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Fire Safety - Electrical

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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Stop and count how many electrical appliances and other items you have in your home that use electricity. The Consumer Product Safety Commission's research shows there are approximately 14,000 preventable electrical fires each year. These fires claim more than 700 deaths and 1.2 billion dollars in personal property damages each year. Electricity is many times taken for granted when all we have to do is flip a switch or push a button. Many families have experienced what happens when the electricity goes out. We're lost. According to data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), top electrical safety hazards include: electrical fires caused by aging wiring, misuse of surge suppressors, and electrocutions from wiring systems. May is National Electrical Safety Month – so this is a good time to give your home an electrical check up.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Electrical Safety Foundation International give the following suggestions to protect your home from electrical problems:

Make sure cords are in good condition. A frayed or cracked cord could cause a shock or fire. Replace old and damaged extension cords with new ones having the certification label of an independent testing laboratory on the cord.

Check to see extension cords are not overloaded, as indicated by the rating labeled on the cord and the appliance. Overloaded extension cords could cause fires. Change the cord to a higher rated one or unplug some appliances, and remember extension cords should only be used on a temporary basis and are not intended as permanent household wiring.

Check the wattage of all bulbs in light fixtures and lamps to make sure they are the correct wattage. Replace bulbs having a higher wattage than recommended to prevent overheating that could lead to a fire.

Check to see fuses are the correct size for the circuit. Replacing a correct size fuse with a larger size fuse can present a serious fire hazard.

If an appliance repeatedly blows a fuse, trips a circuit breaker, or has given you a shock, unplug it and have it repaired or replaced.

Check to see if outlets and switches are unusually warm or hot to the touch. If so, an unsafe wiring condition could exist. Do not use the outlet or switch and have a qualified electrician check the wiring as soon as possible.

Use appliances and equipment according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Use ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection when working where water is near electricity, in areas such your kitchen, laundry room, bathroom or outdoors, to protect against electric shock.

Be alert for hazards of old wiring. Flickering or dimming lights can be signs of electrical wiring problems. Have wiring in homes inspected by a licensed electrical inspector if the house is over 40 years old or having had major renovations over 10 years.

Add protection by installing a new electrical safety device – an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) – to detect and stop electrical arcs that can cause fires. Arcs are not detected by most breakers and fuses.

Make sure power strips and surge suppressors are designed to handle the loads for their intended use. Avoid overloading circuits by plugging too many items into the same outlet.

Taking time to check your house now may save your home and life.

Ask Lorene

(This resource was updated May 24, 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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