Never underestimate common household currents — they can injure and even kill. Electrical equipment should be treated with respect and properly maintained to reduce the chance of physical harm or property damage. The following electrical safety tips may help you recognize potential hazards.
What are some common residential electrical hazards examples?
- An arc (similar to an electrical short) produces intensely hot sparks, also known as an arc flash that can set fire to nearby combustible materials. About half of home electrical fires involving electrical failure or malfunction are caused by arcs.
- They often happen in appliance or extension cords that have become frayed or cracked.
- To help prevent arc faults, have Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) installed in your home. These devices look and work like conventional circuit breakers. When an AFCI breaker trips, have an electrician determine the cause and fix it.
Service entrance lines
- Use caution around overhead lines that deliver power to your home. Contact with power lines by objects such as ladders or a child’s kite could result in electrocutions.
- Contact your utility company before digging around underground service lines, and regularly check the condition of your entrance cables. When old insulation cracks, aging service entrance cables can arc. This can electrify metal portions of the system, creating electrocution hazards.
Fuse and circuit breaker boxes
- Fuses or circuit breakers should be enclosed in a panel box. Interior wiring should never be visible. Always keep the panel door closed and latched.
- Keep the area around the electrical panel free of combustible materials.
- If you notice burn marks, hear buzzing or cracking, or smell burning plastic around or inside the electrical panel, have a qualified electrician check the panel immediately.
- If you have a fuse box, keep spare fuses of the proper size for the circuit they protect. Over fusing presents a severe fire hazard as circuit wires can overheat when they carry more current than that for which they were designed.
- When screw-type fuses require replacement, S-type fuses should be used and installed by a qualified electrician.
- If fuses blow or circuit breakers trip frequently, it may be an indication that the circuits are overloaded. Have a qualified electrician inspect the system and make the appropriate repairs or upgrades.
What steps can you take to improve your household electrical safety?
- Extension cords are a temporary, not a permanent, wiring solution.
- Grasp the plug — not the cord — when removing cords from outlets.
- Avoid overheating by using extension cords of the proper size for the load they will carry and by using cords as short as possible.
- Regularly check cords for damage. Never repair by splicing.
- Cords should not be placed under rugs or otherwise covered since this may result in overheating or fraying. Rolling or looping cords into a bundle may also cause overheating.
- Avoid using “octopus plugs,” which allow many cords to be plugged into a single receptacle.
Receptacles and switches
- Receptacle and switch covers need to be securely fastened. Exposed wiring presents a serious shock hazard.
- Have a qualified electrician inspect any receptacle or switch that sparks, makes unusual noises, or smells like it is burning.
- Protect outside receptacles with weatherproof covers and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs).
- Replace receptacles that will not hold plugs firmly. Replace aging push-button or twist switches.
- Where small children are present, install tamper-resistant outlets or tamper-resistant outlet covers.
Electrical appliances and tools
- Do not use light bulbs with a higher wattage rating than recommended on the fixture.
- Keep appliances and their power cords away from any water or dampness.
- Hire a qualified electrician to replace two-prong outlets with three-prong (grounded) outlets. Never remove the grounding prong on an appliance cord.
- Keep electric heaters clear of combustible material such as drapes, bedding, furniture and papers.
- 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.
Get plugged into electrical safety
Be sure to take the basic preventative steps outlined here, and file this sheet away for future reference. Just by being aware of common electrical hazards and keeping an eye out for problems, you could save your home and possessions from serious damage.
For more information, check out Lightning Protection Institute, Underwriters Laboratories, and Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Learn more about protecting your home when lightning strikes. Contact a State Farm® agent with questions about how homeowners insurance may cover property loss.