Electrical failure or malfunctions account for almost 50,000 home fires per year and result in roughly 450 deaths and $1.5 billion in direct property damage according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). This is a particular threat to homes built before the 1950’s when electrical wiring standards were less stringent than today. However, even newer homes are at risk for an electrical fire. While older homes were built to handle 30 amps of power, most newer homes demand 100 to 200 amps. This demand places a significant strain on a home’s wiring and electrical system.
Understanding the common causes, warning signs and appropriate safety measures can help prevent an electrical fire in your home. The most common causes for electrical fires are:
- Incorrectly installed wiring
- Overloaded circuits and extension cords
- Defective or improper plugs, switches and outlets
- Misuse and poor maintenance of lighting
Warning Signs of Faulty Wiring or Electrical Systems
To prevent an electrical fire, learn to recognize the warning signs that indicate a possible wiring or electrical problem. Contact a licensed electrician immediately to examine and repair electrical problems if you experience any of the following issues in your home:
- Flickering or dimming lights
- Switches or outlets that are hot to touch and/or emit an acrid odor
- Discolored cords, outlets and switch plates
- Repeatedly blown fuses and tripped circuit breakers
Keep Home Wiring Systems Safe
Every homeowner should be acquainted with at least one licensed electrician who can help keep their home wiring system safe. Licensed electricians can help:
- Ensure any electrical modifications meet existing codes
- Inspect and repair outlets and switches
- Inspect a home and make any necessary repairs before you purchase and move in
- Replace outdated or malfunctioning fuses and circuit breakers and instruct you on proper usage.
If your home was built between 1965 and 1973, consider having the aluminum wiring inspected. The wall sockets, switches and cable connections installed during this era are frequently problematic because aluminum wiring oxidizes and degrades more quickly than copper wiring. If a complete household rewiring is not an option, copper connector “pigtails” can help mitigate some of the dangers and problems of aluminum wiring.
The Dangers of DIY
When a wire is punctured, but not completely severed, the electric current can move away from its path and result in an incredible amount of heat. This leaking of the current is called an arc fault. The heat from an arc fault can eventually cause a fire, which may quickly spread to surrounding wood and other combustibles, as well as other wiring. Take extra care when doing home renovations to ensure you do not damage any wires when hammering or drilling into walls.
You can help prevent an arc fault from causing a fire by installing an arc-fault circuit interrupter to your circuit breakers. When arc fault circuit interrupters detect irregular current flow, they shut down the circuit to prevent overheating and combustion.
Using a stud finder to locate framing studs behind drywall can also prevent arc faults from occurring. By nailing only into studs you can avoid hitting and damaging concealed wiring. Stud finders are usually priced under $20.
Cords, Outlets and Plug Safety
Electric currents carried by wiring, switches, plugs and appliances generate heat. Excessive or uncontrolled heat can start fires. To help prevent electrical fires, know how to use and store plugs and electrical cords and take these precautions:
- Don’t run cords under carpeting, bedding, or other combustible materials; also avoid placing cords across doorways or frequently traveled areas
- Discard frayed or broken cords and never splice two cords together.
- Don’t overload outlets or use extension cords in place of outlets. Call an electrician to install additional outlets as necessary.
- Ensure plugs fit snugly in outlets to prevent shock and excess heat.
Combustible materials such as drapery, bedding and upholstered furniture may ignite when exposed to hot bulbs. Follow these safety tips to help prevent light bulbs from causing electrical fires:
- Purchase lamps and fixtures certified by underwriter’s laboratories (UL), an independent and not-for-profit safety testing and certification organization.
- Use the right light bulb wattage for all lamps and fixtures.
- Position lamps away from open windows where strong breezes may blow draperies onto hot light bulbs. Lampshades can also prevent combustible materials from direct contact with a hot bulb.
Electrical fires are among the most dangerous forms of combustion due to how quickly they can spread and grow out of control. By following the information above, you can help reduce the chances of an electrical fire occurring in your home.
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Source: The Hartford