While electricity is a wonderful aspect of modern life, it can be dangerous if we aren't careful. Electrical fires are a common occurrence in the United States, causing injuries, claiming lives, and resulting in losses of property. The majority of electrical fires are a result of old wiring and faulty outlets. Damage to appliance cables and extension cords and plugs can also lead to electrical fires in the home. To help prevent electrical fires in your home, it’s important to check your electrical appliances and wiring on a routine basis. Use the following information and tips to learn more about electrical fires, hidden hazards, statistics, circuit interrupters, and safety tips.
Facts and Figures
- More than 15 million appliances have been recalled in the last five years for defects that could result in a fire, including 1,942 incidents reported.
- According to data analyzed by the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), more than 69,000 fires were reported from 2002 to 2009 associated with appliances.
- Residential appliance fires result in an estimated 9,600 fires, 525 injuries, 25 deaths, and $211 million in property loss annually.
- Nationwide, there is a home fire death an average of every three hours.
- According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire statistics data reported that 85 percent of fire deaths occurred in the home in 2009.
- Each year fires started in electrical systems or lighting equipment result in damage to more than 24,000 homes and cause 830 civilian injuries and 320 civilian deaths.
Hidden Electrical Hazards
Examples of unsafe home conditions that can lead to fire include:
- Damaged extension cords, electrical conductors or plug wires
- Short or overloaded circuits
- Use of modified, unapproved or faulty electrical equipment
- Insufficient clearance between combustibles and electrical heating equipment
- Loose electrical connections
- Running power cables through walls to a wall-mounted TV. This problem is quickly remedied with a recessed power outlet. Learn how to hide your TV cables safely.
Warning signs of electrical dangers include:
- Reoccurring or frequent issues associated with blowing fuses in appliances or tripping circuit breakers
- Tingling sensation as you touch an electrical appliance
- Sparks coming from an outlet or discolored or warm wall outlets
- A continuous burning smell from a room or appliance
- Lights that frequently flicker or dim
Electrical Circuit Interrupters
Electrical circuit interrupters protect against fires by monitoring electrical current. These devices respond to overloads and short circuits, such as with circuit breakers. Electrical circuit interrupters help to save lives and make homes safer by eliminating a significant source of electrical-related fires. When an electrical switch is opened or closed, a discharge of electricity occurs across the circuit, known as arcs. When arcs are unintentional, such as when wires or cords are loose or damaged, sparking can result in possible igniting of combustibles. These devices do not interfere with smoke alarms and other appliances and do not affect power supply reliability.
When you run cable through any building you first need to consider plenum spaces. Plenum spaces are the open spaces above the ceiling or below the floor that are used for air circulation. Technically, any ductwork is considered a plenum space too. These spaces are important for air circulation in any building, but they also bring some problems if you ever have a fire because of the high oxygen content and lack of fire barriers. Using untreated cables in plenum spaces can spread the fire to other areas very quickly and spread noxious smoke throughout the building. Plenum cables are coated with flame retardant and made using special plastics that don’t smoke nearly as much as other plastics to help prevent this problem. Any cable that you run through plenum spaces must be plenum rated, even wiring used for information transfer, like Cat5 wiring.
The problem with plenum cables is that they are often more expensive, which is why people can become tempted to cut corners and use non-treated cables. An easy and far less risky solution is to use unterminated bulk cable and terminate it yourself. This process is fairly straightforward with most types of wiring, but Cat5 wiring can be a bit more complicated. To help you out we’ve made a Cat5 wiring diagram that shows you what you need to do.
- Consider having the wiring inspected in your home if you live in a house that is over ten years old. If the house is over forty years old, an inspection should be immediate.
- Always follow the usage instructions on all appliances.
- Fix electrical or appliance problems right away. Use caution if fuses blow often, switches become hot or cause shocks, or circuit breakers trip often.
- Never place electrical cords under bedding or rugs. Sparks or heat from the wiring can cause a fire.
- Check labels on lighting fixtures and lamps to ensure you are using the right size bulbs. Check the label on the fuse box to ensure you are using the right size fuses.
- Always cover unused electrical outlets with plastic plugs.
- If a cable or cord has three-prongs, always use it properly. Do not remove the extra prong as the appliance must be grounded to reduce the risk of electrical shocks.
- Do not overhaul electrical outlets. Extension cords should not be used as permanent cords in homes.
- Routinely check your electrical appliances, electronics and wiring for signs of damage.
- Replace all damaged, old, or worn appliance cords immediately and do not use appliances with frayed wiring.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet counters and floors. Be cautious when using electrical appliances in the kitchen and bathroom.
- Do not allow children to play with or around electronics or electrical appliances, including hair dryers, space heaters, and irons.
- Keep curtains, clothes, and other combustible items at least three feet away from heaters.
- Some electrical appliances are designed to be left “ON” all the time. Check the manufacturer directions if you are unsure.
- Learn the wiring colors and be sure to follow all instructions given by the manufacturer when fitting a plug.
- Use proper rated cable, such as plenum HDMI, plenum Cat5e, and plenum siamese cable.
- U.S. Fire Administration: Fact sheet from the U.S. Fire Administration on home electrical fire prevention.
- Electrical Appliance Fire Safety: Learn what to check for on your electrical appliances to prevent fires.
- Home Fire Statistics: Facts and figures associated with home fire statistics, including information on civilian home fires and fire-related deaths.
- Electrical Safety Foundation International: Series of articles relating to fires caused by electronics and appliances.
- Microwave Ovens Safety Issues: Learn about the common dangers associated with microwave ovens and how to use them safely.
- Building and Fire Safety: Tips on how to identify electrical safety problems with this electrical safety check list.
- The Danger of Electrical Shock: Information on how to stay safe from electrical shocks, injury, and death.
- Kitchen Fire Prevention: Tips on how to prevent kitchen fires from fireproofing dangerous electrical appliances.
- Electrical Safety: List of electrical hazards that can lead to shocks, burns, fire, or electrocution.
- Plug into Electrical Safety: Information on fire-related accidents that can be prevented by taking a few electrical safety precautions.
- Electrical and Fire Safety: Fact sheet on how to prevent fires and burns from electrical appliances.
- Electrical Fire Safety: Tips for preventing electrical fires in the winter seasons in the home and workplace.
- Fire Safety Tips: List of important fire safety tips to use in your own home to keep your family safe.