Electrical Safety in the Home

What do the smart phone, toaster oven, air conditioner and Tesla have in common? They all run on electricity and help us to lead productive lives. With all the benefits of electricity, it is easy to forget that electricity can be extremely dangerous and must be treated with caution and respect. Although injury and death by electrocution are common, house fires by faulty wiring and improper use cause far more property damage, injury and death. There was an estimated annual average of 47,820 reported house fires in 2007-2011, which resulted in 455 deaths, 1,518 injuries and $1.5 billion in property damage.  Electrocution and house fires can be prevented by following these safety tips:

  • Check electrical cords for damage. Replace or repair damaged or loose electrical cords. Worn cords are a shock and fire hazard.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets with too many plugs.
  • Water and electricity do not mix. Do not operate electrical devices around tubs and sinks full of water. All outlets near water should be ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected. GFCIs shut off the electricity when they sense a very small amount of electricity leaking from the wires – possibly into you. Older homes typically do not have GFCI protection but can be inexpensively upgraded.
  • Always unplug an electrical appliance/device prior to cleaning or repairing it.
  • Insert child proof plugs into electrical outlets or upgrade the outlets to the new tamper resistant outlets.
  • If outlets or switches feel warm, fuses/breakers trip often or lights flicker and dim, it is time to call an electrician. Never install a larger fuse or penny under a fuse to prevent a fuse from blowing. The fuse is designed to blow prior to damaging the wiring and defeating this purpose can cause the wire to overheat.
  • Many older homes have 2-hole, ungrounded outlets. Modern homes use 3-hole, grounded outlets and provide greater protection against electrocution than the 2-hole, ungrounded outlets. Plugging a 3-hole power strip/surge suppressor into a 2-hole, ungrounded outlet makes it easier to plug in your computer, printer, etc. but does not result in a grounded, 3-hole outlet. Hire an electrician to modernize the 2-hole outlets where you will require a 3-hole, grounded outlet.
  • Do not use extension cords as permanent wiring. Extension cords should only be used for temporary wiring – such as for your Christmas lights. Hire an electrician to add an electrical outlet if needed. Read the extension cord label to ensure the extension cord is rated for the intended use and electrical demand.  High amperage devices (i.e., power tools) require heavy duty extension cords. Do not run extension cords under rugs and through walls.  Discard damaged cords.

These are just a few of the many ways to stay smart about electricity in your home. How many electrical devices have you used today? Chances are it will take you a minute to count them up and, even then, you may be missing some. The best way to prevent an electrical mishap is to stay knowledgeable, follow safety practices like regularly checking cords for damage, and avoid improper use.

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