5 ways to prevent electrical fires

Because electrical work can lead to injury or fire if not done correctly, it’s best to leave these repairs to a professional. (Photo by Ray Mata)

Because electrical work can lead to injury or fire if not done correctly, it’s best to leave these repairs to a professional. (Photo by Ray Mata)

If you've never inspected the electrical wiring in your home, it may be cause for concern. There are over 26,100 electrical fires in the U.S. each year, resulting in death or injury to more than 1,300 people, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Even more startling is the fact that almost all of those fires could have been prevented by following a few simple steps.

1. Inspect electrical wiring in the home

If you have an older home, have an electrician come and inspect your wiring. Electrical wiring is not meant to last forever, so if your home is a century old, it might be due for a rewire. This is especially true if your home has aluminum wiring (common in older homes), which is much more fire-prone than modern copper wiring. According to the Copper Development Association, all modern-day homes should have 12 American wire gauge (AWG) solid copper wiring installed to meet the demands of today's appliances. If your home has the thinner 14-AWG in place, you should consider hiring an electrician to rewire your home.

2. Inspect your appliances and electronic equipment for old and broken plugs and cords

Faulty wiring is one of the main causes of electrical fires. If you find anything that's frayed, tattered, or worn out, replace it with new wiring. Why? Because cords that are in bad condition can overheat or cause sparks, which in turn can ignite and start a fire. In the case of appliances, it's usually possible to buy new replacement cords.

3. Check to make sure your electrical sockets aren't overburdened

A common cause of electrical fire is overloading, which happens when you plug too many tappliances into the same outlet at once. This is common when you have an extension cord or power strip. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends buying power strips that are equipped with internal overload protection. This is basically an automatic shutoff feature that will turn off the strip if it gets overloaded.

4. Keep flammable materials away from electrical appliances and outlets

Portable electric space heaters are especially dangerous, but things like irons and even lamps can also start fires if they come in contact with flammable materials, including textiles such as blankets and rugs. Don't hide cables (especially extension cords) under rugs or carpets because if they overheat, they can easily start a fire.

5. Fix shorts and faulty wiring as soon as you notice a problem

This requires the help of an electrician, unless it's something as simple as replacing a cord. Signs of faulty wiring include flickering lamps, plugs that cause a spark every time you plug something in, breakers that constantly trip, and "buzzing" outlets. All of these can cause sparks, which in turn can lead - and very quickly - to a fire. While you're at it, make sure you replace or eliminate any wire, connection, extension cord of fuse box that feels warm; warmth in these cases usually indicates that there's a faulty or unsafe wiring connection. It can also mean that too much current is running through the circuits, which could cause an overload and result in a fire.

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