There are few personal disasters quite as devastating as a home fire. Even in a best-case scenario where no one is hurt, the destruction wrought during a home fire can have a major impact on a person’s life. Whether the first destroys the entire home or damages a small area and its contents, recovering takes significant time, money, and effort.
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), an estimated 51,000 fires a year are house fires caused by electricity. These fires are responsible for about 500 deaths, 1400 injuries, and over $1.3 billion in property damage in the United States alone.
Luckily, there are many steps anyone can take to stop electrical fires before they start. Keep reading to learn more about strategies available to all homeowners to keep their families and properties safe.
ESFi estimates that 5300 fires every year are caused by electrical receptacles, or outlets. These fires can be due to faulty wiring at the outlet or a result of the devices being powered by the outlet.
One great solution for preventing fire-causing electrical hazards is to use a smart power outlet. These outlets provide a wide array of benefits including built-in safety measures to help prevent electrical fires. Sensors inside the outlets can detect dangerous circuit overloads and cut off power to the receptacle.
Some smart outlets also have smart charging features that stop the flow of power once a device like a laptop or cell phone is fully charged. This can help prevent overheating of chargers, a common source of the heat needed to start a fire.
GFCI stands for ground-fault current interrupter. These outlets are a common electrical safety feature that most homeowners already have in their homes. These outlets look nearly identical to standard outlets, but feature “TEST” and “RESET” buttons between the two plug receptacles. They operate similarly to standard outlets, but have the ability to monitor for irregularities in the flow of electricity as small as 4-5 milliamps and have internal mechanisms for shutting off the flow of electricity if a problem is detected.
GFCIs can shut off the electrical current in just 1/30 of a second, speed that helps protect people from deadly electrical shocks and can prevent overheating and sparks that could start a fire.
GFCI outlets are required for use in areas where ground faults are more likely to occur, often in places where water is common. Electrical safety codes require GFCI outlets for:
- Kitchen counters
- Unfinished basements and crawlspaces
- Exterior outlets
- Outlets near pool and spa equipment
GFCI outlets need to be tested monthly to ensure their shut-off mechanisms are working correctly. To test an outlet, use a nightlight or plug your phone into a charger using the outlet to be tested to confirm that the outlet is supplying power. Hit the “TEST” button. Power should cut off immediately. If it does, hit the “RESET” button to restore the flow of power. If the power does not shut off, you should call an electrician to examine the outlet and determine if it needs to be replaced or repaired. Avoid using the outlet until it’s been cleared.
Signs of a Dangerous Outlet
For homes that contain conventional outlets, there are some warning signs to be on the lookout for that indicate that an outlet might have potentially dangerous faulty wiring. These signs include:
- Sparks coming out when devices are plugged into the outlet
- Burns or scorching on the faceplate of the outlet
- Inconsistent power from an outlet
- Buzzing or other strange noises coming from the outlet
- Frequent tripping of the outlet’s circuit breaker
- The outlet is warm to the touch
If you notice any of these problems, you should call an electrician immediately to inspect the outlet and determine what repairs are necessary to resolve the issue.
Other Electrical Hazards
While outlets are one of the primary origins for electrical fires, there are some other hazards to be aware of.
Every light bulb receptacle is rated to use a light bulb of a certain wattage. Using light bulbs whose wattage is too low or too high for a receptacle can create a dangerous situation.
Whether they’re powering a vacuum or a television, electrical cables can introduce an unnecessary risk of electrical fires. Cables should be regularly inspected for signs of fraying or damage to the plugs, especially the ground.
Outdated and Poorly Maintained Systems
From the breaker box and outlets to the wiring within a home’s walls, there are a lot of places for things to go wrong, especially in older homes whose electrical systems have not been maintained or updated to account for today’s electrical demands.
While these are not comprehensive solutions for preventing electrical fires at home, these are a great place to begin making your home safer for you and your family.