Home fires are an all too common occurrence and the root cause is often an electrical failure of some kind.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, an astonishing 51,000 U.S. house fires were ignited due to some type of electrical malfunction last year. Even more disturbing, these electrical fires caused nearly 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage. Fortunately, most electrical fires can be prevented by learning about their causes and taking the appropriate steps to prevent them. Here are seven common hidden home electrical dangers:
1. Old wiring. The lifespan of an electrical system is 30 to 40 years. But more than 30% of the nation’s houses—some 30 million homes—are more than 50 years old. Warning signs of inadequate power include circuit breakers that trip or fuses that blow repeatedly and an over-reliance on extension cords.
2. Aluminum wiring. Many houses built in the 1960s and early 1970s have aluminum wiring, which oxidizes and corrodes more easily than copper and has been linked to electrical fires by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Short of a whole-house wiring upgrade, an electrician may be able to head off potential problems by installing copper connectors at receptacles and breakers.
3. Arc faults. An arc fault—which occurs when electrical current veers off its intended path, often through a breach in wiring—is a leading cause of electrical fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. It doesn’t take much to cause an arc fault. You could damage wiring inside the wall when hanging a cabinet, a piece of furniture could cut through a cord, or there may be a loose connection in an outlet. A device called an arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) senses dangerous abnormalities in wiring and shuts down the circuit before it overheats. They’re particularity valuable in older homes, where connections may have degraded over the years.
4. Bogus electrical products. If you’ve ever gone to a flea market and seen vendors peddling extension cords, power strips, night lights, and batteries for ridiculously low prices, there’s a reason. They’re probably counterfeits, and they’re incredibly dangerous. They’re often are made from inferior copper that easily melts, putting users in harm’s way. Purchase electrical products only from reputable retailers and always look for the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) seal.
5. Circuit breakers that trip frequently. Your circuit breaker has one job: to cut off the flow of electricity to prevent overheating a circuit, thus preventing an electrical fire. So if your circuit breaker keeps tripping, it’s trying to tell you something: your appliances are pulling too much electricity on one circuit, causing an electrical overload; there’s a short circuit in an appliance or circuit wiring, which needs to be addressed by an electrician; or the circuit breaker has gone bad. Do not keep resetting the breaker if it keeps tripping. At some point the breaker will give out and stop tripping, and an electrical overload will overheat the wiring insulation and cause an electrical fire.
6. A persistent burnt smell with no identifiable source. Do you notice a lingering burnt odor in your house but can’t identify the source? You may have a short circuit, possibly caused by a loose connection or old, faulty wiring. Short circuits are the main causes of home electrical wiring fires, according to the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission. You may also see some discolored or charred outlets and switches. Loose connections or faulty wiring in your home causes sparking, resulting in a small fire that chars or discolors the outlet.
7. Faulty outlets and appliances. Many electrical fires are started by faults in appliance cords, receptacles and switches. Never use an appliance with a worn or frayed cord, as it can send heat onto combustible surfaces like floors, curtains, and rugs, igniting a fire. Removing the grounding plug from a cord so it can be used in a two-prong electrical outlet can also cause a fire. Appliances have the extra prong so they can be only used in outlets that can handle the extra amount of electricity that they require.
To ensure that your home is free of electrical hazards, get periodic inspections from a licensed electrician. If you find that you need to upgrade your electrical system to keep your home and family safe, please .
About M.R. Electricians: Since 1996, M.R. Electricians has been serving the electrical needs of homeowners and businesses throughout Montgomery County, Washington, DC, Baltimore, and surrounding areas. The company also specializes in commercial fire protection, contract needs from small tenant fit outs to whole building installations, and motor controls for industrial spaces. From major renovations to the smallest of electrical jobs, the family-owned company is committed to providing high quality products, superior results, and unmatched customer service. Regarded as a leader in the electrical industry, M.R. Electricians has set the standard for excellence in the region. For more information, please visit the website at or call 301.871.0477.