Every year in the United States, an average of 366,600 home structure fires cause more than $7 billion in damages and claim 2,600 lives. Nearly 48,000 of those fires are caused by electrical failure or malfunction, and most of them are preventable. Electrical systems and appliances can be dangerous, but following a few simple electrical safety tips can greatly reduce the risk and keep your family and your home safe.
Inspect Electrical Cords
In addition to the risk of electrocution, worn or damaged electrical cords can quickly become a major fire hazard. Closely check all of the electrical cords in your home, looking for any signs of damage, fraying or loose plugs, and replace them promptly. If an appliance cord is damaged, it may be necessary to have a professional replace the cord. Also ensure that all cords are well away from heat sources and water.
Never Remove a Ground Pin
Commonly referred to as a "3-prong" plug, the Nema 5-15P plug has become common on many appliances. It adds a third pin to the bottom of the plug that serves as a ground for the current. It can be tempting to remove this pin so that the plug can be used in 2-prong outlets, but the ground pin is a very important safety feature that should not be tampered with. Appliances that have metal frames can cause deadly electric shocks if the wiring inside becomes loose, and the ground pin works by redirecting the current safely to the ground and tripping the circuit breaker.
Don't Overextend Extension Cords
Extension cords are only a temporary solution, and they should never be used long-term. If you need to use one on a regular basis, consider having an electrician add additional outlets instead. When using an extension cord, never run it under a carpet, through a doorway or in any other area that may lead to the cord being damaged. Never overload an extension cord with a higher amperage than it's rated to handle, and regularly check the cord to ensure it isn't becoming warm to the touch.
Use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters
A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) works by sensing the amount of current flowing through an outlet and immediately tripping the circuit to cut the power if there is an imbalance. This home safety feature helps to prevent a ground fault, which is the most common form of electrical shock in the home. GFCIs should always be installed on outlets that are likely to be near a source of water, including in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room and outside areas. GFCIs include a built-in test circuit and they should be tested monthly in order to ensure proper functioning.
Call a Professional
There are plenty of fire prevention steps you can take yourself, but sometimes it's best to call in an expert. If you notice an outlet or switch is becoming warm or failing to work properly, or if an appliance or light fixture sparks, flickers or gives off an electric shock on touching, cut the power and call a professional immediately. These can be signs of a serious electrical problem, and further use could cause a fire.