May is National Electrical Safety Month

Posted on May 20, 2015


In 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,240,000 fires. These fires resulted in 3,240 civilian fire fatalities, 15,925 civilian fire injuries and an estimated $11.5 billion in direct property loss. There was a civilian fire death every 2 hours and 42 minutes and a civilian fire injury every 33 minutes.

Seven causes of home fires.

  1. Electrical.
  2. Cooking
  3. Heat Sources –Portable Heaters
  4. Smoking
  5. Lit Candles
  6. Christmas Trees
  7. Chemicals

I am going to be concentrating on the electrical safety starting with your panel. You and your family are growing both in size and in electrical power needs. As you add more people, appliances, and electrical devices to a home, the power need grows right along with them. This leads to the question, “Is my panel large enough?” More rooms, lighting, and electronic gadgets may add more load to your service panel that it can handle and a service upgrade would be in order. A qualified, licensed electrician can determine the amount of load your panel has on it presently, if you need an upgrade now, and what size is best for you and your family’s needs. Do I have the latest in technology such as GFCI and AFCI circuit breakers installed and how and when should I test these devices?

Circuit breakers sizes and wire sizes should be matched accordingly for their specific amperage ratings. For example 15 amp breakers should be connected to 14 gauge wires, 20 amp breakers should be connected to 12 gauge wires, 30 amp breakers should be connected to 10 gauge wires, so on and so forth. I suggest that all new circuitry added shall be protected by a combination Arc Fault / Ground Fault breaker for better protection against fires.

Light fixtures that flicker and switches that seem hot to the touch in all likelihood are problems to deal with now. Sizzling and/or popping sounds in and around switches mean that the switches are going bad. Either loose electrical connections or bad contacts are usually the result of these sounds. Be sure you are using grounded switches and that the copper wire connections are attached properly and secure. Many homes have devices that have push type connections in addition to the screw terminals and therefore many electricians use the push method to terminate their wiring. This is faster and more profitable; however it is not a very good connection method or practice. In 2014 the NEC has declared this practice “Non-compliant when 14 gauge wire is being terminated due to the past history of reported problems with this wiring method.

 

Make sure that your electronic devices and appliances are grounded otherwise they may end up shocking you. If your cords are frayed or the ground is broken or not present call an electrician to make the repairs or throw the item away and purchase a new one. It is also important for all electronic items to be plugged into a grounded receptacle preferable a ground fault type receptacle. Ground fault circuit interrupter type receptacles commonly called GFCI’s have a built in safety feature to help prevent shock hazards that common circuit breakers don’t have. GFCI’s are required to be installed at the following locations kitchen countertops, bathrooms, laundry rooms, unfinished basements, garages, exterior receptacles, wet bars. These receptacles have a test button and should be tested monthly to make sure they are in proper working conditions.

 

Light bulbs can also be a source of fire problems in the home. Make sure that you never exceed the wattage rating for the light fixture or lamp. Installing light bulbs that exceed the light fixture recommendation causes several problems. First the light bulbs will have a shorten life span. Secondly, the heat produced will cause the light fixture wiring insulation to break down leading to a short circuit or fire.

 

Electrical cords, extension cords and male plug ends can also be a source of problems. Check your lamp cords for signs of deterioration such as cracking, cuts and if you have pets chew marks. Every time you use an extension cord check it for cuts and cracks or damaged cord ends. If you find any of these repair them immediately or replace the cord. Extension cords are to only be used for a temporary solution never a permanent wiring solution. Make sure that you are using the right gauge extension cord for the task at hand. Periodically check your homes receptacles. If you notice some discoloring on the plate or faceplate call an electrician right away. This is usually a sign of overheating due to a loose connection which can lead to arcing and possible fire. I have seen all too many times when a customer ignored the discoloring or electrical smell from a receptacle until it stops working. Now they have a much more serious problem and repair on their hands then if they just would have made a call when first noticing the discoloration. Make an attempt to go around your home and visibly look at your faceplates for this discoloring. Common places for this discoloring to occur are the receptacles used for vacuuming and portable space heaters.

 

Make sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are up to date. If these units have not been replaced within the last 5-10 years please replace them or call an electrician to replace them. The National Fire Protection Agency recommends that you have these units in all sleeping area, in each hallway outside these sleeping areas, and additionally one per floor. These should be tested with a product called “Smoke Check or Smoke in a Can” or if you cannot find this product light a candle and blow it out within 12 inches of the detector. Also push the test button to ensure that your back up battery is still charged and will operate the detector in case of a power failure.

 

Lastly, portable generators are great for when a severe storm or utility provider problem causes a prolonged power outage. Make sure that you follow the proper safety measures to allow safe power to your home and safety to the utility workers working to restore power. Be sure your generator is always grounded to earth. Always use a safety transfer switch that allows the power to be fed from your generator or the utility provider but never both at the same time. If your generator power back feeds to the utility power you are potentially setting up a very hazardous situation for that utility lineman working to restore the power lines. Never operator your generator inside your home including the garage or basement area, this could lead to potential deadly carbon monoxide gases.