21 Mar PREVENT HOME ELECTRICAL FIRE HAZARDS
Wire Wiz Electrician is a licensed electrician service in your local community, Atlantic and Cape May Counties, New Jersey for more than 30 years. They have extensive experience in residential electrical services.
Home electrical fire hazards are preventable! However, each year produces thousands of such fires. Don’t let it happen to you! The information in this article will help you identify electrical fire hazards in your home. Additionally, there are some preventive measures to take so read carefully.
Home Electrical Fire Hazards Safety Warning Signs
Here are warning signs of four potential electrical fire hazards that you may not know about. If any of them sound familiar, consider hiring a licensed electrician to conduct a wiring inspection.
The lifespan of an electrical system is 30 to 40 years. But more than 30% of the nation’s houses, some 30 million homes, are more than 50 years old. “Older homes with fuses were set up for about 30 amps of power; many homes now have 100, 150, even 200 amps of power,” says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for Underwriters Laboratories, which conducted a study of aging residential wiring.
Warning signs of inadequate power include circuit breakers that trip or fuses that blow repeatedly, and an over-reliance on extension cords. “They’re meant to be temporary,” Drengenberg says. “If you have extension cords routed all over, it’s time to get an electrician out there. Your home would not comply with the National Electrical Code.”
Many houses built in the 1960s and early 1970s have aluminum wiring, which oxidizes and corrodes more easily than copper and has been linked by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to electrical fires. “It’s okay for a while, but it doesn’t have the life that copper does, particularly where wires terminate. The terminals and splices are known for overheating,” says Roger L. Boyell, a forensic engineer in Moorestown, N.J.
Short of a whole-house wiring upgrade, an electrician may be able to head off potential problems by installing copper connectors called pigtails at receptacles and breakers. “It’s time-consuming,” Boyell says, “but there’s no big equipment involved.”
An arc fault, which occurs when electrical current veers off its intended path, often through a breach in wiring is a leading cause of electrical fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. It doesn’t take much to cause an arc fault. You could damage wiring inside the wall when hanging a cabinet, a piece of furniture could cut through a cord, or there may be a loose connection in an outlet.
The resulting arc, capable of producing heat in excess of 10,000 degrees F, can be nearly impossible to detect. But arc faults are preventable. A device called an arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) senses these dangerous abnormalities in wiring or appliances and shuts down the circuit before it overheats. The Electrical Safety Foundation International estimates that the use of AFCls could prevent 50% to 75% of fires caused by arc faults.
AFCls are now required on circuits covering most general living areas in new houses. (Note: These are not the same as ground-fault circuit interrupters. or GFCls. which are used in kitchens, baths, and other wet areas to prevent electrical shocks.) But they’re even more valuable in older houses, where connections may have degraded over the years. It’s an easy job for an electrician to upgrade standard circuit breakers, which don’t protect against arc faults, to AFCls. At $30 to $50 per breaker, it could cost a few hundred dollars to retrofit every circuit. Still, weighed against the potential tragedy of a house fire, it is money well spent.
Counterfeit Electrical Products
If you’ve ever gone to a flea market and seen vendors hawking extension cords, power strips, night lights, batteries, even circuit breakers for ridiculously low prices, there’s a reason. They’re probably counterfeits, and they’re incredibly dangerous. “I’ve seen extension cords all over the country that have inferior copper in them-it’s speaker wire, and it literally melts in your hands,” says Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International. “They’re putting a lot of people at risk.”
Your best bet is to buy electrical products only from reputable retailers who will take things back if they don’t work. And look for the Underwriters Laboratories seal. On low-cost items that are ripe for counterfeits, UL puts its logo in a holographic label that’s much more difficult to reproduce.
Extinguishing an Electrical Fire
Electrical fires are tricky to put out. If you douse them with water, you run the risk of electrocution, and not all chemical fire suppressants will extinguish them completely. To be safe, make sure your household fire extinguisher is rated A-8-C, which indicates that it is effective against fires involving ordinary combustible materials, flammable liquids, and electrical equipment.
An Electrical Home Safety Inspection performed by Wire Wiz Electrician Services may prove to be just the right thing to do to protect your family and property.
Electrical Fire Causes Continued
Home fires are an all too common an occurrence and in a great many cases the root cause is an electrical failure of some kind. The causes of electrical fires vary greatly. In some instances it is mechanical failure of an electrical device and in others it is from improper usage or design of the electrical system itself in your home.
Nearly all electrical fires could be prevented. If we understand the causes of home electrical fire hazards and take appropriate steps to prevent them there will be significantly less loss of property and life. Saving a couple of dollars by using a non-licensed electrician or sub-par products aren’t worth risking the loss of your home or life from a fire. Don’t you agree?
The National Electrical Code (NEC) is widely accepted throughout the US as the definitive standard for electrical work and a good portion of that code consists of procedures to prevent fire. As a professional electrician service we are expected and required to understand and comply with the guidelines of the NEC at all times and that typically means an understanding of why those rules are in place.
The NEC’s Role in Home Fire Prevention
The NEC, some 800 pages describing proper methods of doing nearly all electrical work, is just a small part of the NFPA | National Fire Protection Association. It is not designed to produce efficient electrical systems or to make profits for the inspectors enforcing the rules. It is not intended to sell particular electrical devices and it will not describe how to wire a house cheaply or quickly. The only reason for the code is safety | all 800 pages describe how to install electrical systems that will operate safely and this includes fire prevention.
A GFCI outlets, circuit breakers, fuses, arc-fault breakers can be irritating at times but they are there for a very good reason; your safety and the safety of anyone in the home. They are designed to shut the circuit off before either a fire or shock can cause any harm and should never be removed, modified or defeated in some manner.
In years past homeowners with screw in fuses rather than modern circuit breakers used to remove the fuse, stick a penny in and screw the fuse back in. Any and all protection afforded by the fuse is completely lost as a result and overloaded circuits will simply heat up until they either melt the wire in two or (more likely) cause a fire. Such modifications all too often have literally deadly results.
Poor Electrical Connections Can Cause a Home Fire
Any time electricity flows it creates heat. Under normal conditions, this heat is minimal. Your home wiring is designed and installed to prevent any large amount of heat buildup in the electrical system. Sometimes, though, failing equipment or devices create far more heat than they are designed to. Some examples might be:
Loose or Worn Outlets
If cords can be plugged into an outlet very easily or if they simply fall out as time passes, the outlet needs replacement. If appliances plugged into an outlet operate only intermittently it can be caused by poor connections either in the outlet itself or in wire nuts in the box behind the outlet. Either tightens the wire nut connections and/or replace the outlet.
Switches will wear out over time. They will usually last for many years, which make it easy to think they will last forever, but they won’t. Just like outlets, the wire connections in the back or side of the switch may be loose and the switch will need replacement. It is also possible that wire nuts are loose behind the switch.
Old and Corroded Fixtures
As electrical parts age the wiring degrades a little each year. A light fixture may be good for 25 or even 50 years, but eventually the wire insulation inside chars, the connections corrode and the light bulb sockets won’t hold a bulb well. If lights flicker or won’t stay lit and potential switch problems have been eliminated it may be time to replace old light fixtures. The spring that holds the wire in the small hole weakens over time and makes for a poor electrical connection.
The use of extension cords should be evaluated for necessity. They are a very common cause of home fires. When an extension cord is kinked or smashed (walking on it too many times) the electrical resistance of the wire inside rises which creates heat resulting in a fire hazard. Eventually the insulation may well begin to melt but this is not obvious; it may just be a small portion between the copper wires inside. As this happens more and more current begins to flow between the wires and eventually causes a fire. If you absolutely must use an extension cord for long periods of time make sure it is completely out of the way and not subject to physical damage. Under a couch, perhaps, or tucked into the edge of carpeting, whatever it takes to make sure that feet, vacuum cleaners, pets and small children can’t reach it. Better to simply add a new outlet to an existing one than use an extension cord for months or years.
Many older homes are really marginal in their ability to safely provide enough power to operate all the electrical things we use in modern life. There just isn’t enough power available to the home or there aren’t enough individual circuits. In years past only one circuit was designed into kitchens, and that isn’t enough to properly operate a microwave, refrigerator, toaster, electric grill, mixer, toaster oven, etc. The result is that the circuit breaker or fuse is always tripping. The same is true in bathrooms; the bathroom circuit commonly supplies bedrooms as well, but add in a curling iron and a hair dryer along with the bedroom TV and electric blanket and that circuit is often overloaded as well.
Every time a circuit trips or a fuse blows it is an indication that the circuit is overloaded, but most people will simply reset the breaker and do it again. The inevitable result is that the circuit breaker is slowly damaged to the point it doesn’t work properly anymore and the panel itself can be damaged. We have seen house panels that have the massive bus bars inside, carrying the entire power for the whole home, half melted from repeated overloads and this is a recipe for disaster. It most certainly is one way that home fires start.
If you are commonly tripping a breaker or having to replace blown fuses, have additional circuits installed as necessary. It can be expensive but it’s better than burning the house down.
In addition to electrical overloads is overloading a light fixture with lamps that are too large. According to the NFPA, the largest source of electrical fires are lamps and light fixtures. Such fixtures are designed to withstand only the heat from the rated size light bulbs. Do not overload the fixture with bulbs that are too large. While it is quite acceptable to use a 100 watt equivalent CFL bulb to replace a 40 watt incandescent bulb as an energy saving measure in your home, the key is that the CFL is only using a few watts of energy and isn’t nearly as hot. It won’t overload either the thermal insulation or the electrical wiring of the fixture. It isn’t the same as screwing in a 100 watt bulb into a 40 watt light.
Occasionally equipment of various kinds can fail in such a way that it may not trip a breaker or blow a fuse, but is still drawing more current than it should. Circuits in general are allowed to carry only 80% of the current the breaker will allow as a safety factor but when that is removed the safety becomes marginal. While the current may not trip a breaker, it does cause heat and, over time, can harm the electrical components such as breakers or the wire itself. Eventually resistance rises to the point that enough heat is produced to cause a fire.
If a fan, for instance, turns too slowly, if the cord warms to the touch, if it makes strange noises then replace or repair it! Don’t simply keep using it until the cord catches fire. Electrical heaters are equipped with a “tip over” switch that turns them off if they are tipped over and never defeat such electrical protections. They can be irritating, but they also save lives.
Improper Wiring Methods
A qualified and conscientious electrician will always follow the requirements of the NEC to produce a safe and effective electrical system, but the same isn’t true of homeowners who often don’t know what is safe. Another example from my experience: I once purchased a used hot tub from a homeowner. Upon finding that I was an electrician, he asked me to unwire it from the house and I agreed to help him out there. He had run wire from the hot tub to a dryer outlet just inside the wet room, but what appeared to be adequately sized wire turned out to be 14 gauge wire wrapped with many layers of electrical tape. Now, that is at least 3 sizes too small for the hot tub and when I removed the large cover from the dryer outlet it simply crumbled in my hands completely charred to nothing but tiny bits of plastic just waiting to be disturbed to fall apart. The homeowner looked at it, looked at me, and commented that “I guess that’s what causes fires, huh?”
He was right, that’s what burns homes down and it was completely unnecessary. If you don’t know what is needed to complete a wiring job safely, either find out or hire someone that does know. Electricians have, in most states, completed years of study and work learning how to ply their craft and are usually quite knowledgeable. Hire one if necessary simply because your family and homes safety depends on it.
Holidays often bring home fires with them. Extension cords are strung everywhere, lights are added all over rooms and vegetation outdoors, and even candles are left burning without supervision. All of these are dangerous and can cause a home fire at the worst possible time. Make sure that your Christmas tree isn’t drying out with lights or candles still on it. Put candles out when you’re not right there. Protect extension cords, and particularly don’t leave the ends of them in puddles or snow. Arrange cords so that children or pets can’t play with them; a dog chewing a cord cannot only electrocute themselves but can burn the house down as well. A little common sense can go a long way.
If you have any questions or concerns about possible electrical fire hazards in your Atlantic or Cape May County home give us a call. We will be diligent is our inspection to ensure your family’s and homes safety.