This winter has been crazy — the cold days, frost and blizzards are never-ending, the roads are paved with salt, and it doesn’t seem to be improving any time soon.

My layers of clothing are increasing and I still don’t seem to be feeling any warmer when darting from door to car. At the end of a long day, there’s nothing better than coming in out of the cold, cuddling up next to a nice, cosy space heater, and finally warming up. Space heaters are popular devices for a number of reasons: They’re small, cost-efficient and can keep your family warm. But it turns out, many people use them incorrectly and in an instant, tragedy can strike.

These dangerously cold temperatures often mean people do whatever it takes to warm their homes. From rigging up old heaters to using the oven – firefighters say putting comfort before safety can be deadly.

Staying warm in this cold weather can be a tough task if your home is hard to heat

This time of year, firefighters battle all sorts of blazes that were started by things, like the improper use of space heaters.

Choose a safe space heater. Newer models are safer than old ones as trying to heat your home with a space heater that is old and not functioning properly is not a good idea.

Keep your space heater at least three feet away from anything flammable. That means clothes and blankets, stacks of newspapers, combustible liquids like insect repellent and bleach, walls, and even pile or shag carpets. Basically, there should be a clear three-foot radius around the heater. Materials like blankets and curtains can easily catch fire.

Make sure your house can handle it. That little box uses a ton of electricity — as much as fifteen 100-watt light bulbs, to be exact. Pumping all this out can be too much for older houses with old wires and electrical circuits, and when wires get over-juiced, fires start inside the walls, where they’re hard to spot and even harder to reach. If the fuse box trips, that means you’ve gone too far.

Never use an extension cord with a space heater. Odds are it’s not strong enough to handle the power necessary to run the heater! Move yourself a little closer instead (still three feet away, though).

Don’t run extension cords under carpeting. Don’t try to heat your home with your oven or hob and don’t bring charcoal in and use it in your fireplace. These are things that are potential dangers and possible killers.

If the plug and cord get warm, turn it off. That’s a sure-fire sign that you’re in the danger zone. If you’re buying a new space heater, ask to open the box before you take it home so you can make sure the cord and plug are well insulated.

Stock your house with working smoke detectors. That way if something does go wrong, you’ll be able to get out of the house and summon professionals to deal with it.

Don’t forget working CO detectors, too! More than just a smoke detector’s sidekick, a carbon monoxide detector will sniff out deadly gas leaks caused by improperly vented space heaters.

Never use a space heater when you’re not in the room. Your pets will be fine with a few blankets. Your kids will sleep alright with a few blankets, too. An unsupervised space heater is a recipe for disaster. So, don’t forget to turn off your space heater when you leave the room.

Never put your space heater on top of anything. Despite its name, it’s not actually supposed to be in space. It’s supposed to be on the floor, where it can’t overheat your ceiling, light your bookshelf on fire, or fall over.

Keep space heaters away from water. Don’t touch them if you’re wet, and don’t put them in damp areas. You don’t want to get zapped!

Finally, don’t rely totally on space heaters. They’re supposed to supplement a central heat strategy, not replace it — trying to put a space heater in every room is incredibly risky, and ends up being more expensive than central heating. If your house is cold, and you’re looking for a widespread heating solution, investing in good insulation is a much better call.