Each year, electrical malfunctions lead to roughly 45,000 house fires in the United States. With an average of more than of 20 electrical appliances per home, electricity feels commonplace — and concerns about its safety often fall by the wayside. Here are seven things you can do to keep your household safe.
1. Turn off appliances before unplugging them.
Unplugging an appliance that is still turned on is called a “hot unplug.” This can result in an electrical arc, which burns the metal contacts in the outlet and prongs of the plug and creates a fire hazard.
2. Don’t overload your outlets.
Only one high-wattage or heat-producing appliance — like toasters, coffee makers, and hair dryers — should be plugged into a receptacle outlet at a time. If you notice flickering lights or a buzzing noise from the outlet, chances are you’re overloading the electrical circuit.
3. Take care of your extension cords.
Extension cords are a common convenience, but too much reliance upon them can be dangerous. Always plug high-wattage appliances directly into a permanent outlet, and never string extension cords into one another. Be careful not to run cords under carpets or through walls where heat can’t escape. If you notice a heavy dependence on extension cords in your home, you likely have too few outlets to address your needs and should have additional receptacles professionally installed.
4. Be careful around heat-producing appliances.
Never place anything flammable — like towels, scarves, curtains, etc. — over a lamp or other heat-producing appliance. Double check that there are several inches of clearance on all sides to avoid a fire hazard.
5. Keep an eye on your light bulbs.
Use light bulbs with the correct wattage requirements for each fixture, as bulbs with higher wattages can sometimes overheat. If you haven’t already, you might want to consider switching to compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs that provide the same level of light at a lower wattage level. Always screw your light bulbs in tightly, and be sure to completely turn off or unplug any fixture before changing the bulb.
6. Perform home electrical safety checkups.
Conducting routine electrical safety checkups helps identify hazards in your home before they lead to a serious incident. The Electrical Safety Foundation International has some great checklists to get you started.
7. Call a qualified electrician if you notice any problems.
If you notice outlets or switches that are warm to the touch, flickering lights or frequently blown fuses, appliances that spark or smell rubbery, or anything else that doesn’t seem quite right, call a professional electrician right away. Addressing problems early can prevent them from causing long-term damage.
Though it’s easy to forget, it’s important to make electrical safety a top priority in your home. Becoming aware of potential hazards and quickly taking steps to correct them will keep your family safe and let you enjoy your appliances without worry.