Although homeowners know to be diligent when using space heaters, many overlook safety when using more permanent heating options like electric baseboard heaters. The unfortunate result can be house fires, which commonly start when curtains get too close to these heaters. To avoid this potentially deadly problem, keep curtains and other flammable items at least 12 inches away from baseboard heaters.
Why It's an Issue
Any type of heater can start a fire under the right conditions, but fires started by curtains most often occur with electric baseboard heaters due largely to the way the heaters work. These heaters rely on the room's natural airflow to push the heat they generate into the room. To facilitate this, electric baseboard heaters are installed directly under windows. Cold air comes in through the window and then sinks. As it reaches the baseboard heater, vents in the top of the unit funnel this cold air into the heater, where it is warmed.
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The warmed air is then pushed out into the room by the ongoing flow of incoming cold air behind it. This warm air then rises to heat the room in what is known as a convection current. Because these heaters are placed under windows for maximum efficiency, draperies are often hung too close to them and catch fire when they come into contact with the heating element.
The other issue with curtains and other items near the baseboard heater is the interruption of the airflow. Long, heavy curtains can get in the way of the airflow that makes the baseboard heater work. Other items placed within a foot of the heater can also disrupt the flow. Leaving as much space as possible around the baseboard heater keeps you safe and helps it warm your home more efficiently.
The Curtain Work-Around
The simplest solution for keeping curtains and baseboard heaters from causing a fire is to make sure the two never meet. Unfortunately, chopping off your curtains and re-hemming them 12 inches above your heater doesn't always create the most attractive look. To solve the problem, opt for curtains designed to end just below your windowsill. You still get the flowing look of curtains, but they're short enough to stay far away from the baseboard heater.
If you don't like shorter curtains, consider alternative window coverings, such as Roman shades, roller shades or decorative wooden shutters, on your window. These add privacy without dipping below the windowsill, and they blend well with most decor.
Baseboard Heater Safety Tips
It's important to keep anything flammable away from your baseboard heaters, not just your drapes. Furniture, electrical cords, bedding and toys can all start a fire if left too close to a heater. Keep yourself and your family safe by observing these heating safety tips:
- Don't use adhesive hangers on the wall above the heater.
- Don't place the heater beneath a wall covered with paperboard or vinyl wallpaper.
- Don't install the heater beneath an electrical wall outlet.
- Don't use or store gasoline or other flammable liquids near the heater.
- Do periodically vacuum dust out of your heater with a brush attachment.