A woman using space heaters in NYC
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Warmth without the worry

Using Space Heaters in NYC: Do’s and Don’t’s

Peter Shrieve-Don
February 13, 2024

Heating season” — the eight-month period between October and June, when New York City property owners are mandated by law to provide tenants with heat and hot water — is officially in full swing. That doesn’t mean your apartment is warm enough. If you’ve lived here for a while, chances are you’ve encountered temperature extremes in the dead of winter, whether it’s a steam radiator so hot that you find yourself opening the windows and blasting your AC, or simply no heat at all. (If it’s the latter, it’s time to contact 311. Remember: If the temperature is below 55 degrees outside between 6am and 10pm, it’s required that your home be capable of maintaining temperatures of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and 62 overnight.)

Landlords and supers often recommend or even provide space heaters when tenants are too cold. You might also opt to get one yourself to supplement your building’s heating system to suit your own temperature preferences. Alternatively, your unit may even include built-in steam radiators, which you can find more information on here. Yet, it’s not as simple as obtaining an electric heater and cranking it up. In 2022, one year after a malfunctioning space heater sparked a deadly fire in the Bronx, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law designed to expand the safety of the machines.

Here are the dos and don’ts of using a space heater in NYC, ensuring you stay cozy without compromising safety or efficiency.

The Dos

Ensure Safety Compliance

First and foremost, make sure your space heater meets NYC’s new safety standards. It must have a thermostat to control the temperature and an automatic shutoff if the heater tips over or overheats. It also must be listed and labeled by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) such as UL, or another approved organization. This is crucial not only for your safety but also to comply with local regulations. Check the packaging or manufacturer’s website to verify these features, and remember, using a compliant heater helps prevent accidents and ensures efficient heating. Using an unsafe heater is not worth the potential hazards, no matter how tempting the price of a listing may be. Just because you can order something online from overseas and get it shipped to you cheaply doesn't mean it's approved for use in the US. Those experiencing issues should immediately reach out to NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority).

Select the Appropriate Heater: Finding the Right Wattage

Here’s a question: Do you live in a Manhattan studio, a Brooklyn brownstone, or an artist's loft with high ceilings? Choosing the right space heater for your needs involves assessing the size of your space and selecting a heater with suitable wattage. A heater that's too small won't effectively warm your space, while one that's too powerful can lead to unnecessary energy consumption. The good news is that you probably don't have a huge space to warm up — especially if you live in Manhattan. Consider the layout of your room and whether features like oscillation or fan-forced air would distribute heat more evenly. Remember, the goal is to achieve comfort without wasting energy, so selecting the right heater is a step towards efficient and effective heating.

Maximize Heat Retention

To make the most of your space heater, ensure that the warmth it provides isn’t escaping through poorly insulated windows or doors. Sealing drafts can significantly improve your apartment's heat retention. This can be accomplished with some basic weather stripping to major openings such as your front door. Investing in thermal curtains for windows can also keep heat in during the winter and out during the summer, further optimizing your space heater’s performance. These measures, along with using your heater wisely, can lead to a more comfortable living environment and lower energy bills.

Layer Up and Cozy Up

Wearing warm clothing and using blankets can significantly enhance the warmth provided by your space heater, allowing you to keep the thermostat set at a lower, more energy-efficient temperature. It may sound obvious, but it’s worth remembering how layers and blankets keep us warm in the first place: Much like our homes, it’s actually the insulated heat between each layer that’s keeping us warm. It’s the same reason loose layers as opposed to tight layers are actually more effective. In addition to insulating your space, there are other tools available for dealing with the windchill of New York’s infamously cold winters. Simple steps like running a humidifier or placing a bowl of water on top of your radiator—in tandem with using a space heater—help not only in creating a cozier environment, but in preventing winter woes like sore throats and dry skin.

The Don'ts

Never Leave Heaters Unattended

One of the most important safety rules for using space heaters is to never leave them on unattended or while sleeping. Unattended heaters can pose a fire risk if they malfunction or come into contact with flammable materials. Always turn off your heater when you leave the room for an extended period, and make sure it's placed on a stable, level surface where it won't be knocked over by pets or clumsy roommates. Practicing these safety measures can help prevent accidents and ensure your heater is used safely.

Keep Away from Flammables

As recommended by NY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, it is absolutely critical that space heaters be kept at least three feet from anything that could catch fire, such as curtains, bedding, furniture, and clothing. This precaution is essential to prevent fires and ensure the heater operates safely within your living space. Monitoring the surroundings of your heater and educating others in your household about these safety measures are key steps in responsible heater usage.

Directly Plug Into Outlets

Proper power outlet usage is important to do safely. The key takeaway? Don’t plug your space heater into a power strip or extension cord unless the manufacturer’s instructions say otherwise, and avoid crowding your outlets. Space heaters consume a substantial amount of electricity, making it essential to provide them with a dedicated power source for safe operation. What that looks like can be as simple as unplugging unnecessary power outlets —like phone or computer chargers—while your space heater is running. In addition, by strategically turning off your space heaters during Ohmhours, which are our energy saving events, you not only contribute to a more sustainable energy grid but also unlock potential rewards for your efforts.

Avoid Using Near Water

Lastly, never use a space heater in a bathroom or near any source of water. The combination of electricity and water can lead to electrocution hazards. If the bathroom is too cold for showers, consider running a space heater for 10-15 mins beforehand to warm the space up without running it alongside water. Always place your heater in a dry area and avoid touching the heater with wet hands. This rule is paramount for ensuring your safety and the safety of those around you.

Stay safe, stay warm, and stay energy efficient

New York winters can be a lot, but that doesn't mean the same should be true for your comfort, safety, or Con Ed bill. By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to ensure comfort of both body and mind, all without burning a hole in your wall or pocket.

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