Electrical fires are the third leading cause of home structure fires. Though you don’t have to worry about electrical fires as much as you do cooking or heating fires, electrical blazes are almost always the deadliest, most destructive, hardest to put out. Why?
The fire produced by electrical surges ignites instantly and burns hotter than flames that spark up naturally from paper or wood. And often, these flames spark in the dead of night.
The first stepping in getting an electrical fire safety plan together is understanding what causes these blazes. Knowledge is power, and in this case, knowledge can save your life. Here are the ten most common causes of electrical fires so that you prevent these sinister spark-ups.
1. Improperly Grounded Extension Cords
Since everybody uses multiple electronic devices every day, from the cellphone to the laptop to the iPad, extension cords are present in almost every American home. And in many cases, these are culprits of devastating fires.
Approximately 17% of electrical fires originate in the bedroom and result from improper electrical distribution. The most common time they occur is when you are least likely to notice it, between the hours of 12–4 AM.
With the high risks involved, it’s crucial to pay attention to how you source your power. Power strips are far more fickle than people realize. You can’t just plug them in, plug your devices into them, and be done with it. Power strips need to be grounded, which means they need to be mounted on level ground, firmer than carpet, and not move too much while in use.
Most power strips have red and green lights to indicate whether the strip is grounded correctly for use or not. Ignore these lights at your own risk!
2. Overloaded Power Strips
So your power strip is grounded correctly and plugged straight into the wall. The wiring is good, and it won’t be tilted or tugged around too much.
You still risk starting an electrical fire if you overload the power strip with too many devices. The phone, the computer, the alarm clock, the lamp, the portable charger—the list is endless.
Try charging devices in succession, rather than all at once. Also, don’t leave things plugged in overnight or while you’re gone from the house. You’ll just be racking up an electric bill, and you’re running the risk of fire.
3. Faulty Appliances
The scary thing about electrical fires is you won’t always smell them far enough in advance to act on them before they burn out of control. The most significant risks when it comes to electrical fires are dryers and stoves.
When it comes to stoves, send for someone to perform a regular check-up. They’ll check the gas lines, the burners, and all the wiring. Electrical fires can spark up from anywhere, so it’s best to have them checked on by a professional.
4. Overloaded Circuits
When you overload multiple outlets with too many active plugged-in devices, you’re sending too many demands to the circuits that service the whole building. Circuit busting has been the cause of many home fires. Too much electricity generates heat, and heat can wear down the internal wiring system to the point that fires ignite.
Never overload electrical outlets and circuits. These are a significant cause of residential fires. Overloaded outlets and circuits carry too much electricity, which generates heat in undetectable amounts.
Improperly sized fuses and breakers can also be the cause of fires. Next time you have an electrician over, ask them to check out the wiring of your circuits to make sure you’re not living in a tinderbox waiting for a struck match.
5. Heat Buildup in Dryer Unit
Next to stoves, dryers are the appliance most prone to fire. While lint buildup is the biggest culprit, that isn’t electrical fire. Electrical fires in dryers start at the plugin site, where too much heat may spark up a fire at the power source.
Check that your dryer isn’t drawing on too much energy from the circuit. You can calculate the energy use by converting the wattage to kilowatt-hours.
6. Space Heater Issues
Space heaters cause around 1200 residential fires every year. People leave them on overnight and leave them plugged in and running when they leave the house.
Don’t do this! It’s better to live with a bit of chill than risk your life and home. Space heaters are essentially giant candles whose heat can spark up fire all too easily. Use caution and moderation when it comes to space heaters.
7. Old or Faulty Wiring
While you’re checking out the health of the circuit in your home, check on the wiring too. Wiring runs through the whole house, from lighting to appliances to TV and electronics. It means the risk is prevalent throughout the home.
Old or improperly installed wiring is the culprit of far too many fires to leave it to chance. Check on it before it’s too late.
Yes, the sweet, harmless symbols of childhood we leave plugged in to keep our little ones from the scary dark are fire hazards. It’s terrible to admit but essential to know!
Any electrical appliance left plugged in and running overnight should be the source of constant attention. If you have to leave a nightlight plugged in overnight (which is its purpose), take it out during the day so that it can cool.
9. Frayed Cords
Frayed cords leading from devices like room fans and lava lamps can heat through their rubber casing and start electrical fires. That fire can then travel up the cords and ignite the device itself.
By the time it’s reached that point, you’re going to need the help of multiple fire departments. Avoid that nightmare by disposing of cords whenever they begin to fray.
10. Misused Light Bulbs
We’ve all been there—the 150-watt bulb in our reading lamp burns out at 1 AM, and we only have a 50-watt replacement. Do we do it?
No! Wattage is listed front and center on light bulbs for a reason. You need to replace 150-watt bulbs with 150 bulbs, and 50 by 50, and so on. Otherwise, the voltage generated by the lamp may overload the bulb, causing it to burst and start a fire.
Keeping Yourself Safe from Electrical Fires
There are many things you can do to keep yourself safe from electrical fires. Though electrical fires can start from many different sources—from space heater issues to heat buildup in dryer units and frayed or faulty cords—the things you can do to keep yourself safe from electrical fires are all the same.
Make sure to always have a fire extinguisher on hand. It’s best to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, as most fires start from cooking mishaps. But make sure to have one fire extinguisher per three rooms in any dwelling.
Also, map out an escape plan and look around your home or workplace for fire hazards. These are two more important steps to take for total fire safety.
You shouldn’t live in fear of a blaze bursting out. But you should be prepared in case one does. Since electrical fire spreads faster than most other types, you should have an action plan locked in place before the unthinkable happens.