How To Protect Your Home From Electrical Problems

Since electricity is uniquely unforgiving and can cause serious injuries or death, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Electrical Safety Foundation International are joining together to encourage consumers to protect their homes from electrical problems.

Between 1994 and 1998, the CPSC estimates that there were over 360,000 residential fires each year, of which over 123,000 were related to electrical distribution or appliances and equipment, and another 15,000 were related to heating and air conditioning systems. These electrical fires caused an estimated average of 910 deaths, nearly 7,000 injuries and nearly $1.7 billion in property damage each year. Many of these incidents could have been prevented by having an electrical inspection of the house to find hidden hazards.

This summer, CPSC and ESFI are encouraging homeowners to: 1) have an electrical inspection conducted for homes 40 years and older, for homes 10 years and older with major renovations or new appliances added, or that have been resold; 2) learn the potential hazards posed by aluminum wiring systems and contact CPSC if your home is among the two million built with aluminum wiring between the late 1960s and early 1970s; and 3) consider installing arc fault circuit interrupters in place of ordinary circuit breakers, especially if your home is over 40 years old. AFCIs are new technology designed to prevent electrical fires by sensing unseen electrical arcing. AFCIs are particularly important where wiring may have degraded with age.

"The Commission has been working to prevent electrical fires for decades. We are currently working with other federal agencies and safety organizations on a major research project involving aged electrical wiring," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "Our best advice for homeowners is to hire a licensed electrical inspector or electrician to identify and correct hidden electrical hazards before they become tragedies."

"Most of us are unaware of how dangerous electricity can truly be within our homes," said Michael G. Clendenin, ESFI executive director. "As summer begins, ESFI's goal is to inform consumers of common household electrical hazards and empower them to protect their families and homes. We hope homeowners will come to regard electrical safety as an essential part of routine home maintenance."

It is important for homeowners to understand the severity of an electrical wiring fire, as it often begins behind a wall, in a basement or in the attic where the fire can spread throughout the home before setting off the smoke alarm or becoming evident to occupants. This reduces the amount of time available to escape a burning building.

Below are additional safety tips to help homeowners create the safest home possible:
  • Make sure smoke alarms are installed on every floor outside sleeping areas and in every bedroom, and are in good working order.
  • Look for telltale signs of electrical problems such as dimming of lights, frequent circuit breaker trips or blown fuses.
  • Ask a qualified electrician if your home would benefit from AFCI protection, especially during inspections of older homes or upgrades to electrical systems.
  • Limit the use of extension cords, particularly cords used to power room air conditioners.
  • Use light bulbs that are the proper wattage for the fixture - higher wattage bulbs can degrade the wires in and around the fixture.

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