How to use heaters and electric blankets safely this winter

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As the temperatures start to drop around the country, a new campaign has been launched to help Aussie households reduce the safety risks that some winter warmers pose.

According to Consumer Affairs Victoria, misusing seasonal appliances such as portable heaters and electric blankets can result in a serious fire risk.

Heaters and fireplaces pose an obvious safety risk during winter, but problems such as non-compliant insulation and old or unsafe appliances can also be dangerous.

“We want everyone to have a safe and healthy winter, but many seasonal items can be unsafe if they are old, faulty or used incorrectly,” said Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria, Simon Cohen.

Just taking a few minutes to check heaters and electric blankets before use, and ensuring that smoke detectors are in working order, can prevent a tragedy.

“More than 50 people across Australia die each year from house fires and many more are injured. More than 200 people are treated for serious burns from using hot water bottles,” said Mr Cohen.

Here are some ways to stay safe this winter:

  • carefully check that electric blankets, hot water bottles and other winter items are in good condition and have not been recalled. If the goods have been recalled, return them to the store for a refund or other remedy
  • test your smoke alarm is working every month, and replace the battery every year
  • use hot tap water and not boiling water to fill your hot water bottle and replace it as soon as it starts to look cracked or worn
  • only buy wheat bags or other heat packs that come with clear heating instructions. Overheating your wheat bag can cause the bag to ignite and start a fire
  • be aware that children’s nightwear with a ‘low fire danger’ label is still flammable, so always keep children away from open heat sources
  • extinguish candles when leaving the room or before going to sleep, and make sure they are not near items such as curtains, bedding and clothing
  • ventilate your house by opening windows and doors each day; this may help reduce mould growth
  • note that a well-insulated home provides year-round comfort but the insulation needs to be correctly installed – keep foil products away from electrical power outlets or lights
  • take note of Energy Safe Victoria’s information for owners of Vulcan or Pyrox Heritage gas heaters, whose carbon monoxide levels need to be tested. For details, see the Program in place to address CO risk in Heritage gas heaters page on the ESV website.

Consumers can take some simple safety steps to prepare for winter and keep up-to-date with the latest product recalls at the Product Safety Australia website.

Running costs of portable heaters

While staying safe this winter, also be aware that portable heaters are huge energy suckers. Canstar Blue’s analysis of heaters found that consumers could be spending as much as $190 over the three months of winter. A radiant bar heater (2.3kW) was the most costly at $186.30, with a 3.5kW reverse cycle air conditioner being the cheapest appliance type to run at $78.30.

To help minimise running costs, you should set your heater to as low a temperate as you comfortable can. Be sure to check that all windows and doors are closed, and ensure you don’t forget to switch it off when no one is using it.

It’s also important to look for high energy efficiency star rating when purchasing if one is available, otherwise check the energy input figure to estimate how much the heater will cost.

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