Well, it's officially winter. On the bright side: cute matching flannel pajama sets. On the downside: the reason you're dressing the whole family in footed PJs in the first place is because these winter nights are quickly becoming bone-chillingly cold. Space heaters are a fantastic tool in the battle to stay warm, but only if used correctly. When accidents happen, home heating equipment can be deadly. So can you plug your space heater into a power strip? Local fire departments are issuing warnings about their safe usage, and a few shocking photos have popped up across the internet. Here's why you'll want to plug your heater into a normal outlet, no matter how chilly it gets.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters — those boxy plastic grills you can buy at Target for less than a hundred dollars — are involved in a whopping 79 percent of fatal home heating fires. In fact, heating equipment is a major cause of house fire deaths year round, second only to fires caused by smoking. During the winter season, the statistics are even more grim: space heaters cause most residential fire deaths during the cold months, reported USA Today.
Fires resulting from tipped over heaters, or heaters placed near flammable objects like curtains, can spread quickly. A quick internet news search on portable space heaters leads to dozens of tragic stories and impassioned winter warnings from local fire departments across the country.
On Sunday, the Umatilla County Fire Department issued one such warning about portable space heaters on its Facebook page, along with a pretty unforgettable photo of a totally melted extension cord (think: Wicked Witch of the West).
Extension cords aren't designed to handle the current flow produced by a space heater, said the Umatilla Fire Department, and plugging a portable heater into an extension cord can lead to overheating and fire. Extension cord misuse is a major cause of fires in the area, the Oregon department noted. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), you should also never use multiple extension cords with a single outlet, or chain them together, because of the risk of electrical overload.
Space heaters use an incredible amount of energy to produce their warming heat — between 10,000 and 40,000 Btu per hour, noted the Department of Energy. Basically, these machines get crazy hot, and 25,000 house fires and 300 deaths per year are associated with them, according to U.S. Product Safety Commission estimates. Additionally, 6,000 emergency room visits result from contact burns when adults and children accidentally touch a space heater.
Always keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from flammable objects, like bedsheets, cribs, books, clothing, mattresses, and toys, advised the NFPA, and always plug them into a wall socket. Other safety tips for portable electric space heaters include always turning it off when you go to sleep or leave a room, setting it up on a level surface, and inspecting the device for cracks and damage before using.
The Department of Energy reminded users to purchase new model space heaters if possible, and to check that their purchase is endorsed with an Underwriter's Laboratory label — proving it has been tested and meets stringent safety standards.
Be sure to buy a portable space heater with a tip-over safety switch, especially if you have kids, and always read your space heater's user manual, which should include a section on extension cords (some heaters may be used with heavy-gauge cords, but it depends on the model and brand). Most devices also include a number you can call for usage advice.
Fires are far more common in winter months, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, so there's no better time than the holidays to check your smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and fire extinguishers. Remember that portable space heaters — like that one terrible ex-boyfriend — need plenty of space. Follow NFPA guidelines and plug heaters directly into wall sockets to make your winter cozy and bright, while keeping your family safe and sound.
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