One of the most important home security issues is electrical safety involving outlets, plugs and extension cords. U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 47,820 fire structures per year involving an electrical fire or malfunction, but steps can be taken by homeowners and tenants to help prevent electrical fires.
From manipulator-resistant receptacles to GFCI (Ground Fault Current Interrupter) outlets, there are now safer electrical options to consider including in your home. Some safety tips to consider when using electrical outlets, electrical cords and extension cords are provided below.
Outlet Safety Tips
Homes built before 1965 typically have two-pronged outlets ungrounded, while new buildings usually have three-pronged outlets, including a hot, neutral and ground wire. Homeowners may want to consider upgrading their cabling to accept three-pronged outlets, especially if you replace older outlets that can be cracked, damaged or painted.
- Turn off appliances to avoid a “hot unplug,” which can result in an arc inside that could create a fire hazard, before unplugging them.
- Install tamper-resistant (TR) receptacles in outlets near kids. These outlets contain an internal spring-loaded shield that requires even pressure on both sides of the outlet to access the electrical contacts. New and renovated dwellings have been required by the National Electric Code ® to include TR receptacles since 2008.
- Be sure to read and follow the instructions of the manufacturer when plugging an appliance into a receptacle outlet.
- Only one high-wattage appliance should be connected at one time to a receptacle outlet.
- Only one heat-producing appliance, such as a toaster or coffee maker, should be plugged into a receptacle outlet at a single time.4
- To help protect against shock hazards, make sure you install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, basement, garages, outdoor areas and other places where electrical equipment is near water or can get wet. A GFCI can either be installed in your electrical system or built into a power cord to help prevent severe shocks.5
- To help prevent fires, have a qualified electrician install arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), which can help protect against fires that result from problems in home wiring, such as arcing and sparking.6
Power and Extension Cord Safety Tips
Be aware of the fire risk posed by damaged power cords and the fact that extension cords are for temporary use only. Consider adding additional circuits or outlets to a qualified electrician so you don’t need to use extension cords.
- Replace or repair damaged or loose electrical cords as they can increase the risk of electrical shock or cause arcing or overheating, which can lead to a fire.7
- Do not use an extension cord with major appliances.7
- Do not run extension cords under carpets.2
Other Safety Tips
- Never place anything that can burn (e.g., towels, scarves) over a lamp or heat-producing appliance.7
- Remember to use light bulbs with the correct wattage to help prevent overheating.7
Call a Qualified Electrician if You Have4:
- Warm-to-the-touch wall outlets or switches.
- Fuses that regularly blow or circuits that often trip.
- Appliances that smell rubbery or as if they are burning.
- Lights that dim or flicker.
- Appliances that spark. 8
1 2007-2011 data, http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/causes/electrical/electrical-safety-in-the-home
7 NFPA’s New Electrical Safety PSA,http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/causes/electrical/electrical-safety-in-the-home