Electrical systems are highly vulnerable to flooding and water. The intrusion of even small amounts of water into electrical components not designed for operation in wet environments can cause a variety of damages, from the destruction of the component, to fires or the risk of uncontrolled electric discharge. With many floods on the news lately, here is an opportunity for you to understand how electrical systems interact with flooding, and what you can do to be safe.
If You Know a Flood is Coming
When a flood occurs, your first priority should be to ensure that your electrical system will not cause any issues. If you are expecting a severe flood, it might be worth it to switch off your power ahead of time. Once a flood begins, it might be difficult to do so safely. If your electrical systems are compromised, even approaching them could be dangerous. As the floodwater will conduct electricity, you do not want to be approaching a live electrical system while you and the system are partially submerged in water. Therefore, taking preventative measures is your best bet to protect yourself and your property.
If the flood is an area wide event, your local electrical provider may shut off power before the flood reaches your neighborhood. Events like hurricanes or rivers overflowing are typically large enough that your provider will be aware of the problem, and will take steps to protect you. However, it can always be useful to give them a call and request that your power be turned off.
Some flood strike with little warning however. This frequently occurs when something like a water pipe breaks, and causes a basement or low elevation area to become partially or fully submerged in water. In this situation, use caution! If the electrical system is submerged, you could be at serious risk for electric shock if you enter the water. Turn off power to the area from a safe place if possible, and call an expert to come and ensure that the pool of water in your basement isn’t a deathtrap.
If you have time, make sure to do what preparation you can before the flood spreads. Unplug and remove any appliances that are likely to be impacted, although you do not want to touch or unplug them after the floodwaters have reached them. Stay back, and exercise caution. Things such as rubber soled boots can protect you, but are not failsafe.
If you see smoke, hear sparks, or have other reasons to suspect that there could be a fire risk, you will need to take even more steps to protect yourself. Start by turning off the electricity. If you cannot do this, stay back, and monitor the situation. If you cannot safely investigate, call emergency services and stay back. A short circuit could be causing a fire could also be discharging electricity into the environment, creating quite a dangerous situation for you. Houses and belongings are replaceable, you are not.
Long Term Planning
When doing electrical work, there will be parts of the local building codes which require safety features in electrical systems. Some of these will involve flooding. If you are having any electrical work done, make sure that the work is being performed by a licensed professional. Failing to hire qualified individuals to perform your electrical work could mean that you end up with a product which is not sufficiently safe, let alone for disaster conditions. While poorly done work could fail at any time, it is particularly dangerous during conditions such as a flood. Fires, shorts, and other issues could happen, and if work was not done safely, anyone attempting to fix it might find themselves in an even more dangerous situation.
If you live in a particularly flood prone area, it can also be helpful to upgrade your electrical system to be more flood resistant. There are a variety of things you can do to help flood proof your system. For example, raising all electrical work further above the ground can mean that your system is less likely to be damaged or unsafe if your house is partially flooded.
If you are willing to spend extra money, you can make sure that many of your components and systems are flood resistant. Most electrical systems and devices can be designed so that they are resistant to water damage, and while it may not be a good option for most people, it might be a good idea for you. Ask your trusted contractor about what options they recommend for your situation. This can also be helpful in gleaning information about your particular system, such as knowing where wires run, and which systems are vulnerable. Knowing your electrical system will be an excellent tool in helping yourself stay safe.