Electrical fires are often the leading cause of home fires in the United States each year according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Overloaded circuits, damaged cords, holiday overuse, and older homes with outdated wiring can spread sparks that could put your home up in flames. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent the risk of an electrical fire in your home.
Overloaded electrical sockets can cause sparks, resulting in exposed wires and possibly fires. Buy power strips with internal overload protection so the strips can shut off power when overloaded. Only one major appliance like an oven or refrigerator should be plugged into an outlet at a time.
Outlets and electrical equipment should also be far away from items like:
- flammable liquids
- oil, dirt, or dust buildup
Major appliances and space heaters should be plugged into wall outlets directly and not extension cords. These cords don’t offer the safety precautions that modern wall outlets do and should only be used in temporary situations. Extension cords lying around walkways and by doors can be damaged by people walking on them, and create a tripping hazard. Cables and cords placed under rugs or carpets can start on fire if they become overheated. Throw damaged cords away immediately.
Holidays bring special electrical challenges. There may be more guests in your home during the holidays, and all at a time that you’re showcasing holiday cooking and lighted decorations. Inspect all seasonal cords and light sets, replacing damaged ones. Holiday lighting shouldn’t be used for more than a 90-day period. Make sure that all cords used outside are specifically manufactured for outdoor use.
Have an electrician review your home’s wiring once every decade to make sure the wiring is safe and find potential problems. Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) should protect electrical outlets. Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) should be installed outdoors and also in each kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or in the basement. Ask the electrician if he or she can add extra outlets or circuits so you don’t feel the temptation to overuse extension cords or overburden existing outlets.
Don’t wait for a fire to start. Call a licensed electrician if you notice:
- outlets that feel hot to the touch
- odd sounds
- frayed wires
- fuses that are blowing constantly
- circuits that are tripping frequently
- flickering or dimming lights
- loose plugs
- bulbs that wear out too fast
- shocks or mild tingles
- faulty switches
Prevention is crucial, but so is knowing what to do in a worst-case scenario. Ensure that your home has the proper amount of smoke alarms to alert you and your family members of an emergency. You should have Class C fire extinguishers on hand in the event of an electrical fire. Develop an escape route out of the home in case of a fire, and find two ways to leave each room. Designate a safe meeting place outside. Every person living in your home should participate in a fire drill at least twice a year.
One of the major sources of fires in the United States–electrical issues–is preventable. Don’t overload circuits, especially during holidays. Inspect extension cords and all other cords frequently and replace damaged ones immediately. An older home’s wiring will eventually need to be updated, so hire a qualified electrician to look at your home. Keep your loved ones safe and avoid a costly repair by preventing an electrical fire.