park, post the address and your campsite number on the refrigerator or where it’s easily visible. 

RELATED: RV Fire Safety and Lifesaving Fire Prevention Tips

Final thoughts on space heater safety for RVs, boats and tiny homes

RV Family Inside RV

Staying warm should never compromise your family’s safety. Your #1 concern when using any type of heat source; regardless if it’s a small space like an RV or a room in your house is knowing where, when and how to use a heater safely. We hope by following these lifesaving tips, they will help keep your family safe and your RV or boat from going up in flames.

Check out our FREE printable Space Heater Safety Tips

Interesting read: NFPA Fire Damage and Loss Assessment of Recreational Vehicles (2020)

Related Articles

Keeping Your RV Warm in Cold Weather

How to Stop Condensation in Your RV

Where to Find RV Propane Filling Stations & LP Tank Exchanges

How to Prevent MOLD from Growing on Your RV Mattress

Always On Liberty - Space Heater Safety Tips

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