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UNDERSTANDING ELECTRICAL FIRE SAFETY

Electrical fires in our homes claim the lives of 485 Americans each year and injure 2,305 more.  Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, but many more are caused by the misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring, and overloaded circuits and extension cords.

Electricity is a basic part of residential life in the United States.  It provides the energy for most powered items in a contemporary home, from lights to heating systems to televisions.  Today it is hard to imagine a residence without electricity.  It is part of our homes and our activities that most of us take for granted.  We rarely think how powerful electricity is.

Each year in North America, hundreds of people die and thousands are injured in accidents involving electrical fires.  Most of these incidents can be prevented by following simple electrical fire safety rules.  Faulty electrical systems cause many fires.  Even more electrical fires result from inappropriate wiring installations, overloaded circuits, and extension cords. 

Based on the latest available data for 2003 to 2005, an estimated 28,300 residential building electrical fires occur annually and cause 360 deaths,  1,000 injuries, and losses of $995 million.  Electrical fires accounted for 7% of all residential building fires in this 3-year period.

While new construction is not immune from electrical fires caused by faulty wiring, there are many older homes with outdated wiring that is deteriorating, inappropriately amended, or insufficient for the electrical loads of a typical household in the 21st century.  Consider the expansion in the number of appliances used by residents in the past half - century, and it is quickly obvious that overloaded wiring and circuitry is likely in these structures.  Overloading will heat up wiring that already could be deteriorating, crumbling and no longer a good insulator. 

Electrical Hazards Warning Signs

Many electrical problems can be detected before they cause a fire or harm someone.  To better ensure electrical fire safety, learn to be alert and pay attention to any irregular electrical function in your home.  Some warning signs include:

  • Recurring problem with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers
  • Experiencing a tingle when you touch an electrical appliance
  • Discoloration of wall outlets
  • A burning smell or unusual odor coming from an appliance or wiring
  • Flickering lights

If you notice any of the above warning signs or if an appliance functions oddly, take appropriate measures to prevent an accident.  Unplug the malfunctioning appliance immediately.  If necessary, cut off power to the problem circuit by disconnecting the fuse or tripping the circuit breaker manually and locate the problem.  When in doubt, contact an electrician or call the power company to inspect the electrical connections outside your home.

Safety Precautions

  • When using appliances, follow the manufacturer's safety precautions.  Overheating, unusual smells, shorts, sparks, and sputters are all warning signs that appliances need to be shut off, the replaced or repaired.  Have an electrician check the wiring in your house.  Unplug appliances when not in use.
  • Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
  • Frayed wires can cause fires.  Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
  • 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 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.
  • Do not trap electric cords against walls where heat can build up.
  • Only use lab-approved electric blanket and warmers.  Check to make sure the cords are not frayed.

Having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.  And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.

Helps for avoiding Electrical Fires

1.  Yearly inspections - wiring and electrical components have a life expectancy that does not always equal the life cycle of the building.  As the electrical equipment wears out, fires are more probable.

2.  With over three times more residential building electrical fires than nonresidential building electrical fires, it is important to ensure that the electrical panels, outlets, switches, and junction boxes in your home are correctly installed and not damaged or modified by an unlicensed electrician.

3. AFCI - (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters)   GFCI - (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters)    both perform different jobs.  A GFCI protects you from electrical shock, while an AFCI breaker protects you and your house from a fire caused by electrical arcs.     GFCI's are required for bathroom outlets and other areas likely to pose a risk for shock, especially those in potentially wet locations such as kitchens, unfinished basements, garages, outdoor jacuzzis, and hot tubs.   Although GFCI's are designed to protect people from electrocution, they are not designed to protect agains house fires.     AFCI's identify arcing at cords, outlets, and lights and trip breakers before the arcing can start a fire, they are required for bedrooms in new construction homes.

4.  Fuses and Circuit Breakers:  When a fuse blows or a circuit breaker is tripped, find out what caused it to overload before replacing or resetting it.  Correct the problem and if you cannot find the source or feel uneasy about the situation, do not hesitate to call an electrician.

5.  Electrical Receptacle Outlets:  Have a professional electrician replace old or damaged receptacles with modern, three-wire, polarized receptacles.  To minimize fire and shock hazards, proper grounding is essential.  Also, make sure that appliance plugs match their receptacles.  Never cut off or bend the ground pin of a three-pronged plug as the ground connection protects you from shock caused by a faulty cord or a malfuncting appliance.

If you have any questions or concerns in regards to your homes electrical safety,  do not hesitate to contact us at Master Electrical Service .


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