According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2010 U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 46,500 house fires that were caused by electrical malfunction of failure. From 2005-2009, 49% of those home electrical fires involved lighting or electrical distribution equipment; another 46% were attributed to other known types of equipment, including stove ranges, washers, dryers, space heaters, and fans.
In many of these cases, the resulting deaths (420 in 2010), injured (1,520 in 2010) and direct property damage ($1.5 billion in 2010) could have been avoided.
You already practice fire safety, but fire prevention is the best way to protect your family – and that starts with ensuring that your electrical systems and appliances are functioning properly and safely. Run through this checklist regularly, since electrical malfunction can happen at any time and for many reasons.
✓ Cords & Plugs
▢ Check all cords, plugs, surge protectors and extension cords for frayed casing, exposed wire or broken components. Replace immediately.
▢ Never run extension cords under carpets or over door thresholds.
▢ Don’t use an extension cord as a permanent fixture. If you need additional outlets, contact a licensed electrician to install some wherever you require.
▢ Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for plugging a device into the outlet.
▢ Do not overload one outlet with several high-wattage or heat-producing devices, for example a space heater or coffee maker.
▢ Plugs should fit snugly into outlets. If yours do not, contact a licensed electrician.
▢ Major appliances – washers, dryers, refrigerators, stoves, air conditioners, hot water heaters, etc. – should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Do not use surge protectors, plug strips or extension cords.
▢ Only use water resistant extension cords in damp areas (like the basement).
▢ Only use lightbulbs at or below the maximum wattage listed on your lamp or light. (There will be a sticker on the appliance indicating max wattage.)
▢ Always place lamps on a flat, level surface and at least a foot from anything flammable (e.g. curtains).
▢ Place heat-producing appliances (toaster, heater, coffee maker, etc.) away from flammable or combustible goods (potholders, paper napkins, etc.)
▢ Unplug kitchen countertop and bathroom (e.g. toaster or hair dryer) appliances when not in use.
▢ Keep your kitchen exhaust fan clean and free of grease, lint and other obstructions.
▢ Never use a portable heater in the bathroom. The only safe options are a ceiling unit or strip heater placed up high.
▢ If you use portable or space heaters, be sure they receive a seal of approval from a nationally-recognized testing laboratory (NRTL) like UL, ETL, or CSA.
✓ Extra Safety Considerations
▢ If you have young children, consider re-outfitting your home with tamper-resistant (TR) electrical receptacles. Always use a licensed electrician. (Note: As of 2008, TR receptacles are required by law in all new and renovated homes.)
▢ Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are a special type of circuit breaker that shuts off the current when dangerous conditions arise. Ask a licensed electrician about installing AFCIs in your home.
▢ Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are another type of circuit breaker, and these help reduce the risk of electric shock by switching off the circuit if it becomes hazardous. A licensed electrician should install GFCIs in your garage, basement, kitchen, bath, and all outdoor outlets.
▢ Test AFCIs and GFCIs at least once per month.
▢ If you need to dig, always dial 811 (U.S. only) to have your underground lines marked.
✓ Warning Signs
If you experience any of these warning signs, call your landlord or a licensed electrician immediately:
✘ You feel a tingling sensation when you touch a plug or light switch.
✘ Your circuit breaker flips frequently or fuses blow regularly.
✘ An appliance gives off a faint rubbery or burning smell.
✘ Your outlet plates are warm to the touch or discolored.
✘ An electrical appliance has been waterlogged or submersed in any liquid (throw away immediately).
✘ An outlet sparks.
✘ Your lights dim or flicker.