Space Heaters and Power Strips Don't Mix

You can keep yourself warm with a space heater so long as you use a little diligence. Freer/Shutterstock

When it's cold outside, you'll do just about anything to stay warm, especially if you don't have central heating. Blankets and sweaters can only do so much, so you turn to the trusted space heater to keep you nice and toasty.

But space heaters should always be used with a little bit of caution, and that includes considering where you plug them in. For instance, you should never plug your space heater into a power strip.

Space heaters require a great deal of electricity to generate their heat, and as social media has been reminding us this week, power strips aren't made to handle the current necessary for it. According to firefighters speaking to CBS News, the heating elements of some space heaters can reach between 500 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit — so we're talking a lot of electricity. Too much electricity can cause things to short out or, worse, cause a fire.

Raise your hand if you haven't done this

Shorting things out is something I can vouch for myself. I once had two space heaters going in an old cottage house, and between them and the TV and other plugged-in devices, I tripped a few circuit breakers. While it likely meant that the wiring wasn't the best, it was clear I was making too much of an energy demand.

I also did something else you're not supposed to do: I had one of the heaters plugged into an extension cord. Like the power strips, extension cords can't always handle the energy flow.

So what are you supposed to do? It's pretty easy, really. Space heaters should always be plugged directly into the wall (it's where my other heater was plugged into, thank goodness). And, as Good Housekeeping's chief technologist recommends, the space heater should be the only device plugged into that outlet to further minimize the risk of an overload, and potentially, a fire.

Per the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), space heaters are responsible for an estimated 1,100 house fires a year. In addition to plugging space heaters into wall outlets, CPSC recommends keeping the heaters at least 3 feet away from anything flammable, to never leave a heater on or plugged in unattended or while you're sleeping, placing the heater on a flat, stable surface and to regularly check the outlet to make sure it isn't overheating.

With diligence — and this newfound knowledge — you can still stay warm during the coldest of times and minimize the risk of a fire.