Protect yourself and your home from electrical hazards
By recognizing electrical hazards that may be present in your home, you can protect your family, home and assets from damage caused byelectrical surges.
To prevent such damage, consider using lightning protection systems and surge protection devices and investing in Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs), and follow some general prevention tips.
Where do electrical surges come from?
Electrical surges happen in storms when:
- Electric utility lines touch one another
- Power grid switching occurs
- Air conditioning units, furnaces, refrigerators or vacuum cleaners turn on and off
- Lightning strikes within two miles of a home
Lightning Protection Systems provide a direct path for the lightning to follow to the ground, prevent destruction, damage, injury or death as it travels that path
Properly installed surge protection devices (SPDs), combined with a good grounding system, should protect your electronic and electrical appliances from all but the most severe electrical surges. An SPD does not suppress or arrest a surge; it actually diverts the surge to the ground.
Things to consider when looking for SPDs:
- The surge protector should be listed to UL Standard 1449.
- The surge protector must be capable of protecting all power and signal lines that are connected to the protected equipment.
- Examples of signal lines: phone lines and coaxial cable from satellite, cable TV or external antenna.
- Select a surge protector that has an indicating light and/or audible alarm to show when it needs replacement.
- Look for SPDs that come with a manufacturer’s warranty. Some warranties cover only the device; others also cover the damaged equipment and electrical wire insulation chewed by rodents.
Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs)
AFCIs are able to detect certain types of dangerous arcing conditions. They look and work just like conventional circuit breakers and fit into electrical panels in the same way. Not only do they protect against overloads and short circuits, but they also electronically sense arcing.
Consider using AFCIs in older homes that may have aged or damaged electrical wire insulation. It may also be wise for newly constructed houses to have an AFCI due to electrical wires that may have been damaged by nails and screws that are concealed inside walls and ceilings.
Service Entrance Lines
- Use caution around above-ground service entrance lines. Contact with entrance lines by objects such as ladders or a child’s kite could result in electrocutions.
- Contact the utility company before digging around underground service entrances.
- Extension cords are a temporary, not permanent, wiring solution.
- Avoid overheating by using extension cords of the proper size for the load they will carry and by using cords as short as practical.
- Regularly check cords for damage and never repair by splicing.
- Avoid using “octopus plugs” which allow many cords to be plugged into a single receptacle.
Electrical Appliances and Tools
- Hire a qualified electrician to replace two prong outlets with three prong GFCI outlets if your appliances have three prong plugs. Never remove the grounding prong on an appliance cord.
- Unplug any appliance or tool that gives even the slightest shock (i.e. tingling sensation) and have it checked by a qualified electrician or repair person.
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Electricity has enriched our lives. Despite the many benefits, electricity can also bring danger-the most common being house fires. First, we must understand some basics about typical home electrical systems. The electrical service enters the house and connects to a main electrical panel. From the main electrical panel (Click here to learn more), wires run in different directions throughout the house to power lights, outlets, ceiling fans, air conditioners, and various other direct-wired electrical appliances. These wire-runs are called branch circuits.
- A typical branch circuit consists of three wires: the hot, neutral and ground wires
- The size of the wire (resistance increases as the wire diameter gets smaller)
- As well the amount of electrical devices on the circuit are drawing electricity (more devices increase the electrical current) affect the amount of heat generated in the wire.
To keep the wire from getting too hot and starting a fire, the designer of the branch circuit wiring does two things:
- Attempts to size the wire large enough to handle the estimated electrical load on the circuit.
- Attempts to contain the amount of electrical load on the branch circuit by limiting the number of potential electrical appliances that can be running at the same time on that circuit (i.e. places only so many outlets on one branch circuit or puts larger pieces of electrical equipment on circuits dedicated to that equipment only)
While the electrical codes help with the design assumptions, how the homeowner will use the outlets in the house is just a guess. The homeowner can plug in and run too many appliances on the same circuit before the wires get too hot and start a fire.
However, circuit breakers can malfunction and fail to trip. Homeowners can try to fix a “nuisance” fuse by placing a larger fuse in the electrical panel that allows more electrical current to flow in the branch circuit than what it was designed for. Homeowners can also use plug adapters and extension cords to plug in too many electrical appliances into one electrical outlet
What Can the Homeowner Do?
- If a fuse blows or circuit breaker trips frequently, have a qualified electrician determine what the problem is and fix it.
- If the main electrical panel has circuit breakers, flip them off and back on once a year. This will help keep them working. Better yet, a qualified electrician can test the circuit breakers to make sure they function properly.
- If extension cords or plug adapters are being used to plug multiple appliances into the same outlet, have a qualified electrician install more outlets on new or different branch circuits.
- Using power strips (or multiple outlet surge protectors) with their own circuit breaker protection is better than using extension cords to plug in multiple appliances or electronics. The circuit breaker protection assures that not too many appliances are plugged in and drawing electricity at once. Plus, the cords to the power strips and surge protectors usually have larger diameter wires than do typical extension cords which reduced the heat generated in the cord.
However, the power strip’s or surge protector’s circuit breaker only protects the device itself. It does not protect the branch circuit wiring. Using several pug strips on outlets on the same branch circuit may overload the circuit and cause a fire.
- Never run appliance cords or extension cords under carpet. They are designed to be kept cool by movement of room air around the cord.
- If any outlet or switch wall-plates feel hot to the touch, have qualified electrician determine the problem and fix it.
- Circuits can only handle a specified total wattage of all electrical devices plugged into and running on a branch circuit at one time.
Is your panel up to date? If your last inspection was:
- 40 or more years ago, inspection is overdue
- 10-40 years ago, inspection is advisable, especially if substantial electrical loads (high-wattage appliances, lights and wall outlets or extension cords) have been added.
- Less than 10 years ago, inspection may not be needed, unless problems are noticed. It may be difficult to determine when the last electrical inspection was made. Look on the inside of the door to the electrical panel. The electrician performing the last inspection may have written the date there.
As a homeowner, be aware of your electrical system. Look and listen for problems. If you hear buzzing or crackling coming from outlets or light switches, don’t ignore it. If appliance or extension cords are hot to the touch, you have potential problems. Contact a qualified electrical professional to assess the problem and make the necessary repairs.