Between aging wiring and a constant influx of new appliances, it's important to keep a close eye on the electrical health of your home
From blow-drying our hair before work to celebrating our new air fryer, electricity keeps our lives moving along. But here's the tricky part: Electrical fires are the second-leading cause of home fires in the U.S., especially due to aging wiring systems and a growing dependency on electronics.
Whether you've just moved into a new space or are looking to give your current home a much-needed self-inspection, here are the top tips to keep your home safe from common electrical dangers.
1. Perform a Home Electricity Check-Up
Electrical Safety Foundation International suggests scheduling routine check-ups on your home's power setup. We're talking about all the things under your control, such as plugs, appliances, bulbs, and surge protectors.
Move from room to room to confirm:
All plugs and switches work properly
Plugs fit snugly into your outlets
Light bulbs match the wattage of your lamps
Fuses are properly turned to the on position
Major appliances, space heaters, and AC units connect to the wall outlet (not surge protectors or extension cords)
Wires do not run under rugs or up against furniture
Wires are not pinched by staples, nails, windows, or doors
Cords are damage-free and property intact
All products feature the seal of the Underwriters Laboratory (UL)
Appliances and wiring do not come in contact with water
“You might love them, but certain items in your home can become electrical hazards,” says Jeffrey Broussard, electrician at Boston Standard Company in Boston, MA. “The electrical code changes to make things safer, but your old things, like that vintage lamp or grandma’s old waffle iron, remain the same. Toss them to be safe.”
As for electrical issues outside of your control—the next stop on our list—it's crucial to work with a licensed electrician instead of attempting repairs or further inspection yourself.
2. Know the Warning Signs
You could follow all the proper safety rules when plugging in and caring for your home's wiring and still end up with an issue hidden out of sight. For example, older wiring—such as knob-and-tube wiring in older homes—can lead to problems over time due to frayed cords or incorrect alterations.
Keep your eyes, ears, and nose out for these red flags of electrical problems in your home:
Buzzing sounds from appliances, walls, lamps, or wiring
Warm light switches, electrical outlets, or areas around ceiling lamps
Odd smells around electrical units
Frequently tripped breakers
Flickering lights or bulbs that burn out quickly
Signs of pest teeth marks in wires or animal droppings nearby
3. Avoid Electrical Overloads
In addition to keeping an eye out for electrical issues, how do you prevent them from happening in the first place? Start by understanding how much an electrical outlet can handle and how to avoid overloading your system. Most outlets can handle between 15 and 20 amps of power, so it's important to keep an eye on the power level of each item.
We know how tempting it is to fit just one more plug into that surge protector or to hook up a Griswold Family level of holiday lights to one outlet. But overloaded systems are one of the top culprits of electrical fires.
For example, avoid plugging any of the following into a surge protector or extension cord:
You should also never plug one extension cord into another or extend a power strip with another power strip.
A quick note on extension cords: If you find yourself relying on them throughout your home, you may not have enough sockets and electrical capacity. Contact your electrician to speak about proper wiring.
4. Reconsider DIY
On our many home renovation adventures, electrical repairs or alterations can stop us in our tracks, and for good reason. The moment wiring comes into the picture, we recommend contacting a professional to oversee and complete the project.
If you need to complete a simple DIY appliance project, like cleaning your oven or replacing a garbage disposal, always switch off the breaker to that area of your home before working. Unplug all appliances and lamps before making any simple alterations as well—even changing a bulb.
Anything past this requires the help of a pro to avoid shock hazards, fires, or electrical wiring issues that affect the rest of your home.
5. Unplug Unused Appliances
If you do not need an appliance at all times—such as a slow cooker, hair straightener, or blender—unplug it when not in use. Be sure to store the cord and item in a safe place away from children and pets.
If you're headed away on vacation, also consider unplugging energy-sapping electronics like modems, computers, and chargers.
6. Consider an Arc Fault Protection Interrupter (ACFI)
Arc faults cause a whopping 30,000 home fires throughout the U.S. each year, according to the ESFI. Since the issue stems from damaged wires, outlets, and appliances, you're more likely to encounter arc faults in older or poorly wired homes.
Arc fault protection interrupters can detect the moment this damaging fault occurs, cutting off power before problems worsen. A handful of states currently require AFCIs in new home constructions, but you can hire electricians for installation across the country.
7. Childproof Your Outlets
Tamper Resistant Receptacles, or TRRs, are the long-term answer to covering outlets from small curious hands. If you have little ones in the house, TRRs add a spring-loaded cover to outlets to keep someone from inserting unwanted objects into the wall. The outlet must receive simultaneous pressure on both sides to release—such as a plug itself.
Electrical safety goes far beyond avoiding a tripped breaker or a power surge to your laptop. By paying close attention to the wiring of your home, earn peace of mind that you're doing all you can to prevent this common offender of home fires.