The electrical safety of your home is not something to take lightly. Electricity plays a critical role in powering properties and it’s essential to know what should be checked and routinely tested, and how to perform those tasks. The goal: Provide safety and peace of mind to the people (and pets) that occupy your living space.
An average of 51,000 electrical home structure fires occur each year, claiming almost 500 lives, injuring more than 1,400 people, and causing more than $1.3 billion in property damage (National Fire Protection Association, 2003-2007). In addition, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that nearly 400 people are electrocuted in the U.S. each year.
Step By Step Home Electrical Safety Guide
Use this guide to help perform a comprehensive home’s electrical safety check for your home.
Important: If you discover an issue too complex or dangerous for a DIY job, call a licensed electrician to handle it for you. It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to electrical work!
When inspecting your electrical panel, consider these questions and best practices, especially if you are building, remodeling, or adding additions to your home.
- How old is your home?How old is your electrical panel? If either is more than 30 years old, look into upgrading or replacing the panel.
- Do you have enough power to supply today’s appliances or gadgets? You don’t want to overload your system unknowingly by simply plugging in your smartphone to charge.
- Do you have an FPE Panel? If so, look into getting it replaced – pronto! This mechanism is supposed to trip your circuit breaker when it reaches a level too high for safety and act as a fire prevention method. However, electrical engineer and Materials Science expert Jesse Aronstein and the CPSC spent two years investigating Stab Lok breakers in homes built between 1960 and 1985 and found they failed to function properly 51% of the time.
- Are your lights flickering?This can be a warning of poor electrical connections: one area could mean a local branch circuit needs repair; multiple areas mean it could be the electrical panel.
- Are your service cables worn or damaged? You are responsible for the cables connecting your home/building and electrical panel to the utility wires outside. Look for worn/damaged insulation, loose cables, or damaged/missing clamps and anchors. Then call a trained electrician for assistance in fixing them.
- Does your panel show any signs of moisture?Rust, chalky white residue, or corrosion on any wiring or metal parts of your panel indicate possible water damage. Have it checked by a professional.
Common warning signs like these indicate you should call a trained electrician for help:
- Sparking: “The US Fire Administration notes that sparks, embers, or flames from operating equipment account for roughly 2% of electrical fires.” Water damage, short circuits, outdated outlets, and improper repairs can cause sparks. If you see sparking, do the following immediately:
- Shut off the breaker assigned to the affected outlet.
- Unplug any devices connected to the sparking outlet.
- Call a licensed electrician to perform an inspection on the outlet.
- Buzzing: This sound comes from the alternating current and almost always indicates a loose connection or a bad outlet.
- Overloading Outlets: Each device requires a certain amount of electricity. When you add too many high-energy devices, it can demand more than the circuit can safely deliver and overload it.
- Other Fire Hazards: faulty wiring, outdated lighting fixtures, or broken surge protectors put you at a higher risk for an electrical fire. Perform regular maintenance and inspections to stay ahead of potential problems.
- Proper Generator Use – Be sure your power generator is installed and serviced annually by a licensed electrician to guarantee power outages won’t cost you time and money and leave you in the dark!
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors – Be sure to do a battery check and a detector test to ensure your CO detector is operating properly.
Preventative Measures You Can Take
Stay on top of electrical problems by taking these actions to prevent major issues.
Childproof Your Home
You can take the following steps to ensure the safety of your kids and your home:
- Purchase and insert safety covers for all outlets not in use.
- Install faceplates on all outlets to cover all wiring and reduce shock hazards.
- Keep these in mind as you’re doing your initial check:
- If outlets are hot, check that appliances are not overloading the outlet.
- If the electrical plugs don’t fit snugly into the outlets, replace the outlet.
- Have an electrician check outlets and switches that aren’t working properly.
- Talk to your kids about electrical safety and why it is important. You can use the resources from the Electrical Safety Foundation International and P.I. Plug to make it more fun and interactive as well as educational.
Perform an Electrical Safety Checkup on All Outlets
You can use this ESFI checklist or do the Home Electrical Safety Challenge to work your way through the house examining each of your home’s electrical outlets.
Replace Old/Outdated Outlets with GFCI and AFCI Outlets
The main functions of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) are, respectively, to protect adults and kids from electric shock and to prevent electrical fires. These helpful videos from ESFI explain how these safety devices work and where you can find (and need) them in your home:
Install Surge Protectors to Protect Your Home, Appliances, and Devices
A spike in voltage can do serious damage to your devices and appliances. Any of the following could cause a power surge from turning off/on frequently or interrupting the circuit suddenly:
- Large appliances (ex: air conditioners, dryers, dishwashers)
- Hair dryers and power tools
- Nature and weather (ex: tree limbs touching power lines)
A surge protector is designed to limit the voltage supplied to an electric device by blocking or shorting to ground unwanted voltages above the safe threshold. This will save your appliances and devices – and your pocketbook from having to replace them! Make your home’s electrical safety a priority. Perform these checkups routinely. Teach your kids safe practices when it comes to electricity, devices, and appliances. It could save your and your family’s lives.
- Electrical safety PSA video from ESFI
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Outdoor Electrical Safety Checklist
- Electrical Fire Safety Outreach Materials from the U.S. Fire Administration
- CPSC Electrical Safety Room-by-Room Checklist
- NFPA Electrical Safety Checklist