By Ed Brock
Neal Finnie had to look around for a while before he found what has become a rare items these days, an electric space heater.
Like many other shoppers, Finnie had found several places had sold out of that hot item when the first cold snap hit.
“I talked to some friends and they told me to go to Wal-Mart,” said Finnie, standing in the Wal-Mart in Lovejoy, heater in hand.
And also like many other people, Finnie's concern about an expected surge in natural gas heating bills this winter led him to buy the electric heater.
“I wanted to get something so we wouldn't have to use the furnace so much,” Finnie said.
Sales of space heaters usually go up when the cold weather starts, Wal-Mart Co-Manager Rochelle Davis said, but this year the demand is even higher.
“People are opting more with the electric with gas prices being so high,” Davis said.
While the Lovejoy Wal-Mart is fully stocked with heaters, Clayton County's two Home Depots are sold out but are expecting a new shipment on Friday.
“They're getting picked off as soon as they're put out,” said Home Depot spokesman Don Harrison.
Harrison couldn't say for sure if the surge is connected to expectations of high gas heating costs, but other companies have seen similar surges. The Lowe's Home Improvement in Stockbridge has just received a new shipment of the heaters.
Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb said supplemental heaters and winterizing products like insulation have been big sellers nationwide.
“People are looking at measures they can take to save energy,” Cobb said.
But Allen Crane at Crane Hardware in Jonesboro hasn't seen much of a rush.
“We've sold a few wood heaters,” Crane said.
However, he added that wood heaters are also becoming scarce.
Space heaters may save money, but they are also the leading cause of house fires during the months of December, January and February according to Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. UL has several tips for safely using supplemental heating devices.
Do not use the heaters for any other use beside heating rooms, such as cooking, thawing pipes or drying clothing.
Keep a 3-foot safety zone free of objects around space heaters.
Supervise pets and children around space heaters at all times.
Buy heaters with automatic shutoffs and guards around their heating elements.
Look for frayed insulation and wires.
Avoid using extension cords with electric heaters or be sure to use a cord with the right wire gauge and type for the heater.
More safety tips are available at www.ul.com/fallsafety/home_heating.html.