A four year study by the National Fire Protection Association found 47,820 fires were caused by electrical failure. These fires caused hundreds of deaths and $1.5 billion in property damage.
Preventing these catastrophes may simply be a matter of routine maintenance and an attentive eye. Many homeowners neglect their electrical system because of all the confusing talk about circuits, currents, amps, and watts. Although many electrical concerns should be handled by professionals, there are easy steps homeowners can take to protect their homes.
We created this simple guide for those proactive homeowners. With everything from smoke detectors and outlets to extension cords and proper grounding, you will be able to diagnose and fix minor electrical problems… you may even find a few scenarios that require immediate professional attention.
If you find an electrical problem needing immediate attention, don’t hesitate to contact an electrical professional. They will diagnose and quickly fix your problem. Never wait to call, your family’s lives may depend on it!
PRO TIP: If your electrical cords are frayed, they must be promptly repaired or replaced. Damaged electrical cords are a shock and fire hazard.
Install Smoke Detectors
Even the most vigilant homeowner can fall victim to a devastating house fire. Install and regularly test your smoke detectors to protect against such a disaster. Smoke detectors should be installed on every level of the home, inside all sleeping areas, in stairways and hallways, and in the garage.
Since smoke rises, the ideal place for a smoke detector is on the ceiling. If you are installing smoke detectors on the wall, ensure they are placed within one foot of the ceiling. If you have a pitched ceiling, install the smoke detectors six inches below the apex of the peak. It’s equally important to consider the interference caused by a draft. Avoid installing detectors near doors, ducts, vents, or windows.
Regularly Check Smoke Detectors
Just like the battery in your smartphone, your smoke detector battery won’t last forever. Use the “test” button to check your smoke detector at least once every month. Smoke detectors will need a new battery at least once every year. If the alarm makes a chirping sound, you must immediately replace your battery.
If your battery needs replacing, the back of the alarm will designate the proper battery type. If the manufacturer’s instructions signify a special type of battery brand or model, don’t risk your family’s safety with a knock-off brand.
Even if your alarm uses a non-replaceable 10 year battery, do not neglect a monthly test. If the battery fails the test, replace the smoke detector immediately.
PRO TIP: Prevent false alarms! Install smoke alarms at least 10 feet from your cooking area.
Know Your Smoke Detector
These smoke detectors use Americium-241 to create a current between two small metal plates. When smoke disrupts the current, the alarm is tripped. Since it can detect small amounts of smoke, ionization detectors are used in kitchens where fast flaming fires are more common.
By positioning a light source and a light-sensitive electric sensor at a 90 degree angle, this alarm trips when smoke enters and scatters the light and it hits the sensor. This type of smoke detector responds quickly to fires in the smoldering stage - the moment before it bursts into flames.
Using both an ionization and photoelectric sensor, these smoke detectors can detect both a fast flame fire and a smoldering fire. The combination of the two sensors makes the dual sensor smoke detector the safest option.
PRO TIP: If you have young children, use the monthly test as an opportunity to explain the importance of fire safety. Discuss the proper response in the event of an emergency.
Pay Attention to Your Electrical System
Your home electrical system may just seem like a bunch of wires and circuits, but it’s actually alive! If you pay attention to your electrical system’s aches and pains, you can prevent serious and costly problems.
The best way to monitor your system is to fix minor problems when you first notice them. Make note of things like frayed wires, damaged electrical cords, and condensation or water pooling below major appliances.
If you have a room where circuit breakers trip often or the lights constantly flicker, you may have a serious wiring problem. Remember, your circuit breaker prevents electrical fires by tripping when it’s overloaded.
Therefore, if your system frequently trips, it’s overloaded and possibly a fire hazard. If you unplug major appliances and the problem persists, you are dealing with a serious wiring concern. To decrease the chance of a fire, immediately contact an electrical professional.
Check Your Outlets
Checking your electrical outlets is like taking your temperature with a thermometer: You can tell you have a fever, but only a doctor can properly diagnose and address the problem. Believe it or not, simply checking your outlets is an easy way to take the temperature of your home’s electrical system. If the outlet is hot you may be at risk of a serious electrical fire. You can’t take your home to the doctor, but you can call an electrician. They will diagnose your electrical ills and provide a remedy.
Begin by grabbing a pen and paper to make a list of all the electrical outlets in your home. Since some outlets are located behind appliances, you may need the assistance of a friend or family member. Once you have your list, check to see if your outlets have any of the following problems:
- ARE YOUR ELECTRICAL OUTLETS WARM TO THE TOUCH?
- ARE YOUR ELECTRICAL OUTLETS FADED OR DISCOLORED?
- DO YOUR ELECTRICAL OUTLETS MAKE A CRACKLING OR SIZZLING NOISE WHEN SOMETHING IS PLUGGED IN?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be at risk. Contact an electrical professional immediately! They can find and fix the issue before the concern becomes a dangerous incident.
PRO TIP: Cover all unused electrical outlets with covers or install tamper resistant outlets.
Do Your Outlets Need a GFCI Update?
Water and electricity don’t mix. This makes areas like laundry rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoor living spaces especially susceptible to danger. To prevent a deadly shock, make sure your home is equipped with the latest GFCI outlets.
DO I HAVE A GFCI OUTLET?
It’s easy to tell the difference between a traditional and a GFCI outlet. A GFCI outlet has a pair of three-pronged outlets separated by a test and reset button.
How Does a Ground Fault Work?
Electricity always wants to find a way to the ground. A ground fault is when electricity does in fact find its way to the ground. Unfortunately, this path can be through a person’s body.
A GFCI prevents a dangerous incident by measuring the amount of electricity flowing in and out of the circuit. If the GFCI detects even a minor variance in electricity, it will immediately shut off the circuit.
WATT IS THAT? GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.
PRO TIP: Immediately replace any electrical tool if it causes small shocks, overheats, shorts, or gives off smoke or sparks.
Regularly Test Your GFCI Outlets
If you drop your hair dryer into the water, a malfunctioning GFCI outlet won’t protect you. Only by regularly testing your GFCI outlets can you prevent such a disaster. An outlet tester is the easiest way to verify functionality. If you do not own an outlet tester, grab an electrical device, like a lamp, and conduct the following test:
The GFCI Test
- PUSH THE “RESET” BUTTON ON THE GFCI
- PLUG IN AN ELECTRICAL DEVICE
- POWER ON YOUR DEVICE
- PRESS THE “TEST” BUTTON. IF THE DEVICE DOES NOT TURN OFF WHEN YOU PUSH THE “TEST” BUTTON, YOUR GFCI MAY BE INCORRECTLY INSTALLED OR DAMAGED.
If your GFCI fails the test, your electrical system could pose a fire and/or electrocution risk. Remember, water and electricity don’t mix, so if your kitchen or bathroom GFCI isn’t working, you’re not protected.
PRO TIP: If you purchase a receptacle outlet tester, you can easily check to see if your outlets are correctly wired and grounded.
Check Your Extension Cords
Extension cords are an essential part of every homeowner’s repertoire. They are a great temporary solution for working outdoors or getting power to your TV at a tailgate. Although they have many practical uses, extension cords should never be used as a permanent solution. Use the extension cord best practices in the next section to prevent serious damage.
The Extension Cord Dont’s
- DON’T PLUG A MAJOR APPLIANCE INTO AN EXTENSION CORD
- DON’T ATTACH MULTIPLE CORDS TOGETHER
- DON’T OVERLOAD AN OUTLET WITH MULTIPLE CORDS
- DON’T RUN THROUGH DOORWAYS OR UNDER CARPET
- DON’T USE INDOORS FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME
- DON’T USE INDOOR EXTENSION CORDS OUTSIDE
- DON’T POWER MULTIPLE APPLIANCES WITH A SINGLE CORD
- DON’T REMOVE AN EXTENSION CORD’S GROUNDING PIN
Follow these rules, and all your extension cord days will be filled with light and happiness! If you still need to get power to an appliance or electrical device far away from an outlet, contact a professional electrician. They can give your home a practical, permanent, and safe solution.
PRO TIP: The electrical capacity of an extension cord is actually a combination of the gauge of the cord and its length. As a cord increases in length, its capacity diminishes.
Is Your Home Properly Grounded?
No, we aren’t talking about your home’s emotional stability, we are talking about your electric! In the event of a short circuit, the electrical current will find the quickest route to ground. Grounding is the way electricity returns safely to the ground by way of the service panel.
If your home is properly grounded, the current will flow, quite literally, into the ground. If your home is improperly grounded, the current will find the quickest way to ground… and that could very well be through you. Although the cartoon characters of old may make it seem hilarious, a short circuit is no laughing matter. It can result in serious injury and possibly even death.
A ground wire is used to carry excess current away from the home in case of a short circuit.
You May Be at Risk if…
- YOUR HOME WAS BUILT BEFORE THE YEAR 1950
- YOUR HOME WAS BUILT IN THE 1960s OR 1970s USING ALUMINUM WIRING
- YOU RECENTLY REPLACED A SECTION OF COPPER PLUMBING PIPE WITH A PVC PIPE.
PRO TIP: In a properly grounded outlet, the large slot is neutral, the small slot is “hot” and the u-shaped hole is the ground.
Check Your Bulbs
The wattage numbers aren’t just on your fixtures and bulbs for decoration! Before you go to the store to buy new light bulbs, check the wattage numbers on your lamps and light fixtures. They will specify the appropriate bulb wattage.
You can either match the wattage of the fixture with the bulb, such as a 60 watt bulb with a 60 watt fixture, or use a bulb of a lesser wattage, such as a 40 watt bulb with a 60 watt fixture. But you should never exceed the specified wattage, such as a 75 watt bulb with 60 watt fixture.
How to Replace Your Bulb
- TURN OFF THE SWITCH CONNECTED WITH YOUR LIGHT BULB.
- DELICATELY TWIST THE BULB COUNTER CLOCKWISE UNTIL IT’S FREE.
- PROPERLY DISCARD THE OLD LIGHT BULB.
- INSERT THE NEW BULB AND ROTATE IT CLOCKWISE UNTIL IT’S SECURE.
- TURN ON THE SWITCH CONNECTED WITH YOUR NEW LIGHT BULB.
If you’ve ever tried to change a light bulb right after you turn it off, you’ve probably burned your finger! Light bulbs get really hot and therefore can be serious fire hazards. To minimize the danger, never put anything flammable on top of a lamp or light bulb.
PRO TIP: Avoid improper disposal of energy efficient CFL bulbs. Contact your local garbage service for more information!
Schedule a Professional Consultation
Even if you follow all the best practices for maintaining your electrical system, it’s still wise to consult a professional.
Whether you just moved into your new home, or you’ve been there for years, an electrical professional will help diagnose and fix any major or minor electrical problems.
From smoke detectors and outlets to grounds and circuit boards, your electrical professional will verify the safety of your home’s electrical system. Even if you just want an explanation of the intricacies of your electrical system, call an electrician today – they’ll be happy to demonstrate their expertise!
PRO TIP: Schedule routine safety consultations with a trusted electrician.
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