Electricity is something we take for granted. It allows us to enjoy lights at the flick of a switch as well as all the appliances and electronics that makes life easier and more fun. But, electricity can also be very dangerous and is the cause of over 50,000 house fires every year in the U.S. alone.
You are careful to not leave a fire in the fireplace when you're going to bed or leaving home. You wouldn't think of leaving candles lit when you're not around to watch over them. But, you may be ignoring a potential danger right in your walls -- your electrical wiring.
Some simple knowledge of how to recognize potential wiring problems can protect your family and your home. Always be aware of these warning signs of faulty wiring:
- If you live in an older home that still uses fuses keep in mind that most of these homes were set up to accommodate about 30 amps of power as opposed to the 100-200 amps in newer homes. With all the electronics and appliances found in modern homes, it's easy to overload a 30 amp circuit. If you find that you are constantly replacing fuses or are tripping the circuit breakers (which means the circuit is overloaded and shuts itself off for safety) you don't have enough power for your needs. Also, if you are using extension cords all over your house to accommodate all your appliances and electronics, your wiring is probably inadequate and needs to be updated. Either of these situations are dangerous and can increase the chances of an electrical fire. Your best course of action is to contact a reputable electrician and bring your house up to code.
- Lights that flicker or blink for no reason. Once you've established that the light bulb is good, call an electrician to assess what is causing the problem and how best to fix it. Flickering lights are often caused by overloaded circuits which can lead to house fires.
- Outlets and light switches that look like they've been burned or that make buzzing noises. These are signs of faulty wiring and a very dangerous situation. If this happens it could be a problem with the outlet or switch or with the wiring to that outlet or switch. While potentially very dangerous, it may not be that expensive to fix. An electrician can tell you if it's just the outlet or switch or some wiring issues at that one spot.
- An acrid smell. If you smell something burning it may be a sign of a small fire inside the walls due to an electrical short. If you smell burning immediately turn of the circuit breaker, or remove the fuse, for that outlet or light switch and call an electrician.
- If you get shocked when you touch a light switch or outlet. Getting shocked is a very serious sign of an electrical short and can lead to fire and electrocution. Immediately turn off the circuit breaker or remove the fuse for that outlet and call an electrician.
In addition to these year round electrical fire hazards, there are other hazards you should watch out for specifically during the holiday season.
- To decrease the chances of a fire, make sure all your holiday decorations are UL approved.
- Inspect all electrical decorations every year before you use them. If you see any frayed or cut cords, throw those decorations away.
- Carefully read and follow instructions in regards to how many light strings can be plugged in together. Too many decorations plugged into one outlet is a common cause of circuit overload and can lead to fire.
- If you replace bulbs on strings of lights, make sure you use the proper wattage bulb, preferably one that was included with that string of lights.
- Make sure all outdoor decorations are approved for outdoor use. And remember, you still have to prevent outdoor electrical decorations from getting wet.
- Use only outdoor approved extension cords and keep them out of standing water.
- And last, but not least, always unplug all electrical decorations before going to bed or leaving your home. In addition, make sure all candles and fires are out too.
The bottom line is that when it comes to electricity always play it safe. Don't hesitate to call an electrician if you see signs of wiring problems. Wiring issues can have devastating consequences but they aren't always expensive to fix. Sometimes a potentially deadly situation can be easily and cheaply rectified so don't put it off!