Residential home electrical fires are responsible for approximately 46,000 home fires and over $1.5 billion in property damage each year. The numbers may sound daunting, but the good news is that by performing regular fire safety audits and using your electrical devices responsibly, you can greatly reduce the risk of electrical fire within your home. Here are some simple tips for preventing and extinguishing residential electrical fires.
Replace appliances with frayed cords
Frayed or damaged cords, particularly those attached to lights and appliances, are some of the most common causes of electrical fires. When the plastic on a cord is severed or worn thin or wires are frayed, heat from the cord could transfer to other surfaces and start fires. If you notice that any of your home appliances have damaged cords, repair or replace them to eliminate the possibility of an electrical fire.
Upgrade two-prong outlets to grounded three-prong outlets
Two-prong outlets are now considered outdated for modern homes and have been replaced with three-prong outlets, which are safer thanks to a ground wire which protects from electrical surges. A three-prong outlet will divert excess electrical current to the ground during an electrical surge or if the outlet is overloaded (if you plug too many appliances in). Without the ground wire, a two-prong outlet could be prone to sparking, heating up, or causing electrical shock if overloaded or experiencing a surge.
Two-prong outlets are quite common in older homes, and they are generally safe if not overloaded, but upgrading them to three-prong outlets will undoubtedly reduce your risk of electrical fires in your home.
Limit the use of extension cords and surge protectors
Extension cords and surge protectors are a convenient way to power electronics in high-demand areas of your home or places where you don’t have an outlet handy. However, you should use them with care. Ensure you don’t overload your extension cords or surge protectors, as doing so could cause them to short or overheat. Don’t use indoor extension cords outside your home, as moisture could cause them to spark or malfunction.
Take care not to place extension cords near heat sources which could cause the plastic coating to melt and lead the cord to malfunction.
Consider upgrading your home’s wiring
Faulty wiring is one of the primary causes of residential electrical fires. If you have an older home (say, 40 years or more), upgrading your wiring would likely reduce your risk of electrical fires. Wires can deteriorate over time, leading to shorts and sparks.
While old wiring isn’t inherently dangerous, having an inspection done will give you peace of mind and draw your attention to any potential issues.
If your home has two-prong outlets, you notice warm or discolored outlets, or you regularly have breakers trip, have an electrician inspect your electrical system.
A licensed electrician can advise on any weaknesses within your home’s electrical and recommend upgrades to ensure your safety.
How to extinguish electrical fires
If you happen to notice an electrical fire in your home, remember that you should not extinguish it with water. Water is an electrical conductor, and throwing it on an electrical fire could result in electric shock.
Instead, cut power to the source of the electrical fire and smother it with a heavy blanket or baking soda. A Class C fire extinguisher can also be used to put out an electrical fire.
If extinguishing the fire isn’t possible, evacuate the area and call 911 for assistance.
The Bottom Line
Electrical fires are a scary prospect, but by taking a proactive approach to fire safety, you can mitigate your risks and protect your home and your family from danger. Your home fire alarm system will ensure help is dispatched in an emergency, but speaking with members of your household about the risks of electrical fires will ensure everyone uses appliances responsibly and speaks up about potential issues.
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