Last year, almost 60,000 homes in the US were damaged or destroyed by fire caused by an electrical problem. Faulty wiring, space heaters, appliance malfunctions, and over loaded circuits, outlets, and extension cords were the most common causes of these fires, which resulted in nearly $2 billion in property damage, thousands of injuries, and hundreds of deaths.
But common electrical problems can be avoided with basic knowledge and some common sense.
DON'T Overload Outlets
Not all household outlets are created equal. Understanding the difference between standard outlets, GFCI outlets, electric stove outlets, and major appliance or dryer outlets will help you to use the right outlet for the job. Not sure about the different types of outlets in your property? Check out my Understanding Outlets article.
Piggy-backing multiple appliances off of one outlet or adding extension cords off of surge protectors is a good way to overload your outlet and cause a fire.
DON'T Leave Space Heaters or Fans Unattended
Every year people are killed because they leave a space heater or fan unattended. Whether by overheating or causing items around the heater or fan to ignite, it really couldn't be simpler. If you aren't in the room, turn off the space heater or fan.
DON'T Use the Wrong Type of Light Bulb
Appliances and lighting fixtures use specific types of light bulbs. Bulbs are rated by watts and lumens. Watts are the amount of energy used and lumens are the amount of light emitted. Never use a bulb that exceeds the maximum watts listed for that appliance or light fixture. It wastes money on your electric bill, requires bulb replacement much more frequently....and can cause a fire.
Want to learn more about light bulbs, the future on incandescent bulbs, CFL vs LED and more...check out my article Understanding Light Bulbs.
DON'T Misuse Extension Cords
Did you know that there are different extension cords for different uses? Many don't and end up using an extension cord that doesn't meet the required gauge or length. Using the wrong thickness can cause the extension cord to overheat and cause fires. Worse...some people will make very long extension cords by piggy-backing extension cords off of each other.
Read the amp requirements for your appliance and select the matching extension cord. There is a terrific guide to extension cord selection, written by Brett Martin of Gizmodo called How To Choose the Right Extension Cord for Anything.
DO Prepare For Power Outages
Whether inclement weather, overloaded circuit, or blown fuse has left you in the dark, having a plan BEFORE you need it will help you avoid standing at the circuit breaker at 3am with a flashlight wondering what to do.
Do you know where your circuit breaker or fuse box is located?
Do you know what to do if your power goes out?
If the metal box with all of the little switches confuses you, you aren't alone. Read my article Understanding Circuit Breakers.
DO Educate Yourself About Your Household Electrical System
Making smart choices for your property is much easier if you have a basic understanding of of your household electrical system.
In the same way doctors recommend that you have an annual physical to make sure that everything is working properly and to catch any health problems while they are easily manageable, having an annual electrical system inspection is a terrific way to keep your electrical system running smoothly and safely.
Sparking outlets, hissing light fixtures, and flickering lights are all signs that you need a systems check. It could be as minor as the wrong light bulb, but it can also be faulty wiring, surges, or melting wires...all that could easily lead to a fire.
Contact a licensed electrician for a systems checkup today!
The professionals at Allstate Electric llc would be pleased to meet with property owners in Northern New Jersey to discuss all of your electrical installation, renovation, maintenance, and emergency needs.