The cold winter is arriving, and you may already be thinking of ways to stay warmer this winter than last. Record-low temperatures during the 2013-14 winter have left everyone expecting another cold one this season. While it is important to stay warm and comfortable, you should make sure you don't put your life or health at risk to do so. When you follow a few tips, you can keep you and your family warm and cozy day and night without sacrificing health and safety. 

1. Inspect Electric Bedding

Electric blankets and mattress toppers can keep you warm on even the coldest winter night, but using a faulty or damaged piece of electric bedding could cause a house fire. Even an electric blanket that is in good shape could burn skin if it overheats while you or a family member are sleeping.

You don't have to go without your electric bedding this winter when you make sure you inspect it before use and take safety precautions while using it. If you are purchasing a new electric blanket, look for one that automatically shuts off if it overheats. If you are using an old one without this feature, then you may want to replace it or only use it while awake for short time periods. 

To inspect your electric bedding for damage, look for exposed coils or any other signs of damage while it is turned off. Then, turn it on and let it heat up for 15 minutes. Inspect it again for hot-spots. If your blanket or mattress topper fails either of these inspections, then replace it. 

2. Have Your Gas Furnace Inspected 

Many people don't realize that a heating system that is not properly maintained can cause much more damage than just higher utility bills. Faulty home-heating systems that run on natural gas can cause the home to fill with deadly carbon monoxide. An annual inspection of your furnace is important to ensure it is in good shape and not a safety hazard. warns that you should not skimp and go for the cheapest furnace tune-up service you can find, as paying less for your annual furnace maintenance service many mean that important inspection steps are skipped to make the deal profitable for the company. 

A good annual furnace inspection from a company at a site like should include an analysis of combustion gases, a blower access door inspection, inspection of wiring, and a vent inspection. Furnace elements should also be cleaned. When in doubt, ask the HVAC contractor which furnace maintenance packages includes everything you need to keep your furnace safe. 

3. Use Space Heaters Safely

If you need to use a space heater in a pinch, then follow important space-heater safety guidelines to make sure it does not start a fire or cause a burn. About 25,000 fires every year in the United States occur as a result of misused or malfunctioning space heaters. There are also many emergency room visits each year stemming from space-heater related burns. 

When choosing a space heater, look for the important auto-shutoff features. These features turn the unit off automatically if it tips over or if a fan on the unit becomes blocked. Always plug the units directly into the wall and at least several feet away from furniture and drapery. 

There are several types of space heaters available, including electric and gas heaters. Electric heaters are safer to use indoors, as they don't emit hazardous gases like combustible gas heaters do. Look for an electric heater that stays cool on the surface, such as a ceramic one to reduce the chances of burns. Never leave hot heaters alone with children or pets. 

With care and caution, you can stay toasty warm this winter without putting your family's health or lives at risk. Inspect and prepare your electric bedding, furnace, and space heaters now, so they are ready when the temperatures drop.