Although electricity powers almost all of the important equipment we use in the home, it also comes with risks. Therefore, managing your family’s electrical safety is an essential part of creating a safe home. Unfortunately, families today live on the go. With our busy schedules, we tend to put items without a concrete deadline on our back burner. The evaluation and management of our home’s electric safety and correction of electrical hazards should never fall into this category. Now is the perfect time to learn more about the basics of electrical safety.
Preventing Electrical Overloads
Overloaded electrical circuits cause many of the 47,000 electrical fires that occur in American homes each year. These overloads are fairly common and many homeowners don’t understand the risks, warning signs or ways to prevent them.
Warning Signs of an Overloaded Circuit:
- Dimming, blinking or flickering lights in the home.
- Circuit breaker keeps getting tripped all the time.
- Blown fuses on the circuit breaker.
- Buzzing, sizzling or cracking sounds coming from an outlet.
- A burning smell coming from a switch or outlet.
- Discolored or warm wall plates.
- Any tingle or mild shock from touching a switch, outlet or appliance.
Preventing Overloaded Electrical Circuits:
- Avoid using multi-outlet converters or extension cords on appliances.
- Make sure that all of your major appliances are plugged directly into the wall outlet.
- Only one heat-producing appliance should be plugged into an outlet at the same time.
- Do you have enough outlets to meet your needs? If you’re using a lot of extension cords, that answer is probably no. Call an electrician to add outlets if that is the case.
- Remember that power strips cannot alter the amount of electrical power coming from an outlet. They just add additional places to plug-in appliances.
Understanding the Limitations of Extension Cords
When used incorrectly, extension cords can overheat and start fires in the home. In fact, about 3,300 house fires every year start with an improperly-used extension cord. You can avoid these risks by understanding the limitations of extension cords.
- Never plug two extension cords into one another.
- Before using an extension cord, check the rating to ensure it can handle the use:
- Is it an indoor or outdoor extension cord?
- Is it rated to meet or exceed the power needs of this situation?
- Always keep standing water and snow away from outdoor extension cords.
- If you notice that you’re using a lot of extension cords, consider hiring a professional to install extra outlets.
- Look over your extension cords before using them. Check for damaged areas such as bare wires, loose connections, and cracked sockets.
- Never staple or nail an extension cord to the baseboard or wall.
- Remember that extension cords need open air to cool. Without a way for heat to escape, they become fire hazards. Never run them through a wall, over a ceiling or under the floor.
- Three-prong extension plugs should never be used with two-slot outlets. Removing the ground pin can cause electrical shock.
- Never use an extension cord or a power strip for a fan or heater. These devices can cause the cords to overheat and start a fire.
DIY Electrical Safety
Now that consumers can go online and watch how-to videos so easily, more and more homeowners are choosing to do their own electrical work. However, no one can watch a 5-minute video and have all the knowledge they need to safely do electrical work in their home. Without the proper training, you put yourself at risk of serious injuries and may put your family at risk of future electrical dangers.
It is extremely important to do thorough research and planning before you start working with electricity. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, almost 400 electrocutions occur every year in the U.S.
All the experts strongly recommend that you hire a licensed electrician to do electrical work in your home, but, if you insist on doing it yourself, always follow these tips:
- Your first step should always involve cutting the power to the circuit you’re about to work on. Switch off this circuit breaker on your primary service panel before doing anything else.
- Never start working on an appliance before unplugging it.
- Before touching any wires, test them for electricity to make sure there is no power running through the system.
- Spend plenty of time doing research to learn about the electrical system in your home. The more you know about it, the more safely you can navigate the work.
- Know when to call in the professionals. You should never start a project that you know is beyond your level of skill.
- During any electrical project, it is essential that you do not touch any plumbing or gas pipes.
Electrical Safety Tips: Power Tools and Equipment
Most DIY projects require the use of power tools or other equipment in some way. Whenever you use one of these tools, take a moment to think about the potential risks. Power tools and equipment account for 17 percent of all electrocutions related to consumer products in the U.S.
- Always use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) when plugging in a power tool.
- Don’t use power tools near water lines or electrical wires.
- Don’t use an extension cord more than 100 feet long when plugging in a power tool.
- Always use extreme caution when there is any possibility that your power tool could touch or penetrate an electrical wire or water line.
- Only use tools with insulated grips when working on electrical projects.
- Avoid using any power tools missing the proper guards.
Personal Protective Equipment Tips
- Outdoor tools come with safeguards for your protection. Always check to ensure they are in place before starting work.
- Safety goggles, hearing protection, gloves and dust masks are worth every dollar when it comes to protection. Look at what other safety gear may be recommended for each tool you plan on using.
- You wouldn’t wear sandals while you mow your lawn, so don’t wear inappropriate clothing to work on electrical projects either.
Home Electrical Safety Checklist
We all go to the doctor for regular wellness check-ups, but your home needs regular safety checks as well. Go through this electrical safety checklist at least once a year to identify potential hazards before they become serious problems:
- Are all of your outlets and switches working properly? If not, this could signal an unsafe wiring situation and potential fire risk. Hire a licensed electrician to come check on these outlets and switches.
- Do any of your outlets or switches feel warm? Warm areas like these also indicate unsafe wiring. You should stop using these outlets and switches immediately. You can resume use after a licensed electrician fixes the problem.
- Is there any discoloration of your outlets and switches? These discolored areas can mean that there is a very dangerous build-up of heat around these connections. Stop using them until you can get an electrician to check it.
- Can you hear any buzzing, crackling or sizzling sounds coming from your outlets and switches? These odd noises represent a red flag and they can mean that your wiring is unsafe. Call your electrician to check on these connections.
- Are your plugs fitting snuggly into your outlets? If your plugs are fitting loose in the outlets, this can result in overheating and even fires. Loose outlets should be replaced as soon as possible by a licensed electrician.
Other Electrical Safety Tips for Your Home
There may still be a few things that you don’t know about electrical safety within the home. Check out these quick tips to learn more:
Know Your Electric Panel
If your home was built before 1990, you should check to make sure your electric panel does not pose any electrical safety risks. Some brands like Zinsco, ITE Pushmatic, GTE/Sylvania and Federal Pacific are no longer manufactured. These panels have faulty wiring that could lead to a fire. Remember, your electric panel should never feel hot.
Listen to Your Breakers
Although it can be frustrating when they trip, your breakers are there for your safety. If they’re getting tripped, you could have too many devices plugged into one circuit. If you’re still having problems with tripping after moving around some appliances, you should call a licensed electrician to determine the issue.
Ground Your Older Appliances
If you have old appliances, there’s a good chance that they have two-pronged plugs that don’t allow for proper grounding. Check all of your appliances, especially those in the kitchen, to make sure they all have three-pronged plugs. Replace any two-pronged plugs immediately. If any outlets have only two-slots, replace those and have a new circuit installed.
Don’t Ignore Flickering Lights
Flickering lights represent a red flag. They signal that your electrical panel may need to be repaired or replaced or that you have too many devices connected to a single circuit. Never ignore issues like these. The power of electricity can make it dangerous when used improperly, but as long as you and your family understand electrical safety in the home, you should never have a problem!