We treasure our homes as a safe and cozy place where we can relax with family and friends. But there may be invisible hazards hidden behind your walls or lurking unseen outdoors that threaten your safety and that of your loved ones. It’s always a good idea to find out just how safe your home is from electrical fires and hazards.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there’s plenty of reason for concern: Nearly 32,000 fires in the home were caused by faulty house wiring or wiring devices each year between 1999 and 2002. These fires resulted in 220 deaths, 950 injuries, and $674 million in property damage annually.
Now for the good news—there is something you can do to safeguard your home from dangerous electrical hazards. The Leviton Institute, an educational initiative to promote consumer awareness of electrical safety, recommends you hire a qualified electrician to make a thorough inspection of your house and grounds every ten years. You should also make your own yearly inspection a part of your regular spring chores. It’s easy—just follow this list:
Make sure all outdoor receptacles are protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) and a weatherproof cover. Spring will be here before you know it, and pools, hot tubs and barbeques are going to start getting a lot of use. Make sure pool pumps, hot tubs and appliances you use outdoors are plugged into GFCI-protected outlets. These will safeguard your friends and family from dangerous electrical shock.
GFCIs detect when current is leaking from an electrical circuit to ground and automatically shut off the power at the receptacle. They have saved hundreds of lives since they were first introduced in 1972, according to the National Electrical Safety Foundation. When choosing a GFCI, it’s important to note that Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has recently updated its requirements for these devices.
New models now offer greater protection by automatically blocking the reset button (ensuring that no power is available) if they are improperly wired.
All GFCIs produced after July 28, 2006 will include these new features, although GFCIs made before then may still be offered for sale after that date. With both newer and older models, it is important to periodically test (according to the manufacturer’s instructions) your installed GFCIs to make sure they are still working properly.
Kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, or any other place around the house that has a water source within six feet of the receptacle needs GFCI protection. Remember: Water and electricity are a potentially deadly combination. Keep appliances like radios or hair dryers away from sinks, tubs and pools.
Defective Wiring Devices
Check outlets and switches for cracks, broken parts or loose-fitting plugs. Replace defective devices immediately, as well as those that feel hot to the touch.
Make sure outlets are not overloaded. Most household outlets are typically rated around 15 to 20 amps. Plugging too many appliances into one outlet can exceed that rating and create a fire or shock hazard.
Inspect all power cords and extension cords: Those showing signs of cracking, fraying or obvious wear should be replaced immediately.
Never run extensions under rugs, carpets or furniture where damage might occur unseen and start a fire. When using an extension cord, always plug the appliance into the extension cord first before plugging the extension cord into the outlet.
Be sure to replace a burned-out light bulb with one that doesn’t exceed the recommended wattage for the lamp socket.
Testing a GFCI is Easy:Plug a nightlight or lamp into the GFCI.Turn the light on and push the TEST button on the GFCI. The GFCI should trip and the light should go off.Press the RESET button. The GFCI should reset and the light should come back on.If the light either does not go off when the TEST button is pressed or does not come back on when the RESET button is pressed, the device is malfunctioning and should be replaced at once.
An Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter is another electrical safety device that plays a critical role in keeping your family safe from electrical shock and fire hazards. AFCIs stop current flow when they detect an electrical arc, a condition that can start a fire. Worn extension cords, loose connections at receptacles and switches, or cords damaged by furniture may cause intermittent shorts or arcing. This in turn causes a heat buildup that can easily result in fire. The National Electrical Code requires AFCIs for all bedroom circuits. One type of AFCI is installed in the breaker panel and detects high-level arcing in your home wiring. Other types of AFCIs are built into a receptacle or plug cap and are designed to detect low-level arcing in extension cords or power cords.