Electrical malfunctions are the third most common cause of residential building fires, representing about 6% of all home fires. Fortunately, home electrical fires are preventable. You must simply be aware of the potential causes of electrical fires and how to avoid them.
Electrical fire risk: If you can plug a cord into an outlet with no resistance at all or the cord easily falls out, this outlet is a fire hazard. Loose connections cause the outlet to generate more heat than it’s designed to, which could start a fire.
Fire prevention techniques: Repair or replace loose outlets as soon as you notice them. You may be able to tighten the wire nuts to improve the connection, or you may need to replace the outlet.
Old Light Fixtures
Electrical fire risk: Every year, the light fixtures in your home degrade a little more. A fixture may last 25 or even 50 years, but eventually the wire insulation becomes charred, connections corrode, and bulbs don’t fit well in the socket. Continuing to operate light fixtures with these problems could present a fire hazard.
Fire prevention techniques: If your lights flicker or won’t stay lit and you’ve ruled out light switch problems, replace these fixtures as soon as possible. Also, be careful not to overload light fixtures. For instance, never use a 100-watt incandescent bulb in a fixture rated for 40 watts. However, a 100-watt equivalent CFL is acceptable because it produces the same light level, but not nearly as much heat, as a 100-watt incandescent bulb.
Electrical fire risk: Misusing extension cords is a common cause of residential fires. Kinked or smashed cords produce more heat, eventually melting the insulation from the inside out. Plugging a heat-producing appliance into an extension cord can also cause overheating.
Fire prevention techniques: Choose heavy-duty extension cords for every application. Lay the cord out of the way where no one will step on it. Don’t run cords under floor rugs, which could generate excessive heat. Never permanently rely on extension cords. If you don’t have enough outlets, have an electrician install more.
Limited Electric Power and Circuits
Electrical fire risk: In some homes, there simply isn’t enough power available or individual circuits to handle electrical demand. Every time a breaker trips, the circuit has overloaded. Older homes are especially prone to this problem because they weren’t designed with today’s high electrical demand in mind. Tripped circuit breakers gradually become so damaged that they no longer work properly. Excessive heat can melt wiring insulation and expose wires, creating a recipe for disaster.
Fire prevention techniques: If the kitchen or bathroom circuit breaker trips constantly, don’t simply reset the breaker and do it all over again – instead, hire an electrician to install additional circuits and protect your home from electrical fires.
Defective Appliances or Damaged Cords
Electrical fire risk: Individual electrical devices can malfunction and draw more current than they should without tripping a breaker. This creates excessive heat and can melt wiring insulation. If wiring is exposed for any reason, it can pose a fire hazard.
Fire prevention techniques: Pay attention to your appliances. Check cords for excessive heat or exposed wires. If a device makes strange noises or operates improperly, don’t wait until the cord catches on fire – repair or replace it immediately!
Electrical fire risk: Outdated wiring or improperly installed fixtures and electrical upgrades could increase your fire risk.
Fire prevention techniques: Qualified, reputable electricians always follow the National Electrical Code, so if you’re not confident you can complete a rewiring job safely, hire someone who can.