How To Avoid Electrical Fires
Did you know that over one-fifth of all fires in Australia are electrical fires? The majority of electrical fires are caused by either malfunctioning electrical equipment or faulty wiring. The colder months experience the most electrical fires due to increased appliance use. Electrical fires are especially dangerous. The reason being that since electrical wiring tends to be hidden, it is hard to know if there is a problem with your wiring. This means that an electrical fire could be brewing right under your nose, and you would not know about it unless you know to look for. In this article you will learn about the common causes of electrical fires and some tips to help prevent them from occurring in your home.
Keep a fire extinguisher handy
In the unfortunate event that an electrical fire does occur, you want to make sure that you are able to effectively contain the fire. Because of the unique nature of electrical fires, your standard fire extinguisher is not going to be enough. In order to effectively fight an electrical fire, you are going to need a fire extinguisher that is able to fight ‘type E’ fires. In other words, look for a fire extinguisher that discharges carbon dioxide or powder. Look for a fire extinguisher with a black or white band, as this symbolizes that they are able to fight type E fires.
Causes of electrical fires
So, now that we have established what sort of fire extinguisher you should keep on hand to deal with electrical fires, let’s look at what actually causes electrical fires.
Old or faulty electrical outlets
As outlets get used, the blades in the outlet begin to wear out. These blades are responsible for gripping the prongs on an electrical plug. When electrical prongs are not gripped properly, the risk of arcing is greatly increased. This is especially dangerous if the outlet is located near something that can catch fire easily, like a carpet, rug, or curtain. If you notice that when you plug an appliance into an outlet you have to “jiggle” the cord around to get the appliance to start working, then that is a good sign that something is wrong with the outlet. Furthermore, do regular checks on your outlet. Do you notice that there are burn marks on the outlet, or does it look like the outlet is discoloured? If so, then that means the outlet may have been burned, which means that there is some internal problem with the outlet that is causing heat to build up. If you think there is a problem with an outlet, turn off power to it, and call an electrician to come replace the outlet.
Damaged or worn out cords
Cords on appliances can become easily worn out just due to regular usage. For example, wrapping a cord around an appliance to make it easier to store, or putting a cord in a tight space where it is crushed by furniture all wear out a cord. Once a cord has become worn out, the insulation inside the cord is not able to stop the electricity from arcing. At this point, the cord becomes an electrical fire hazard. Also, if a cord becomes cracked, frayed, or damaged in any way, it becomes a major electrical fire hazard. Never use an appliance with a visibly damaged wire; always wait until you get a replacement cord before using the appliance again. Yes, most of the time nothing bad will happen if you use an appliance with a mildly damaged cord, but when it comes to electrical fires, you really do not want to take chances.
Over use of extension cords
Extension cords are not meant to be a way to plug in more appliances into a single outlet; but many people use them that way. Some people plug their computers, televisions, gaming systems, etc., all into an extension cord. This forces a single outlet to supply more power than it was designed to. The outlet becomes overloaded, which can lead to an electrical fire. If you find you need more outlets, call an electrician to come install more, never overload an outlet by forcing it to provide power to more appliances than it was meant to.
Overloading an outlet with lighting fixtures
A lot of people will plug high wattage lighting fixtures into an outlet that cannot handle the power needs of the lighting fixture. This can cause overheating, which leads to electrical fires. This is more common around the holidays, when many people try to plug all their lighting decorations into a single outlet. While we are on the topic of lights, try to avoid paper or cloth decorations on lighting fixtures; because those materials can catch fire when the lighting fixture heats up.
Now that you know some of the common causes of electrical fires, it is time to go over some tips, which will help you prevent electrical fires.
Regularly check outlets and cords
As we have already covered, a large amount of electrical fires will start due to problems either with a faulty outlet or a damaged cord. So, you should get into the habit of regularly checking cords and outlets that are used often. Check for any signs of damaged and replace the cords or outlets as necessary. Keep an eye out for the warning signs that something is wrong with an outlet. If you notice strange noises like buzzing, or see sparks come out whenever you plug in something, call an electrician to come take a look. Also, when it comes to cords, try to avoid bunching up cords, or winding them up tightly, as this puts unnecessary stress on the cord.
Install AFCI outlets
AFCI stands for “Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter.” AFCI outlets protects against arcing, which was we discussed above, can easily cause electrical fires. Most modern homes will have AFCI outlets installed in the bedroom (most electrical fires used to be in the bedroom, until the building code was updated to require AFCI outlets be installed in bedrooms), but if not, you will want to get an electrician in to install some.
Always check wattages
Always make sure your outlets are able to handle the power requirements of an appliance before plugging the appliance in. The same goes for light fixtures, do not plug a high wattage light bulb into a light fixture, unless you are certain that the light fixture can handle that wattage.