During a typical year, home electrical problems account for 67,800 fires, 485 deaths, and $868 million in property losses. Home electrical wiring causes twice as many fires as electrical appliances.
December is the most dangerous month for electrical fires. Fire deaths are highest in winter months which call for more indoor activities and increase in lighting, heating, and appliance use. Most electrical wiring fires start in the bedroom.
– Electrical Wiring
- Most electrical fires result from problems with "fixed wiring" such as faulty electrical outlets and old wiring. Problems with cords and plugs, such as extension and appliance cords, also cause many home electrical fires.
- In urban areas, faulty wiring accounts for 33% of residential electrical fires.
- Many avoidable electrical fires can be traced to misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance and running the cords under rugs or in high traffic areas.
– Home Appliances
- The home appliances most often involved in electrical fires are electric stoves and ovens, dryers, central heating units, televisions, radios and record players.
Prevent Electrical Problems
Studies of electrical fires in homes show that many problems are associated with improper installation of electrical devices by do-it-yourselfers. Common errors that can lead to fires include the use of improperly rated devices such as switches or receptacles and loose connections at these devices. Both can lead to overheating and arcing that can start fires. Fires are still caused by people using the wrong size fuse or even putting a penny behind a fuse when they don’t have a spare. These practices are very dangerous. The fuse is a safety device designed to limit the electricity carried by the circuit to a safe level. Electricity and water are a bad combination. All electrical devices installed outdoors should be specially designed for outdoor use. Outdoor receptacles as well as those in kitchens, bathrooms, and anywhere else near water should be the ground fault circuit interrupting type (GFCI).
Use Electrical Devices Safely
Light bulbs, especially the newer halogen types, get very hot and can ignite combustible materials that get too close. Clothing or towels should never be placed atop a lampshade and table lamps should not be used without a shade where they might fall over onto a bed or sofa. Most light fixtures are labeled to show the brightest bulb that can be safely used in that fixture; too high a wattage bulb can cause the fixture to overheat and start a fire. Extension cords are a common cause of electrical fires. You must be careful to use only extension cords that are rated for the power used by the device they are powering. Extension cords should never be used as a long term solution to the need for another receptacle. Extension cords must never be run inside walls or under rugs or furniture. Extension cords can get warm in use and must be able to dissipate this heat or they can start a fire.
Maintain Electrical Safely
The insulation on electrical cords can become damaged by wear, flexing, or age. Do not use any cord that is stiff or cracked. Some clues that you may have an electrical problem are:
- Flickering lights. If the lights dim every time you turn on an appliance that circuit is overloaded or has a loose connection.
- Sparks. If sparks appear when you insert or remove a plug, they could be a sign of loose connections.
- Warm electrical cord. If an electrical cord is warm to the touch, the cord is underrated or defective.
- Frequent blown fuses or broken circuits. A fuse or circuit breaker that keeps tripping is an important warning sign of problems.
- Frequent bulb burnout. A light bulb that burns out frequently is a sign that the bulb is too high a wattage for the fixture.
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
- Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
- Use electrical extension cords wisely and don’t overload them.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
- When buying electrical appliances look for products which meet the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) standard for safety.
- Don’t allow children to play with or around electrical appliances like space heaters, irons and hair dryers.
- Keep clothes, curtains and other potentially combustible items at least three feet from all heaters.
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
- Never overload extension cords or wall sockets. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker. Use safety closures to "child-proof" electrical outlets.
- Check your electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them. Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.