We tend to take for granted just how many electrical devices we have running all hours of the day … until something goes wrong. While many modern-day electronics and electrical systems are designed for safety, there is always a risk. Electrical fires result in hundreds of injuries and deaths and cause billions of dollars in property damage. These fires are also more likely to happen between midnight and 6 am which makes them extremely dangerous. Knowing the most common causes of electrical fires will help you address any issues to prevent fires from happening. The following are the most common electrical hazards that lead to fires:
Old Or Ungrounded Electrical Outlets
You can tell if you have grounded outlets in your home very easily by looking at the number of prongs. Three-prong outlets are grounded as the third slot acts as the “ground” slot and provides excess electricity with a safe escape route in the event of a power surge. Two-prong outlets do not have a grounding mechanism and are not protected from power surges. If you have an older home that contains two-prong outlets, you must call a professional electrician for an upgrade.
The electrical outlets in your kitchen and bathroom must have a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). The GFCI in these outlets constantly monitors the flow of electricity and it will shut off the circuit if it detects any imbalances. This helps avoid electrical shocks or fires that can happen if the outlets encounter water. Electrical outlets with a GFCI have “Test” and “Reset” buttons on the outlet. If you do not have these types of outlets in your kitchen or bathroom, you should consider an upgrade.
Faulty Or Outdated Wiring
Faulty wiring is one of the main causes of electrical fires. However, it can be difficult to tell if the wiring in your home is outdated or faulty because most of it is behind the walls. If your home is at least 20 years old, there is a chance that the wiring system is too old to handle modern electronics like wide-screen TVs, computers, microwaves, video game consoles, and others. Circuits trip the breakers whenever they become overloaded with electricity but if the wiring is faulty, it will not trip the breakers, increasing the risk of an electrical fire.
The following are signs of faulty wiring:
Circuit breakers consistently overloaded
Regular power outages or surges
Excessive heat from appliances and electronics
Sparks or shocks when using outlets
The smell of burning
If you notice any of these signs in your home, contact a professional electrician for an inspection.
Permanent Extension Cord Use
Extension cords are another common cause of electrical fires because they can overload an electrical outlet or circuit. You should never use extension cords as a permanent solution to plug multiple devices or appliances into a single outlet. Plugging electrical appliances directly into the outlet is the safest option. An electrician can install new grounded outlets into the wall to help you avoid excessive use of extension cords. If you must use an extension cord, do not run them under carpeting, rugs, or other potentially flammable materials. Remember that extension cord use should be temporary so make sure you seek a more permanent solution.
Misuse Of Light Fixtures
Light fixtures and lamps become fire hazards if they have faulty wiring or if the light bulbs or outlets used do not accommodate the wattage. You should only replace light bulbs with bulbs of the recommended wattage or bulbs that have a lower wattage to avoid overheating that could lead to fires. Keep flammable materials like curtains and other textiles away from light fixtures and lamps, and do not use paper or cloth coverings over a lampshade.
Misuse Of Space Heaters
Many people use space heaters during the winter to make their homes a little more comfortable with some extra heat. However, space heaters are one of the biggest electrical hazards when it comes to starting fires. The coils in space heaters can quickly ignite clothing, upholstery, curtains, bedsheets, and other flammable materials. Make sure your space heater has safety features that reduce the risk of a fire and plug it directly into an electrical outlet. Keep the space heater away from flammable materials and turn it off before leaving it unattended.
To reduce the risk for electrical fires in your home, take the following safety measures:
- Have your home inspected for loose wires, shorts, and faulty wiring that increase the risk for potential electrical fires.
- Install a smoke detector on every level of your home and inside each bedroom. Also, make sure the smoke detectors are working properly by testing them every month.
- Use safe cord practices in the home. Repair or replace loose, frayed, or cracked cords. Consider having additional outlets installed by an electrician.
- Use a surge protector to protect appliances and other electronics in your home. There are two basic types of surge protectors: the power strip with surge protector and the wall-mount surge protector. When buying a surge protector, find one that has the Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) mark of approval and avoid overloading it. And remember, just like other items in the home, surge protectors get old and should be replaced, especially if your home experiences a large surge or frequent power surges.
- Store flammables away from electrical appliances. Establish a safe, designated area for flammable chemicals in your home. As the weather chills, portable electric space heaters pose a high risk, and don’t forget about the risk of lamps, hair dryers, curling irons, or clothes irons. Blankets, rugs, or towels can quickly ignite and start a fire.
- Place a fire extinguisher in all common areas of your home. The National Fire Protection Association says a multi-purpose extinguisher that can be used on all types of home fires and carries the label of an independent testing laboratory is the best choice. Household fire extinguishers are classified A, B, or C, or most commonly, a combination of these three. So, look for a multi-purpose fire extinguisher that carries the “A,B,C” classifications at your local home store. Read the instructions on the fire extinguisher so you are ready to use it in case of emergency. Also, make sure everyone in the home knows how to use it. While fire extinguishers are great for small fires or containing a fire until the fire department arrives, never forget that the number-one priority is to get you and your family out safely.
- Install an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) breaker in your home. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association says having an AFCI breaker provides greater fire protection for homeowners than a standard circuit breaker. An AFCI monitors the circuits in your home for the presence of “dangerous” arcing conditions and instantly disconnects the damaged circuit before the arc has time to build enough heat to cause a fire. An AFCI is not overly expensive but can offer you peace of mind that your family is safe. Have a qualified electrician install the AFCI breaker since installation involves working within electrical panel boxes.
Cleanup Up After Electrical Fires
Sometimes, even when taking every possible precaution, a fire may still occur in your home. If you have had an electrical fire in your home, you may require professional assistance in cleaning up the smoke, soot, and fire damage. Xtreme Home Improvement can provide all the services you will need, including:
- Boardup services for unsafe structures
- Removal and disposal of ruined items
- Removal and storage of salvageable items
- Soot removal
- Corrosion mitigation
- Restoration services
Best of all, we are trusted by many major insurance providers and will work directly with them to submit an initial fire damage assessment quickly and get your restoration project started ASAP. [Lean More …]