Whether it’s a home renovation gone wrong, a busted pipe, or a natural disaster, sometimes your electrical systems will be damaged. But no matter the extent of the damage, there will be universal steps that you should take to be safe, and get things repaired as quickly and cost effectively as possible.
One of the most common and dangerous causes of electrical damage is flooding and water damage. When a flood or other water damage has occurred, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, never enter a basement or room that has been flooded before your house has been completely disconnected from the grid. As electricity will follow the path of least resistance, it can flow from your system, through water with electrolytes, and into your body. This can cause serious injury or death, Even turning power off at the circuit breaker might not protect you if it has been damaged. The only way to be absolutely certain that you will not be electrocuted is if you completely disconnect your house from the grid. This should be accomplished by a trained electrician or city repairman. Second, understand that most electrical components will be completely ruined, and an electrician will need to complete a full inspection to determine the cost of repairs. Nearly all components and wires which have been submerged, even briefly, will need replacing. Therefore, ensure that your inspection fully covers and tests all of the areas which could have been affected. Electrical damage can be incredibly dangerous, as unintentional discharges of power can be fatal or cause structural damage through fires.
Other damages to electrical systems can be through mechanical or energetic trauma. For example, one of the most common reasons for damage to an electrical system is that a homeowner or contractor will inadvertently cut or damage their wiring. In this situation, care should be taken to ensure that no wires are exposed. If they are, take proper precautions. Shut off the power, and figure out what circuit has been damaged. In this case, an electrician should be able to conduct a relatively quick repair. Installation of a junction box and reconnecting the wires should safely repair the system. However, more extensive damage, such as that due to a fire or larger trauma might require a more comprehensive overhaul and repair of the system.
No matter what, as soon as you are aware that your electrical system has been damaged, the first step should always be to shut off the power. Depending on the situation, this might involve a few different steps. Obviously power can be shut off at the circuit breaker, but there will be situations where you will need to go further upstream, such as in the case of a flood. If you have any reason to suspect that the main breaker box is damaged, absolutely go further upstream and ensure that there is no electricity flowing on the circuit. One of the most common causes of electrical related injuries is when a worker or resident incorrectly believes that wires are no longer hot. This misappraisal can cost lives, so always err on the side of caution.
Secondly, be aware of environmental damages which could result from the electrical damages and failure. Before you turned off the power, is there the potential that a fire could have started? Be alert for smells which could be a sign that there is a fire, or that heat was released from the circuit. Also, which systems were powered by the circuit? If it was a lighting circuit there should be no problem, but if it powers a refrigerator or freezer you will need to prepare for the possibility of your food going bad. Similarly, if it powers a heating element and your winters are cold, you will absolutely need to take precautions to ensure that you are safe and that your system is repaired promptly.
Finally, after completing your initial assessment and ensuring that there are no immediate risks, call an electrician. If you are worried that you cannot perform the above steps, vacate the area and call an electrician immediately. His first task will be to assess the situation. Obviously a downed powerline across an occupied vehicle would be an extremely dangerous situation, and a burned out lightbulb would be a low risk situation, but for everything between these two extremes you will want an accurate assessment of the risk involved. Once safety has been taken care of, the assessment will turn to the financial implication of the damage. Figuring out what your costs will be will allow you to make an informed decision about how to proceed with the repair, and whether or not you will need to involve your insurance. Once you have this assessment, you should have the knowledge to proceed in whatever way will be best for you.