That time I blew up a power strip with a Marshall amp and a space heater

Originally published at:


Whoa, hold up. Is that a gas meter? Indoors? With electronics right next to it? And there was an electric fire right by it?

I don’t know what state this is in, but the gas utility i work for considers that a very unsafe meter location for a variety of reasons. I’m serious btw.



So let me tell you about the goddamn space heater at the magazine publisher. You’ve probably heard of the magazine, at least if you are more than a couple of decades old, but I’m not saying who it was.

Anyway, they called because their flatbed scanner was down. This wasn’t a desktop thing, it was a $20,000 Heidelberg that literally sat on its own pedestal.

What had happened was someone plugged a goddamn space heater into the power strip and popped it, blowing up the power supply in the scanner as well. We tell them what happened and that under no circumstances should anything ever be plugged into the same power strip as the scanner and the computer it is connected to. Explain just how fragile it is, and that we’ll need to order parts.

We order the $800 power supply from Germany. When it finally arrives we go out to install it, and the goddamn space heater is plugged into the power strip again. Unplug it, tell them to never plug a goddamn space heater or anything else into that power strip, work on the scanner, power it up and start running diagnostics. Everything is looking great when suddenly the Mac we’re sitting in front of dies. Yep, scanner is dead too. We turn around and right behind us, while we are working, right after we told everyone what NOT to do, is a woman with her hand on the knob of that goddamn space heater… which she had just plugged in to the power strip she was just told to never touch.

This time the power supply survived, but some of the very expensive CCFL lamps in it did not.


Guessing is wasn’t Popular Mechanics.


No, it was Popular Electronics.

Not really, but it was a magazine for women, owned/operated by women, and I really don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes about women and technology, but… they weren’t our brightest clients. I think it had to do more with the average age of their staff vs. their gender.

1 Like

This is when IT or facilities should’ve ordered a power strip that only has two sockets to remove the possibility of anyone trying to plug additional things to it. If the potential for something to happen isn’t eliminated then that event will absolutely happen. Yes the client was at fault but it seems that more should’ve been done to avoid catastrophic failures.


I work IT in a library and constantly had the issue of folks frying the PSU’s in their PCs when they plugged a kettle or space heater into the same power bar as the computer. I went around one weekend and collected about a dozen space heaters that were literally 3 decades old. Some of them had broken cases so bare wires were hanging out. Out of sight, out of mind when it comes to stuff sitting under one’s desk it seems.


Look it this way: it would cost them thousands of dollars to put in a proper heating system. If they blow up a few PSUs they would still come out ahead.

See, this is the thing that absolutely blows me away.

All of the normal circuits inside the house are either 15, 17, or 20 Amp circuits, depending on when the house was built. (15 Amp was the normal for a long time.) By code, nothing that plugs into a normal plug can draw more than 15 amps. (This is why an old el-cheapo stupid space heater puts out the exact same thermal energy as an expensive great space heater: because they are both limited to using 15 cents worth of resistive heater coil to generate the same 15 amps worth of heat.)

So WHY IN THE EVERLOVING NAME OF THE GODS ABOVE are power strip makers allowed to create a fused power strip that CAN’T HANDLE A 15 AMP LOAD???

I mean, I can begrudgingly understand why all extension cords are not rated for 15 amps, while it would be a great idea that would save lives, there would be extensive costs associated with it.

But not creating a power strip which can handle a 15 amp load because you decide to make your distribution bars out of tin foil is just completely ridiculous. Use 20 cents of metal to stamp a bar that can handle the load, people! 2’ of 10 gage wire versus 2’ of 14 gage wire is not going to add that much to the price! And paying $5 for a power strip versus what, $15 (let’s be generous) costs how many lives a year???



I’ve seen a bunch of people sharing warning posts saying people shouldn’t plug space heaters into power strips or surge protectors, leaving me wondering the same thing. Makers know people are going to plug lots of stuff into power strips, so why aren’t they at least fused to prevent catastrophic failure? I’ve got strips with and strips without fuses or breakers. Seems like that ought to be a regulation requiring all power strips to be safely fused… :-/


I have just checked a couple of power strips and they are all rated 16A 230V, but because a single Shucko socket is rated 16A 230V, if you put a 3 kW heater in a strip, you don’t have more power available at the plug.

1 Like

Are they really expecting this scenario, though? Makers of space heaters put the warning to never plug them into anything except an outlet all over the product. It’s written on the unit, on instruction sheets, on the cord, and on tags attached to the cord. There’s only so much manufacturers can do to idiot proof a product when consumers choose to create a fire hazard despite being repeatedly warned.


If you really want to see scary stuff, look at RV adapters… :slight_smile:

1 Like

Only so much they can do? That so much they can do includes installing circuit protection. That they don’t shows this isn’t a “they can only do so much” situation.

One of the fundamentals of modern design is to design around the way people actually work rather than try to use warnings to people not to use the product the way they are going to use the product.

Do not taunt happy fun ball


The problem is also with extension cords and adapters. Those triple & quad adapters that people use because of a lack of outlets are scary. There are also adapters that people use to plug a grounded plug into a two-prong outlet. That people actually do this is a huge part of the problem, and there are plenty of products designed to enable unsafe behavior.

Makers know people are going to plug lots of stuff into power strips, so why aren’t they at least fused to prevent catastrophic failure?

Are they really expecting this scenario, though?

I spoke with some space heater manufacturers about this, and read every friggin’ manual and fire safety document imaginable. While no one ever said this directly, I understood as largely a legal issue. Yes, the manufacturers can do what they can to make both heaters and power strips or extension cords that are able to handle these things. But if anything does go awry — well, this is America, where everyone settles everything with lawsuits. From the space heater manufacturer’s perspective, it’s safer (legally) to tell people to stay away from power strips and extension cords. They can’t know what kind of cheap crap extension you may have bought (like I did), and they don’t want to get sued when it blows up (like mine did). No matter how much they try to build a product that prevents that kind of overload, they still can’t predict when someone’s going to use it with a cheap Japanese smart home knockoff power strip.

1 Like

Simple and effective:

Simple, but not effective. At most you get a couple of hundred BTU’s per candle, not effective compared to a space heater. It’s just replacing one fire hazard for another, and getting way, way less heat.

You could try adding more candles to make it heat as much as a space heater…but that brings up its own problems.

  1. … One tea candle can produce around 30 watts of heat, which means that you need at least 20 to 30 tea candles to heat a very small room (and replace them every 3 to 4 hours).

  2. You have now built a small fireplace using tea candles. However, it isn’t running on wood but on petroleum — the stuff paraffin is usually made of. And above all, you have built a fireplace without a chimney