Extension cords are super handy to have around when you have something that can’t reach the wall socket. But, you should be wary of plugging in too many things at once. In fact, this winter fire departments across the country are warning people about the hidden dangers of extension cords.
Power strips and extension cords are words that are often used interchangeably to describe a long electrical cord with multiple plugs, but many people don’t realize they are not necessarily the same thing as a surge protectors. Surge protectors will automatically cut off the power when it gets overloaded.
Power strips may have a lot of extra sockets, but that doesn’t mean it can actually handle everything you throw at it. There’s a limit to how much juice those things can take! If you plug the wrong thing into a power strip, that one mistake can turn very costly – or even worse, it may take a precious life.
When it gets freezing cold outside, the first thing most people do is turn up the heat. But, if you don’t have a fireplace or central heating, the next best thing is a space heater. It’s compact, portable, and warms up a small room in a minimal amount of time.
But, another thing that it heats up is – you guessed it – extension cords. Even if a space heater is the only thing plugged into the power strip, it can end up making your house much hotter than you originally anticipated.
The Umatilla County Fire District #1 in Oregon issued a public service announcement on Facebook about the consequences of combining power strips and space heaters:
“The weather is getting colder, and people are pulling out their space heaters. We just wanted to remind you that you should NEVER plug a heater into a power strip. These units are not designed to handle the high current flow needed for a space heater and can overheat or even catch fire due to the added energy flow. Please share and stay safe this Winter season.”
Even firemen can sometimes forget about how to properly use power strips. The same fire department that posted the PSA also uploaded this photo from their own fire station. They warn that even the best equipment can fail if it’s misused. Oops!
Rachel Rothman, the chief technologist at the Good Housekeeping Institute also has this to add:
“You should definitely not use an extension cord or power strip, which could easily overheat. And you really shouldn’t plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater for safety reasons.”
According to the National Safety Fire Administration, half of all heating home fires occur during December, January, and February. And from 2009 to 2013, heating equipment accounted for 56,000 home fires. Don’t become one of those statistics!
If you’re thinking of getting a space heater this winter, make sure it’s been third-party tested by an independent lab, like UL. If you don’t see a UL rating on the box, skip it.
Don’t forget to make sure your smoke detector is working, and regularly check your space heater’s cords to make sure it’s not frayed or damaged. This way, you’ll keep both toasty warm and safe this winter.