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Childproofing Heaters

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Editor Note: The Bananas handout about building a safety cover for a floor, wall, or free-standing heater is available here:
  • http://www.bananasinc.org/uploads/1080332592.pdf (PDF file).

    Questions Related Pages

    Childproofing a Hot Floor Heater


    August 2010

    We need to baby-proof our floor heater in our rented duplex or move. The heater is 17''x22'' and right in front of entrances to the bathroom, 11-month old baby's room, and living room (to get anywhere, we have to pass over it or walk in a very narrow corridor around it.) We have the Bananas handout on how to build a wooden cover, which shows the frame would be 9'' high. If you have built this, do you step on it or around it; did you get used to it; do you or baby trip on it a lot? Can we consider forgoing the cover and turning on the heater only when baby is in his crib? Any ideas, or photos of your solution would be welcome.


    That floor furnace is a burn hazard if you don't cover it and a tripping hazard if you do. What a mess! I would like to suggest that you offer your landlord/landlady a little more rent in exchange for putting in a forced air furnace. It would be more comfortable and a lot safer. PG&E is even offering rebates: http://www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/coolheat/furnace/ anon
    June 2010

    I have a terriable problem I have a son that is 10 months old (8 and half adjusted) and we live in house that has the old heaters that are in the floor which we still use and works fine during the winter. It is in a very odd place where I can not put a baby gate up because it will get very hot and melt. Plus there is no way to put the gate up because it is not in a corner. My son is learing to crawl and I need to protect him from this thing. We do not have enough money to replace it and it costs about $5000.00. I have bought space heaters and they do not warm up our hours even after it's been on forever. Any ideas on how I can baby-proof this thing??


    Hi! As I was going through the process of getting licensed to run a Large Family Daycare out of my home. I encountered the same issue. We made the heater box grates as suggested by bananas, but made one adjustment. We put the dowel lined box on hinges and affixed a lock to it. This way, if a crayon slips between the dowels or if it is time to clean it, we can just unlock it, and open it like you would a door, and then close it and lock it back up! Good luck, and it will put your worried mind at ease! Bonnie
    We have that too and a 11 month old. My husband got some boards and nailed them together to make a couple foot high square that we sit around the vent. It's not good looking, but it prevents our kid from touching the vent (its high enough that when standing she can't reach over and touch the vent), and its heavy enough that it handles her when she tries to shake it and stand up using it for support. It works good enough. -simple and easy
    Jan 2009

    We have a nine month old just beginning to crawl, and we live in an older home that still has gas heaters under the house with metal grates in the floor. The grates are approximately two feet by three feet in dimension and get very very hot. Our nine month old goes straight for them. To make things even trickier...he is also pulling himself to standing on anything that is the correct height. Anyone out there with a similar dilemma or a clever idea for how we can childproof the grates ASAP??? Paloma


    Hi there - Options are limited as you don't want a barrier that creates a fire or trip hazard. Gating tends to be the best of the options; either gate around the grate (KidCo ConfigureGate works well for this) or gate the access points to the hallway (presuming that's where the grate is located).
    My husband constructed a wooden cover which consisted of wooden sides about a foot high and then evenly spaced dowels across the top, fairly close together, basically creating a barrier around the heater and on top but not on it. We saw something similar at a neighbor's and copied it for our 1906 home (with original floor heater). That was 20 years ago and it's still there and still doing a great job. Over the years, the bottom of a few dowels have become dark and slightly charcoal, but not enough to make a difference. A few of the dowels have broken because it became a favorite place to perch and get warm, and were replaced by my husband. It's heavy so kids can't move it, and as they got bigger, they couldn't really step over it like a low wall barrier. My neighbor's kid burned the bottom of her sole as she ran across the heater at her home. She was about 9 at the time, and they had removed theirs, so we've just kept ours in place, even though our youngest is now 18. I think this type of cover is fairly typical in older neighborhood homes. safe and warm
    Jan 2008

    We need to child-proof our floor furnace. We live in a 1924 home in Oakland and still rely on the (original?) floor furnace ... it looks sort of like an air return vent for a central heating system, but the entire furnace is under the vent. The metal grate gets very hot and we need to figure out how to protect our soon-to-be-mobile 9-month-old. Has anyone else dealt with this? Any advice much appreciated! p.


    We purchased a safety gate designed to go around a fireplace; I believe HearthGate was the brand name. You can buy it at www.onestepahead.com We attached the brackets to the wall, and it worked like a charm - wasn't an eyesore like I'd feared either. I also bought some wire screen at the hardware store and nailed that down over the opening to prevent my little ones from tossing coins or small toys through the grate. Amy D.
    KidCo sells a hearthgate that you can put around fireplaces and heaters (so they can handle heat): http://www.babyride.com/g70.html We put the Kidco configure gate around a spiral staircase. This is the same gate, but not built for heat. You could try one of these: http://www.babyride.com/g80.html One of these may work for you. Andi
    I had an old furnace in my 1916 house, and if I had known how much money I would save be replacing it with a new high-efficiency furnace, I would have done it years earlier. In the Bay Area, many people prefer electric heat, since the heating season here is so short.

    Oak flooring is available at most lumber yards to close up the old hole in the floor so that nobody can tell there used to be a hole there.

    Warm, but not burned


    Instead of installing a gate, I strongly recommend getting rid of the floor heater and replacing it with central heat. Here's why:

    1) Safety of your child (or visitor) walking on the hot grate.

    2) Safety from fire. A neighbor of mine had a major house fire when a blanket slid over her heater. She was in the kitchen and didn't notice until the living room was in flames. (This really scared us into action)

    3) Safety from noxious gases. In-floor furnaces are not well sealed, especially around the mica window that lets you see the flame. And the old heat-exchanger can corrode or rust, allowing combustion gases to get into the living space.

    4) Efficiency. The old floor heaters are around 30 to 50 percent efficient. Much of your heat goes up the flue!

    5) Comfort. It only heats one or two rooms. Ours didn't have a thermostat (we could only turn it on or off using a funny shaped key)

    In 1998, a heating contractor replaced our in-floor heater with a gas-fired, central forced-air heating unit. They installed six heating outlets, one in each room. We placed the kitchen warm-air duct right below our sink, so my feet get warm when I'm washing dishes. The old heater was removed and the hole became the return air duct and holder for the air filter.

    The furnace itself is about 60,000 btu, plenty for our 2-bedroom bungalow. It's over 95 percent efficient - so little heat leaves the furnace that the exhaust flue is just a plastic pipe. The cost was about $4000, and took 2 days.

    No more burn worries. Each room gets toasty. A real thermostat. It's an expensive solution, but after 10 years, we're happy we did it. Cliff S


    Sept 2007

    We live in a 100 year old house--which came with an old fashioned in-floor heater. There is no ductwork--simply a metal grate directly above the heater. Its our only heating system for the house--so we need to use it this winter--but also need to protect our 13 month old. Unfortunately the grate is right in the middle of our living room/dining room (not next to a wall). Does anyone has any bright ideas about how to block it off--yet allow us to use it still? The system they describe on the Bananas site doesn't seem high enough. And, yes we'd love to put in whole house heating--but it will cost $9000 and we just can't do it this winter. Any advice would be great! Jennifer


    For the same kind of heater we hired a carpenter who built, made of dowling, a box shaped cover that fit over the metal plate. It was probably about 2 feet high and little kids sat on it all the time. But it kept them safe, let the heat get through perfectly well, and was hinged on one side so it could be tilted up for access to the heater when necessary. We just called a carpenter someone knew, described the project and he built it. Sim
    We have the same problem in our house. My dad bought some shelving material from Home Depot and built a cage, complete with a top which opens to collect items stuck into the cage. It seems worse than the grate, but it lets the heat out and keeps the kids safe! We have all learned to walk around it. I'd be happy to send pictures if you want. bh
    Oct 2006

    Hi. We have a 15 month old and two large heating grates on the floor. We are worried that she will trip and fall on it when we have the heat in the winter.. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to protect/cover the grate so that we still get heat but prevents our daughter from the grate. Thank you mari


    Anecdote: when my brother first learned to walk, he managed to step on the roaring floor vent, and was so shocked that he couldn't move -- the results were lovely grill marks on the bottoms of his poor little feet,and the kid did learn to stay away from it, but I have no idea how my parents dealt with that, other than leaving the heater off. I would suggest some kind of fireplace screening to keep the child away from the grill. Anon
    The Bananas handout about building a safety cover for this kind of grate is available here: http://www.bananasinc.org/uploads/1080332592.pdf (PDF file).
    Lisa Mc.
    We have a single large heating grate to heat our entire house. We had the Childproofer come and install a gate around it. It is a white gate that is bolted to the wall, and surrounds the grate on three sides, with the wall on the fourth side. This allows us to use the heater, yet our baby cannot walk or fall on the grate, and does not touch it when it's hot, or even when it's not. The gate is actually not as much of an eyesore as I thought it would be, but it's definitely not something you'd see in a child-free home. childproofed
    Oct 2003

    My husband and I and our eighteen-month-old daughter live in a rented house with an antiquated heating system: the "central" heating comes from a floor grate in the middle of the hallway that separates the front of the house (kitchen, living room) from the bedrooms. The grate is huge! The hallway is 39 inches wide, and the grate is 24 inches wide and 15 inches long, so itís almost impossible to avoid. Last winter, the grate got terribly hot when we had the heat on, but my husband and I just stepped over it and kept our daughter away from it entirely. This year, our daughter is walking and Iím worried that sheís going to burn herself (either feet or hands) badly. Iíve searched the archives and saw the Bananas blueprint for a grate cover, but that seems more practical for grates that are smaller and not as centrally located as ours...it sticks up so far that I'm sure someone would end up tripping over it. Iím tempted to just buy some space heaters and forget all about the central heating this winter, but before I do, I was wondering if anyone else had experienced, and solved, a similar problem (and, for that matter, if anyone had tips on using space heaters safely with a toddler in the house). Thanks! Grateful Mama


    We have that same type of horrible floor heater in our rented house. Our first strategy was to use safety gates to block access to the area of the hallway that contained the heater. That worked until one morning when my husband had a gate down for a minute because he was running back and forth between rooms to get ready for work, and in that short time our then 9-mo. old walked right onto the grate and got 2nd and 3rd degree burns on one foot (a horrible experience). Now, we only use it at night; one of us nearly always has to get up to pee sometime between 4 and 6 am, and we shut it off then. During the day we use a little heat fan that doesn't get hot to the touch, but still requires pretty close supervision with our toddler. We also have our toddler wear socks and slippers (some great ones from onestepahead.com called soft shoes that are lightweight and hard for him to take off by himself) in case he does get near the grate in the morning. -anon
    Yes, we have a grate that sounds just like yours. My son did burn his foot on it when we first moved in. We finally made a rule that there was no going barefoot in the house, so if it is stepped on the damage will be to the shoe/slipper -- difficult with toddlers I know! Also, we put a brick on each side of the grate as an obvious warning. This could trip a toddler, but it worked very well as the kids got older. Pat
    I suggest that you contact your local fire station for advice about a safe way to cover a heater. Some instructions for these safety devices call for wood that may not be safe in front of a heater. Jeanne
    I used to live in a house with floor heaters. My newly crawling son burned his hands on the heater. 2nd degree burns developed in the time it took my husband to walk across the livingroom. It was really quite awful because the Dr. couldn't give my son anything for the pain stronger than Motrin. (Which we had been using for teething so my son had developed a bit of a tolerence for it. It did little to ease his pain.) Our heaters were centrally located and quite large. We used the Banana's grates after that and my son didn't burn himself again. I stubbed my toe and tripped over them often but that was far less painful to me than watching my son suffering through those burns. However, early last spring our CO2 detector was set off by one of our floor heaters and I called the Oakland Fire Department. When they saw the grates they told me to remove them ASAP. The firemen said the grates were serious fire hazards. So I don't really know what to advise. Just thought I'd share my experience. BTW, PG&E will come out and check your appliances for CO2 emissions for free. If there is a problem maybe your landlord would replace the heater with central heat. Good Luck, Kris
    I had a similar problem with two grates and toddler. I ended up buying several adjustable baby gates to make fences around the grates (I got those cheap kind with thick white plastic ''netting'' framed with wood). I put six eye screws on the wall (3 on each side of the grate, and I used those plastic anchors for the screws) and then used plastic cable zip ties to attach the gates to the eye screws. I also used the zip ties to attach the front panel (parallel to the wall). This was actually VERY STURDY and lasted for two years until one of my two heaters broke down, and I had to get forced air central heating (no more hot grate). I also saw the sheet from Bananas, but think my solution is low tech (just need a drill). Good luck! Jenne
    Nov 2001

    Here's my solution, which I didn't see posted yet. Supplies needed:
    1. Cheap baby gates from garage sales or Toys R Us. I used the pressure mounted wood ones with white plastic sides.
    2. Cable ties (those clearish skinny pieces of plastic where one end loops into the other and "zips" shut, get some long ones, about 12 inches, and short ones, about 6 inches)
    3. Eye screws (those screws with a "circle" at one end, at least one inch long)
    Basically, you take the gates apart to use as fencing. You attach the panels to each other and to eyescrews (which you've drilled and screwed into the walls) with the cable ties. I have two floor heaters: one in a comer and one against the middle of the wall. This was a cheap, sturdy and fast solution and has withstood the test of toddlerhood! Jenne


    My husband went to Uban Ore and bought a used crib. He cut the legs and springs off and shortened the "length" of it by cutting out a section on either side then tightly secured it all back together with bolts and we placed it right over the floor vent. It is basically a gate around the floor vent but it only costs us about $10 in all. It has become such a permanent fixture in our house that the kids (ages 2 1/2 & 1) pay no attention to it. Best of luck. LIZ
    From: Jennifer

    This Thanksgiving I am going to have my entire family plus some of my sister's in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner. Last night as I huddled over the grate on the floor over the heater and almost burnt myself (melted my boot), I realized how dangerous this was going to be for my little nephew who is 1 year old and recently walking! I imagine some of you with kids and old houses might have a heater like this one and may have some ideas on how to make it safe for the baby. P.S. This is the only heat source in the house and is located smack dab in the middle of the the area between the dining room and the living room ie. where everybody will be during the festivities.


    From: Sima

    Bananas has a sheet with information on how to build a wooden grate to cover such heaters. We had a heater just like this, and built a wooden framework over which we put metal screening (like on a window). Another alternative is wooden dowels. Not too hard to make and very effective--our toddler never got burned, even though it was next to his main play area.


    From: Debra

    Re: The hot floor heater grate. We have a grate like this. I was given a plan by Berkeley Pediatrics and built one and it works great. You need to build a square that will fit around the grate but not touch the metal. Use 1" X 9" pine boards for the square. Then drill out for and insert 3/4" dowel rods across the top edge. They should be no less or more that 3" apart to prevent head or limb entrapment. Then you can wire one of the dowels to the grate to keep it from moving around. I stapled cloth covered foam to the outer bottom to prevent toe stubbing as ours is also in a walking area. I built an upright one also for a friend with a wall heater. Its a bit of a strange look but very effective and about all you can do. I've seen people try to block the area with chairs etc. but you have to be really careful about anything that may catch fire. You can call Berkeley Pediatrics and see if they still have the diagrams available.


    Nancy

    there are wooden heating grates in some of the older houses in Berkeley, and I don't think they heat up the way metal ones do. Expensive to have made, I had one made a long time ago, and don't remember where I had it done. Might check with McBeath Hardwood or Ashby Lumber for ideas on where to look for one or where to have one made.


    From: Susan

    you can build a wooden cage around the vent. the sides are wood and the top consists of wooden dowls with space inbetween each. the key is having it fit snuggly around the grate so the only way to get it off is by lifting it directly up. the cage is too big for a small child to lift. ours has kept our now ten and a half month old safe. bananas has a hand out on how to build one. the only modification i might make is lining the top (under the dowls) with somethings like mosquito netting so small objects can't be dropped through the spaces and onto/into the hot grate.


    From: Susan

    Bananas, the childcare referral service in Oakland, has a flyer with plans for a wooden grate cover, although their version is not as safe as I think it could be (a kid could stick a hand through if she was determined). We built a wooden box to fit around the grate and put wooden slats across the top, with a wire mesh under the slats so the baby couldn't drop things onto the hot grate (you could grill a steak on ours--it's directly over the furnace). When the wooden slats started to get charred (!) we raised the sides of the box to about a foot high (and we still got a nice/worrisome fireplace smell from the hot wood). You have to make sure nobody leaves stuff on top of the box or fires can start. You should probably avoid pressure-treated wood. I've read it has toxic chemicals that get released when it burns or, presumably, to some extent when it gets hot.


    From: Nicole

    Re. heater grates, Bananas has a handout which gives ideas on how to build something yourself. Some friends with the same problem, had a carpenter buddy make a sturdy cedar box which fit over the grate. It had slits to let the heat out, served as a little table, and made the room smell nice= besides!


    From: laura beth

    My husband covered our similar grate. He got the vinyl-covered metal shelving like some people install in closets. Even when the heater is on, it stays cool. Then, he attached them to the floor and to the walls with screws (there are little metal things designed to attach these shelf things to the walls of a closet. and attached them to each other with plastic ties. All of this can be purchased at Home Depot. It was not cheap--about $40 for all parts, but works great. Good luck.


    Childproofing Gas Wall Heaters


    Oct 2012

    I was wondering if anyone has tips for childproofing a wall heater. Ours gets hot enough to burn our one-year old, and we would like to childproof it before the winter. Thanks! Jennifer


    This is probably going to sound callous and awful, but each of my children got a mild burn, once, from a wall heater, and have not since. There was no way to block off one of the wall heaters in our house, so as each kid got mobile, I talked a lot about it being hot and showed them how to stand or sit a safe distance away. For the most part, this worked. But my kids love to stand right by the heater on cold mornings, and so each of them, around age 2, ended up getting too close and ending up in tears. They are now much older and have not ever repeated this, and still love to sit in front of the heaters.

    I don't think ours is hot enough to give a terrible burn, or I wouldn't be so nonchalant, so your situation may be different. But in general, I've had more success getting my kids to treat potentially dangerous household appliances safely than blocking off access. lazy childproofer


    My son's preschool had a similar issue, though their's did not get that hot it was required by licensing to be covered. I ended up building one for them out of 2x2 pine and chicken wire that I bought at Home Depot. If you or someone you know is handy (requires saw, power drill and drill bits, and staple gun) I can send you a picture of it and tell you more details about how I made it. It took an afternoon and a bit of help from my husband. Was around $30 in materials I think. Sue
    Nov 2001

    Winter's coming, and I'm trying to assess the possible risk of wall heaters. I've contacted the fire dept, PG&E, and numerous websites, and found no specific information or assistance on this topic. Our small apartment is heated by 2 different gas heaters. One is a wall unit, thermostat controlled, with a metal vented grille cover. The bottom part opens near floor level to provide access to pilot light. Can a child be burned by touching the outside of a heater like this? or maybe by prying the cover open? What's the best way to manage the risk -- are there gates that are designed as barriers to wall heaters? Since I'm renting this unit and hope to move in a few months, it will be difficult and costly to undertake an expensive home construction project and/or hire home childproofing consultants. I'd prefer to manage any risk by buying prefabricated gates if that's needed. The other wall unit heater unit has more of an open exposed heating source. My preference here is to shut off this unit and buy an electric space heater, like the Vornado style. However, I know space heaters have their own risks. I'd love to hear comments from people who've dealt with the situation. Thank you. I prefer to remain anonymous.


    We have two gas wall heaters (ceiling to floor) that heat our house. Now that it is getting cold we want to turn them on but our 10 month old son loves to touch them and play around them. These heaters project from the wall 5 inches. We have not seen anything made commercially to keep babies (or toddlers) away from them. Has anyone found any solution to this problem? Phyllis and Michael
    I had our handyman build what looks like a wooden picket fence around our heater. It's wonderful! It has three sides, is about 3 feet tall, 10 inches away from the heater on the sides and 2 feet away from the heater from the front and is attached to the wall to keep it secure. I have not chosen to paint it but of course, you could get creative. It is very safe and now that it is getting cold, I am so happy I got it done for my very curious 14 month old. -Danny
    I suggest you call Safe 'n' Sound Children for help - the owner is great with creative solutions to problems like yours. Phone is 510.338.0222.
    This is regarding childproofing the gas heaters. We have two floor furnaces that presented a similar problem. We bought two fireplace screens, the kind that are tri-fold and secured them to the wall and floor around the furnace/heater so they keep our daughter from getting near the heater. We put eye-hooks in the walls and used plastic straps to tie the fireplace screen to the wall (the same way it would be used around the fireplace. Then we also secured it from the floor. I think this would also work in your case. Good luck.
    We used 3 pieces from one of those Superyard XT corral systems, which still leaves 3 pieces for other purposes. We got ours used for $30. Louisa
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