Electrical fires are very real risks which cause millions of dollars in damage and injuries every year. However, many of them are preventable and some basic precautions or maintenance could have stopped a tragedy from occurring. Here are a few tips to help you make sure that your home is not the place of an electrical fire.
What Causes Electrical Fires?
For background, electrical fires are typically caused when an electrical circuit malfunctions in such a way that the electrical energy which is meant to pass through the system is instead diverted into the surroundings. This energy will then heat up the surroundings and can start a fire. Any time an electrical system is damaged, there is a risk that the electrical energy will not be fully contained within the system. Therefore, the first way to avoid electrical fires is to be mindful of and careful about any damage that your electrical system might incur. This is particularly important when it comes to things like cords plugged into outlets. Handling an extension cord roughly, running it over, or tying it into knots could create a situation where the cord develops a short and begins to discharge energy in the form of heat. Be careful when plugging and unplugging cords, and don’t forget to replace them as they age or become damaged. Wrappings some electrical tape around them to replace insulation is not sufficient to make an older extension cord safe.
Another extension of the electrical system you should be careful about are all of the electrical appliances you plug in to your home outlets. While appliances and tools are meant to be built to rigorous standards, the truth is that sometimes poor-quality items find their way into the hands of consumers. Whether it is that cell phone charger you purchased on the internet or a thrift store toaster, make sure that you are confident in the quality of anything you plug into your home. You could have the most up to date system in the world and still experience a fire if you plug in a defective electrical appliance.
Know Your Electrical System
Another key step in avoiding electrical fires is to get to know the signs that your electrical system could be in trouble. Not only can things like cords and appliances cause electrical fires, but faults in an electrical system could be in the walls of your home. As systems age, it becomes more and more likely that you could experience a dramatic failure of some of the components of your home electrical system.
First, keep an eye on the parts of your electrical system which you can inspect visually. One major sign that something could be going wrong is heat or discoloration of an outlet or light switch. If your power outlet has changed from a clean white to a dark yellow or brown, there might be heat causing it to discolor. Remember that heat is produced when electrical energy is discharging rather than traveling through the system, and too much heat will start a fire. If you ever notice excessive heat or this type of discoloration, call an electrician to come and perform an assessment. It is likely that they will need to do a quick replacement of the system, although the inspection could reveal a hidden danger that was hitherto unknown. The worst-case scenario would be fore a danger like this to grow without being noticed, until a sudden conflagration ends it all.
Similarly, pay attention to smells and other signs of fire. Electrical fires can sometimes start deep within a home’s structure and will smolder away in a low oxygen environment for a considerable amount of time. You might not realize that the timber making up your home is smoldering away until the heat eats through the walls, with the sudden influx of oxygen causing the fire to erupt into a massive consuming blaze.
Updating Aging Systems
If your home is older, you may need to have an electrician come and inspect even if you do not notice any problems with the system. There are two factors at play here. The first is the fact that electrical standards and knowledge have changed over the years. An electrical system installed 30 years ago will have been built with older materials and building standards, and sometimes we discover that there is something wrong with these methods. Hazards can be discovered years later which allow us to understand the danger in an older electrical system. Therefore, you might have some components which are more likely to cause trouble than is acceptable in order to ensure a reasonable amount of safety.
Second, older systems age. Heating and cooling cycles stress materials, and damage from weather, rodents, and chemical exposure can all cause a system to decay over time. Even if your system was perfect when installed, it might be a massive danger 30 years later depending on how much stress it has experienced.