From short circuits and loose connections to overloaded circuits and frayed cords, electrical damage and neglect causes millions of dollars’ worth of property damage every year, not to mention all of the associated human injury and death.
Spring provides the mild temperatures necessary to complete outdoor work. Learning these electrical safety tips will help ensure your spring and summer projects don’t result in injuries or death.
Electrical Facts & Statistics
According to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI):
Home electrical fires account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year, nearly than 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage.
Each year in the United States, arcing faults are responsible for starting more than 28,000 home fires, killing and injuring hundreds of people, and causing over $700 million in property damage.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that electrical receptacles are involved in 5,300 fires every year, causing forty deaths and more than 100 consumer injuries.
Sixty-five percent of home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no working smoke detectors.
Keeping these devastating numbers in mind, it’s important to follow these spring electrical safety tips to lessen, and hopefully eliminate, any risk of electrical fires and failures.
Top Spring Electrical Safety Hazards
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), top electrical safety hazards include:
Electrical fires caused by aging wiring;
Misuse of surge suppressors and extension cords;
Electrocutions from power lines, wiring systems and large appliances.
7 Spring Electrical Safety Tips
Inspect All Cords & Electrical Equipment
During your spring cleaning and decluttering pay attention to all of your electrical cords and extension cords. If you notice any damage to your electrical cords or equipment, do not use them and have them repaired or replaced as soon as possible.
When using any cords, do not run them through windows, doors, under carpets, or any place where the cord can be pinched or tripped over.
If you have children and/or pets, keep all cords, outlets, and extensions hidden and out of the way. Additionally, make sure you don’t use nails, staples, or anything metal to hold your cords in place. Instead, use electrical tape or twist ties.
Extension cords can be extremely unsafe and are only meant for a temporary solution. In order to use extension cords safely, make sure you are using a cord rated for “outdoor use” and that it has the correct gauge load for the electrical demand of your electrical equipment.
In order to determine the correct AWG rating (American Wire Gauge), you should add up all of the current requirements for your plugged-in devices and make sure the AWG rating matches.
If you overload your extension cords, you could not only cause a dangerous electrical situation, it could also trip your breaker or blow your fuse.
Contact a qualified electrician if you need additional outlets, switches, or other electrical equipment installed. Your electrician can also help you baby-proof your electrical systems, such as with tamper-proof receptacles (TRRs). Don’t use plastic outlet caps (which can be removed by most children); instead, install tamper-resistant receptacles.
Inspect Light Bulbs for Proper Wattage
All light fixtures have a maximum allowed wattage. If you exceed the maximum wattage, you could risk overheating, burning plastic components, and potentially cause a fire. Go around your home and make sure all of your light bulbs are screwed in tightly and of the right wattage.
Your light fixtures should have a maximum wattage printed on the light bulb socket. If you have a fixture with multiple light bulbs, you may see a total wattage rating. In this case, you’ll want to divide the number of bulbs with the total wattage rating for the maximum wattage of each bulb.
If you smell a burning odor or see discoloration around any light fixtures, you could be exceeding the fixture’s wattage rating. Call a professional electrician to repair or replace any of your damaged light fixtures.
Determine If You Have a Short Circuit
Identify which circuit tripped the breaker. Turn off all of the devices plugged into the affected circuit. Restore power to the circuit breaker or fuse box. If the fuse blows or breaker trips after restoring power, you probably have a short in the circuit somewhere.
The fact that your circuit shuts off in response to a short situation is a good sign. That means the electrical panel is working as it should.
If you suspect a short circuit in your electrical system:
Disconnect all devices that are plugged into the circuit.
Inspect the cover plates of all the outlets and switches in the circuit. If you see any signs of overheating, such as discoloration, melted plastic, or burn marks, contact an electrician right away. Leave the circuit turned completely off while you wait for the services of a professional electrician.
Always leave replacing faulty switches, outlets, and wiring to a professional electrician.
Plugging too many devices into one circuit can lead to overheating, and if your panel is not working properly, a dangerous fire. Never overload your electrical outlets. You can prevent overloading the circuit by making sure the wattage demand does not exceed the wattage supply. Since most modern circuits are 15 or 20 amps, breakers will begin to trip at around 1800 watts.
If your breaker trips or fuse blows, but the problem isn’t overloading the circuit, you may have faulty wiring. Contact an electrician right away.
Call 811 Before You Dig
Spring is the perfect time for landscaping improvements and other outdoor projects, but it’s important to call 811 before you plant or install any underground equipment. You don’t want to dig into utility lines and other important underground lines.
Are Outlets or Switches Hot/Warm to the Touch?
Contact a professional electrician right away if you notice lights or outlets that are hot or warm to the touch. Additionally, if you smell anything strange, such as burning plastic or rotting eggs, call your electrician. When the plastic components of your electrical system begin to overheat and burn, they can emit a sulfuric, rotten-egg smell.
Shocks, warm sensations, and strange smells are all indications of a dangerous electrical problem. Turn off power to the affected circuit from the electrical panel and wait for an electrician to deem it safe to restore power.
Test Smoke and CO Alarms
Walk through your home and make sure there are smoke and CO alarms on each level of the home, inside each bedroom, and outside every sleeping area.
Replace any smoke or CO detectors that are 10 years old or older.
Test smoke and CO alarms every 30 days (by holding down the TEST button) to ensure they are working properly.
Schedule Annual Professional Electrical Safety Inspections
Experts and electricians agree that you should have your home inspected annually by a qualified electrician to make sure your home is up-to-code according to the provisions set forth by the National Electrical Code (NEC).
While your electrician is there, ask whether or not your home has whole-home AFCI and GFCI protection and if your home would benefit from the extra protection.
When the temperatures cool down, it’s time to pay attention to a whole different set of electrical hazards. Click here to learn important winter electrical safety tips.
Watch these electrical safety videos from our very own Kerry Adkins.
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