Home electrical fires are more common than you would think. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 45,210 home structure fires were started by an electrical issue annually between 2010 and 2014.
The problems that cause electrical fires can often be detected during a home electrical inspection. One of the best times to perform this check is before you move into a new house. In fact, Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends you conduct an electrical system inspection any time you purchase a previously-owned home. Here’s what we recommend you look for.
Outlets and switches
It’s best to check all your outlets and switches prior to moving in any furniture, which may block problem spots. Check first to make sure all outlets are three-pronged and that all outlets and switches have plate covers. If you have babies or toddlers, count the number of outlets as well — you’ll need to buy outlet plugs for all of them.
Note any looseness or signs of damage. Loose outlets or switches and cracked plates pose electrocution and fires risks. Discoloration around an outlet or switch or warmth to the touch suggests a dangerous buildup of heat, and that switch or outlet shouldn’t be used until an electrician checks it out. If you hear strange sounds such as buzzing or crackling coming from an outlet or switch, it could indicate an issue with the wiring and should be investigated by an electrician.
Lastly, try out any switch or plug that doesn’t display one of the above issues and ensure it works properly and that plugs fit snugly.
Next check all the light fixtures in the house. Make sure any ceiling- or wall-mounted fixtures are secure. Also, check the wattage and bulbs in every light fixture. If the previous owner installed a bulb with a greater wattage than the fixture was designed to handle, it could overheat and ignite nearby combustible material such as a cloth or paper lamp shade.
The fuses or circuit breakers in your electrical panel protect you against fires by preventing your electrical system from being overloaded. Make sure each fuse or circuit breaker is the right size for its circuit. The wrong size could result in overheated wiring creating a fire hazard.
Check also to see if there are Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) installed in your panel. These are special circuit breakers that monitor for dangerous electrical arcs that can cause fires and trip the circuit when one is detected. Depending on where in the U.S. you live, your home may require AFCIs be installed as outlined by the National Electrical Code.
Fixing electrical safety issues
While problems like outlet covers and wrong light bulbs have a quick DIY fix, more serious hazards need professional attention. If you uncover any of the dangerous electrical issues outlined above, have a licensed residential electrician investigate and address them.
Learn how to make your new or even current home safer by accessing additional information on home electrical safety.