The lights simply turn on and our refrigerator just runs. Electricity plays such a common role in our everyday lives that we take it for granted.
As you read this article, count all the devices running on electricity all around you. We bet there are at least a dozen things connected to power just within eyesight...
But while we’re literally surrounded by electricity throughout our homes, rarely do we think about the dangers of electrocution and electrical fire. Unfortunately, these are very real threats that can lead to injury— and even death— or destroy your home.
Luckily, electrocution and electrical fires can be prevented by understanding how electricity works and implementing basic electrical safety practices at home.
Here are ten home electricity best practices to keep you and your family safe:
Safety Tip #1: Check Electrical Cords & Wires
When you plug anything electronic into the wall, the current travels through the cord into the appliance. This cord is like the train tracks leading to the next stop; if the train can’t move across the tracks, the device won’t work. Unfortunately, cords often don’t completely stop working; they become faulty as a result of damage or age.
Because damaged or aging power cords can spark and lead to electrical fire or shock to the touch, we advise checking your home’s electric cords, room-by-room, every few months. Look for discoloration, fraying, or any other signs that they are past their prime. And remember, don’t run cords under rugs— heat damage can go unseen until a fire strikes.
Safety Tip #2: Understand the Proper Use of Extension Cords
Roughly 3,300 home fires start with a faulty extension cord each year, according to The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Many homeowners mistakenly use extension cords as permanent fixtures, but although these long cords are a great temporary solution for working outdoors, extension cords should never be used as a permanent solution in your home. Why not? Because they are not designed for long-term, continual use.
If you must use one of these long cords in your home for a quick fix, let it be just for a few hours. Never plug an extension cord into another extension cord and always use them with your three-prong “ground fault circuit interrupter” (GFCI) outlets. Find more electrical safety tips about extension cords from ESFI here.
But what if my cord won’t reach the wall?, you might wonder. If you have appliances that cannot reach your outlets, the proper solution is to professionally install more outlets in your room. (Luckily, we can help with that!).
Safety Tip #3: Always Unplug Electronics When Not in Use OR Buy Smart Power Strips
You may have heard it said that it’s best to unplug devices when not using them. Not only can this save a tiny bit on your electricity bill, but it increases your home electrical safety. Don’t believe us? It’s advice straight from The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission itself.
Despite this recommendation, we get that no one is going to run around their house unplugging things before they leave. The more realistic solution is to purchase smart power strips to stop the flow of electricity when not in use. According to Energy.gov, smart power strips “cut power off and save energy since they are able to detect when a device is in standby mode.” Here are a few options on Amazon.
Safety Tip #4: Don’t Overload Power Strips
Even if you invest in smart power strips, certain strips are only rated to support a specific collective voltage. Additionally, each individual outlet will also have its own voltage rating.
Having ten things plugged into one outlet may be okay for low-load devices and appliances, but for higher-load devices, you are best off spacing them out across a few outlets and power strips. Always check the rating on your strips before purchasing and understand the wattage requirements of your devices. You can use The US Department of Energy’s Energy Saver Calculator to do this!
Once again, your best bet may be to install more outlets in your home. While this sounds like a temporary pain, it can be a wise long-term investment for your family’s safety (not to mention, convenience).
Safety Tip #5: Unplug with Care
When you do have to unplug an electric device, there’s a right and a wrong way to do so. Be sure to pull from the plastic housing on the plug to remove it from a wall socket. Never pull from the cord itself. This can stretch the wires and connections inside the cable, causing a short and increasing your future chance of electrical shock and fire.
Safety Tip #6: Protect Your Outlets
The holes in your outlets directly lead to electricity! Whether you have children or nosey pets, it’s important to make sure your outlets are tamper-resistant to reduce your risk of electrocution or electrical fire.
- Make sure all light switch plates and outlet faceplates are fully screwed in and properly secured in place.
- Never leave a faceplate off and allow your outlet’s wires to be exposed.
- Invest in outlet covers like plug caps or sliding plate covers for when not in use.
- If you have any older outlets with just two prongs, consider upgrading them to GFCI, three-prong outlets with a safer grounding port.
- Inspect and test your outlets every year to ensure they’re performing properly. Are your outlets warm to the touch? Faded or discolored? Spark when you unplug something? Check out our advice for checking your outlets here.
Safety Tip #7: Keep Electronics Away from Water
It’s no secret that water and electricity don’t mix. For this reason, The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires GFCI compliant receptacles and breakers to be installed in areas with a high potential of water splash like kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, outdoor wall plugs and garages.
You can tell a GFCI receptacle apart from a regular, unprotected receptacle by looking for the two “Reset” and “Test” buttons in the center of the outlet. These outlets are designed to cut electricity to an outlet if moisture is sensed nearby.
Even if you use a GFCI-safe outlet, never operate electric appliances like hair dryers and radios near running or pooled water for added safety. This includes using portable devices while they’re charging, such as Kindles and iPhones.
Also, don’t touch electrical equipment, including light switches and power cords, with wet or damp hands.
Safety Tip #8: Inspect Your Electrical Panel
Most of us only think about our electrical panel when we need to reset a circuit breaker. But your breaker box routes the electricity to all your outlets and manages a whole lot of wattage!
Like everything, electrical panels have a lifespan and eventually need to be replaced. If you’re having to reset your breakers all the time, your panel is older than 20 years old, or you’re adding a few major appliances to your home, it may be time for a replacement.
Even if your panel is in tip-top shape, it’s still wise to have it inspected every year by a professional who can spot any potential issues.
Safety Tip #9: Don’t Forget About Outdoor Electrical Safety
The electricity tips in this post mainly apply to indoor use. But you’re in luck; we wrote a whole separate blog on tips for staying safe outside. Whether it’s working with power equipment or performing renovations, the article is packed with great advice for working in your yard and lanai. Check out these 8 Outdoor Electrical Safety Tips.
Safety Tip #10: Bring in a Certified Professional for the Big Stuff
When you need electrical work done, your best protection against electrocution and electrical fires is hiring a licensed electrician, like our team at Southwest Florida Electric, for your home electrical needs.
While some smaller projects you can do yourself, we recommend reading our article The Do’s and Don’ts of DIY Electrical Projects to know what’s safer to leave to the certified professionals.
Download Your Very Own Electrical Toolkit
If you like to do things yourself, we’ve got an excellent resource for you. The Homeowner’s Easy Electrical Maintenance Toolkit is packed with 13 pages of tips for performing popular electrical projects all on your own.
For the bigger jobs like installing outlets or replacing electrical panels, explore our Electric Services or give us a call at (239) 307-0716, today.