Space heaters work well for keeping small spaces warm, especially when used to supplement home furnace heating. However, there are many risks associated with leaving any kind of space heater on and unattended, whether it is an electrical or oil based heater. Oil heaters have inherent risks and the safe operation of these heaters is essential in any home utilising this type of heat source.
There are two main types of oil heaters. The first is a fuel oil heater that runs on kerosene oil or propane. These heaters use this oil or natural gas as fuel to keep the flame of the heater going. These heaters should never be left on overnight due to the risk of fire. The second type of oil heater, a radiant oil heater, warms a room by heating steel pipes that are filled with oil. These heaters are much safer to use and, typically, when used correctly, can be left on all night.
Fire is the biggest potential risk of leaving on an oil heater at night, regardless of the type of heater it may be. Fuel oil heaters have an actual open flame that can ignite surrounding objects. Even radiant oil heaters can cause a fire if they are tipped over and do not shut off, although this risk is much lower. In order to reduce the risk of fire, remove all objects within a 5-foot radius of the oil heater and monitor it on a regular basis.
Even most oil heaters require electricity to operate, and as such, they can malfunction. If the cord to the unit is frayed or if an electrical short occurs, the risk of fire is very high. Always inspect oil heaters before turning them on to avoid the potential of fire. Using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) plug-in will help reduce the risk of fire from electrical malfunctions. These plug-ins come equipped with a safety shut-off if an electrical surge occurs or if there is a problem with the unit itself.
Instead of leaving on an oil heater at night, consider turning it on in the room before bedtime to give it sufficient time to heat the room. The heat will remain in the room for a few hours before it begins to get cold again. While this is not as warm as running it all night, it is a safer alternative. The aforementioned radiant oil heaters are a safer alternative in the event that a room does require heat all night long, but always follow manufacturer directions to ensure the safe operation of the heater.