Why You Shouldn’t Use Extension Cords for Space Heaters

Heating is the second leading cause of house fires (behind cooking), according to the National Safety Council. In most cases, those fires involve space heaters.

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As temperatures drop and winter leaves people craving a quick and comfy supplemental source of warmth, many consider pulling out a trusty space heater or investing in a new one.

Before you plug one in, know this: Heating is the second leading cause of house fires (behind cooking), according to the National Safety Council, and in most cases, those fires involve space heaters. Though they look small, they require significant wattage and produce enough heat to require smart planning and precaution when using.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Space Heaters with Power Strips and Extension Cords

It’s rule No. 1: Don’t plug a space heater into a power strip, no matter how many hair straighteners, phone chargers, speakers, computers or gadgets may be vying for electricity. Space heaters must be plugged directly into a wall outlet, which can handle a higher wattage, and should be the only item plugged into that wall outlet. The Electrical Safety Foundation International says space heaters can overheat a power strip, as well as an extension cord, and potentially cause a fire. Space heaters demand much more current flow than other appliances. Power strips and extension cords are not equipped to handle this extra current flow, and can consequently cause a potential fire.

It never hurts to take extra measures to learn how to prevent home fires.

Place Space Heaters Away From Hazards

Make sure the space heater is placed on non-flammable tile or hardwood flooring—not on the carpet or a rug. Keep heaters at least three feet away from bedding, clothing, paper or books and drapes, too. Don’t locate them in high traffic areas, or anyplace they might be a tripping hazard.

Use Space Heaters Only With Supervision

Only use a space heater when someone is in the room, and keep children and pets a safe distance away. Turn them off when you leave the room, and don’t run them when you’re asleep, either.

Check Smoke Alarms and Inspect Cords

Make sure all of your smoke alarms are installed and working. (Some smoke alarm tips, to help.) Carefully check space heater cords for frays, cracks or breaks, and look for loose or broken connections, too. Keep the area around the space heater dry and free of moisture that may damage its components.

Shop for Space Heaters Wisely

The American Red Cross advises choosing a space heater that automatically shuts off if accidentally tipped over. Some also shut off if they may be overheating. Two inexpensive and highly-rated portable heaters that offer both of those safety features: TrusTech Portable Space Heater and GiveBest Portable Ceramic Heater. (Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.)

Lisa Meyers McClintick
Lisa Meyers McClintick is an award-winning Minnesota-based freelancer specializing in travel across the Upper Midwest and to national parks across the United States. She has been a longtime contributor to USA Today, Midwest Living magazine, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and also has written for Minnesota Monthly, TravelChannel.com and AAA publications. Her specialties include watching wildlife and birding, harvest travel, hands-on art and history, gardens and wildflowers, quirky small towns and scenic outdoors. She's a member of Society of American Travel Writers and Midwest Travel Journalists Association, which named her the 2019 Travel Writer of the Year. She's also an award-winning photographer and teaches workshops on memoir and creative writing, photography, travel, and creating sketchbooks and journals.