Electrical fires are more common than you might think, in fact, they are the third most common reason for fires in the home. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that each year residential electrical fireres account for 51,000 fires, more than 1,400 injuries, and over a billion dollars in damages. A majority of these accidents are due to improper maintenance and repairs of home electrical systems—which are unfortunate, but avoidable mistakes. Electrical fires can happen in a blink of an eye, so It’s imperative for the safety of you and your loved ones to check up on your home’s electrical system regularly.
With recent ‘stay-at-home’ orders, there is no better time to take a few minutes out of your day to inspect your residence’s electrical system. We created this brief article to supply you with suggestions to make your home safer and less susceptible to electrical fires. Continue reading to learn how you can spot out warning signs and prevent electrical-caused fires.
Sometimes, identifying electrical hazards is relatively straightforward. In other cases, it takes an experienced eye to notice concerns. Electrical work is tricky business that requires in-depth education and years of knowledge to become proficient in. That is why we suggest hiring a trusted, certified technician when a problem seems to be anything greater than replacing an extension cord. It’s not worth hurting yourself or making the problem worse!
10 Ways to Avoid Electrical Fires
Suggestion #1Find out the age of your electrical system
If the foundation of your home was built decades ago, and has not had any electrical upgrades, then it is time to do a in-depth inspection of your electrical system. Aluminum wiring is found in homes that are built before 1972. A study done by the Franklin Research Institute found that homes with aluminum wiring were 55 times more likely to reach “fire hazard conditions” than homes wired with copper. Even some slightly newer homes are at a higher fire risk because they are built with 60-amp electrical systems, compared to the modern standard of 100-amp. Modern devices need more electricity. Homes with low amp electrical systems are at a risk of overloading because they cannot handle the amount of electricity required for today’s technology. If you are unsure of what type of system your home has, hire a certified electrician to asses your home’s electrical connections and wiring.
Suggestion #2Inspect Power Cords for Frayed Wiring
One of the most common causes of residential electrical fires is due to faulty wiring. Wires can fray or crack from age, heat, corrosion, or bending. They can also be nicked, pinched, or pierced by nails or screws. When a wire is frayed, it is not properly insulated. Frayed wires can easily catch fire if an electrical current is running through it and it is exposed to flammable material (i.e. carpet, clothing, etc.). If you suspect a wire to be frayed, attempt to safely disconnect the device to stop the flow of electricity. If it is just an old extension cord, then you will probably be fine with just replacing your frayed wiring with new equipment. If it is anything more, call a certified electrician to conduct a more thorough assessment.
Suggestion #3Do not overload your electrical outlets
Try not to plug in too many devices into one power strip or extension cord. For example, if your power strip has 8 electrical plug-ins, just plug-in six or seven devices. Overloading is another common cause of residential fires. It is recommended to buy power strips with internal overload protection technology. This technology acts as a failsafe, immediately cutting off power to your devices in the case that an unsafe amount of electricity is flowing through the powerstrip. This dramatically reduces the chance of a fire.
Suggestion #4Look out for burning smells & smoke
Visible smoke or a burning smell are perhaps the most obvious signs and indications of an electrical fire hazard. Smoke occurs for a number of overheating reasons: overloading, faulty wiring, frayed wiring, old plug-ins, etc. Regardless of the cause, if you notice smoke, be sure to quickly disconnect all appliances and search for the cause. To be extra cautious, consider shutting off the power to your home via the circuit breaker, then call a certified electrician. A clear sign of overheating is the discoloration around a socket, light switch, or light fixture. Other hazardous signs include emitted sparks when plugging in devices, appliances or outlets feeling hot to the touch, and the feeling of electric shock when plugging in power cables.
Suggestion #5Make sure smoke detectors properly work
This is not necessarily a sign of an electrical problem, but it is an important step in preventing residential fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (40%) or no smoke alarms that were working (17%). Of this, dead batteries accounted for more than 25% of faulty alarms. It’s easy to go around and test if your smoke detectors are working or not, it might just save your life!
Suggestion #6Check for dimming lights
Have you noticed that some lights in your home are dimming? Do the ceiling lights dim when you plug in multiple devices in the same room? If so, you may be overloading your circuits or wiring. Check the wiring and circuit breaker to that portion of your home and call a certified electrician to ensure that your home’s electrical system is operating within safe conditions.
Suggestion #7Light Fixture Wattage
Installing a bulb with a wattage that is too high for the lamps and light fixtures is a leading cause of electrical fires. Before you install that high-powered bulb, make sure the socket you plugging your bulb into can handle the required amount of power needed. Similar to the space heaters, make sure nothing flammable is placed too close to a lightbulb.
Suggestion #8Rodent Caused Damage
Rats, mice, squirrels, and other rodents are known to have an appetite for electrical wiring. When you do your electrical inspection, keep a close eye out for droppings or other signs of rodent activity. If you see tell-tale signs of rodents, make sure to inspect the area to make sure for wire damage. Rodents chew electrical wirings, which can strip away vital insulation, and ultimately put your home at high risk of fire.
Suggestion #9Never cut a Power Cord’s third prong
Some homeowners use extension cords or power strips to connect and power their devices. These electrical supplements sometimes do not have a third plug-in for the lower prong in a power cord. Cutting, tampering, or removing the third prong increases your risk of a fire. The third prong grounds the electrical charge in the case of a power surge. This reduces the amount of electricity flowing through your devices, ultimately limiting the chance of a fire. If a majority of your home only has two prong plug-ins, call a certified electrician to see if it is possible to upgrade your home’s system to support three prong plug-ins.
Suggestion #10Be cautious when using space heaters
Space heaters are a great tool to use when you just want to heat up a specific area of your home, especially if your home lacks an air conditioning system. However, their mobility creates a higher fire risk. Often times, homeowners will place these mobile heating systems next to flammable materials like curtains, beds, clothing, chairs, couches, and rugs. Coil space heaters are the most likely to cause fires because the coils that generate the heat become so hot that most household materials will instantly catch fire if they come into contact with the coils. If possible, switch to a radiator space heater, which dissipates the electricity evenly throughout the device. This dramatically lowers the heat output and the risk of accidental fire.
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