Perhaps the most tragic thing about the 25,000+ home electrical fires across the U.S. each year is that the vast majority of them could have been prevented if the right safety precautions had been taken.
In most cases, there are very simple things you can do right now. Just taking care to use your electrical devices, outlets, plugs, and wires correctly can drastically reduce your family’s chances of electrical fire tragedy, so please read the tips and go through your house to make sure everyone is following them today.
1. Don’t Overload Outlets
In other words, you don’t want extension cords to be a permanent solution to any situation in your home. Each outlet’s circuits were designed to convey a certain amount of electricity and overloading with extension cords and too many power strips do exactly that. This is one of the most common reasons for electrical fires and it’s entirely preventable. Make sure your surge protectors have an internal circuit breaker that will cut power if it senses problems.
2. Stay Within the Limits of Your Power Strips and Extensions
Follow these simple rules:
- Only use power strips and extension cords approved by an independent safety testing organization, such as UL.
- Only use extension cords as short-term solutions.
- Never “daisy-chain” power strips or extension cords by connecting one to another.
- Don’t use extension cords or power strips to power high-wattage devices like microwaves, toaster ovens, coffee pots, refrigerators, irons, or hair straighteners.
- Don’t plug too many high-watt devices into a power strip.
- Don’t run extension cords under carpets or floors or through the ceiling. If heat cannot escape, fires can result.
- Don’t let cords tangle.
If your family simply has too many gadgets that need plugging in at once, it’s probably time to install new outlets and wiring.
3. Use Only GFCI Outlets Near Water
Kitchens, bathrooms, workshops with sinks, and any outdoor outlet should be a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlet. You’ve seen them: the sturdy-looking outlets with three-pronged plug stations that have two buttons in between marked Test and Reset. These devices are specially designed to cut the power supply if they sense moisture. If your kitchen, bathroom, or any other room where water flows has an older style outlet without those buttons, contact an electrician right away to have them replaced.
4. Keep Flammable Objects Away from Electrical Outlets and Cords
Avoid placing furniture, curtains, decorations, boxes, or any other flammable item in front of (or too close to) an outlet. Most outlets can generate an unnoticeable amount of heat, but if they’re overloaded or faulty in some other way, they could generate a lot more heat, cause sparks, and then start a fire on whatever is closest to them. Don’t take that chance. In fact, regularly feel your outlets to see if they’re noticeably warm (they shouldn’t be). If they are, electrical repairs are in order.
5. Unplug Small Devices and Appliances When Not in Use
According to some studies, the average family has at least 50 electrical devices or appliances plugged in at any one time. Of course, very few people unplug their entertainment systems when they leave the house, nor does it make sense to ever unplug the refrigerator. However, it’s a smart decision to unplug things like the toaster and other small appliances before you leave home. Also, never leave a space heater plugged in when you’re out; they are notorious for electrical fires. The same goes for electric heated blankets. Try to get into the unplugging habit, because those kitchen appliances cause a lot of fires when left plugged in and unattended.
Unplug small appliances you use in the bathroom too. Also, you can actually save money on electricity by fully unplugging computers, printers, and entertainment systems from the wall when you’re not at home; even in the “off” position, these things still suck power from the system and up your electric bill.
6. Retire Older Appliances
People like to squeeze every last moment of use out of any appliance they have because new appliances can be so expensive. But these older, malfunctioning appliances can be some of the worst electrical fire starters. So, if any of your appliances show the following signs of wear, dispose of them safely and get a newer, safer model:
- Frayed electrical cords
- Using it causes lights to flicker in the room, or to turn them off (like an old microwave)
- Sparks when turning on
- Excessive heat coming from the device
These are signs of an electrical fire disaster just waiting to happen, so don’t ignore them.
7. Limit the Use of Space Heaters
One of the leading causes of electrical fires is the prolonged use of electric space heaters. Space heaters should only be in use when a room is occupied. It is also smart to run them at ½ power instead of full power. A space heater at ½ power will keep a room just as warm as full power but without risk of damage to the outlets or overloading the circuit.
8. Schedule a Regular Electrical Safety Inspection
In addition to those 7 things that you can go look for around your house right now (make it a family activity so everyone knows these safety tips), schedule a regular electrical safety and electrical building code inspection. Electrical safety inspections provide great peace of mind for you and your family and add a little incentive to buyers if you’re trying to sell your home.
What Live Oak Electrical Service Electricians and Technicians Check During an Inspection:
Exterior of the Home
We examine the outside of the house for any possible electrical hazards lurking there. While some weathering and rust are expected on things like the meter or the pipes on the meter, if we see any exposed wiring where the insulation has been damaged or frayed, it could mean water is getting into the main panel where it shouldn’t and that is a serious safety issue. Our electrician will also check that all exterior outlets are GFCI outlets.
Outlets and Switches
Many older homes still have the old two-pronged outlets instead of the safer, grounded, three-prong outlets. If appliances plugged into outlets frequently lose power, feel loose when you plug something in, or have any signs of burning around them, they will need replacing. We also check to ensure that GFCI outlets are installed properly in all of the “watery” areas of the home (kitchen, bathrooms, laundry rooms). Switches in high-traffic areas of the home may also need replacing. These are not DIY jobs. For safety reasons, a professional electrician should take care of it.
Many homes built in the 1960s and 70s were constructed with aluminum wiring which has turned out to be a significant fire hazard in many (but not all) cases. During the inspection, we will check behind the switch and outlet plates to see if this may be a problem in your home.
Attics, Basements, Utility Rooms
We check the condition of any wiring in these rooms to ensure it is in good condition and not in any danger of water damage.
Electric Panels and Subpanels
If your home is older, it is critical to make sure your home does not have a discontinued or recalled electrical panel model. (Zinsco, Federal Pacific, GTE/Sylvania, and I-T-E Pushmatic brands need to be replaced.) Our electricians will check the condition of the electric panel and assess whether or not your family’s electrical usage is overtaxing the system. If so, an upgrade may be necessary for safety reasons.
During an electric home inspection, our electricians and technicians check many other safety aspects in the home that can affect electrical function and safety. We check appliance circuits, look for water damage in electrically sensitive areas, make sure all of the smoke alarms are in good order, and also evaluate the light fixtures and ceiling fans. We leave no circuit, outlet, or loose wire unchecked!
If you’re looking for electricians in Bluffton, Hilton Head, or the surrounding Lowcountry who can provide a first-class electrical safety inspection for your home, call us at (843) 505-1167. It could be the key to keeping your home and family safe from danger.