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Learn about your home’s circuits to run space heaters safely

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Have you ever experienced a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse in your home? This is not uncommon when too many appliances, like a microwave and a toaster oven, are being used at one time on a single circuit. The reason fuses blow (fuses are common in older homes) or the circuit breaker trips is due to the circuit being overloaded or, stated another way, these “high current” appliances are drawing more current (amperage) than your home’s wiring is designed to safely handle. When this happens, these types of appliances should be plugged into separate or dedicated circuit, if available, or used separately from other appliances. Remember, fuses and circuit breakers are safety devices designed to prevent a potentially hazardous circuit overload. They should never be bypassed or replaced with a higher rated fuse or breaker.

Other types of “high current” appliances include electric space heaters. While space heaters are a good way to heat parts of your home without raising the thermostat, they can add significantly to the load on a circuit when other appliances, lights or electrical devices are plugged into the same circuit. If your home is wired with dedicated circuits (only one wall outlet on a circuit) that wall outlet should be used with the space heaters. Otherwise, care must be taken to insure the circuit is not being overloaded. For example, a bedroom is typically on a 15 Amp circuit breaker. A 1500 watt space heater (on high setting) will draw 12.5 Amps. When a few lights or a television are on the same circuit, the 15 Amp limit is quickly reached and the breaker will trip.  Instead of trudging up and down the stairs to reset the breaker or replace the fuse, only to have it trip again, the load on that circuit must be reduced.

Turning off lights and unplugging other devices can reduce the load on the circuit and prevent the breaker or fuse from tripping. Many space heaters have high and low settings. On the low setting, the space heater’s current draw can be reduced by as much as 60%, further reducing the load on a circuit.

It is also important to understand that extension cords should never be used with space heaters, since most extension cords are not designed to handle the current load. Extension cords can overheat and create a fire hazard. Power strips, power taps, and even plug-in type air fresheners should not be used with space heaters.

Space heaters should be plugged directly into a sound 120 volt wall outlet. Also, always monitor the temperature of the plug frequently. Old, worn out or even new but poorly wired wall outlets can overheat and cause the plug to feel very hot or, over time, can even cause the plug to melt.


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