While I’m no safety expert, I have some knowledge about electronics and electrical equipment to know how fires can start from anything that uses power. So this article will provide some tips on how to improve electrical safety at home.
Knowing the basics of electrical safety and other causes of fires could avoid an unfortunate and tragic mishap from taking place.
This article will give you some things to go through and check and make your home safer.
In addition to this, a better understanding helps you avoid mistakes when dealing with any products that carry potential risks in your home.
This article is not meant to be an experts guide on improving safety.
I’m simply sharing my thoughts to provide some insights into electrical and general safety to hopefully prevent fires and electrical related mishaps.
What are the leading causes of house fires?
While cooking is regarded as by far the leading cause of fires, electrical related fires are still in the top five.
This could be anything like heaters, electrical circuits or other faulty appliances.
Here is a rough break down of the top culprits when it comes to deaths in our homes caused by fires (2011-2015):
- Smoking materials (22%)
- Cooking equipment (20%)
- Heating equipment (19%)
- Electrical distribution (18%)
- Intentional (15%)
You can read the document provided by the National Fire Protection Association if you are interested in more information.
Safety in the kitchen
One of the most common things I read about is an unawareness when dealing with fires in the kitchen.
When a fire starts, never throw water on it. This information gets put out there a lot, but people still get it wrong. When water is thrown in a pan or pot with an oil fire, it will instantly flare it up. It almost like throwing gasoline on a fire.
If you have the pot’s lid nearby, put that on the pot to smother the flames instead.
My advice is to get a fire extinguisher installed for your kitchen and make sure it’s maintained.
Another option is to have a fire blanket. Just remember to turn your oven/stove off before throwing over the fire.
I recommend you have a practice session with these kinds of safety devices. Having familiarity with them will give you a better chance to operate the equipment with confidence. Fewer things to think about is always better in these situations.
When dealing with fires, always keep calm. Being in a panic will inhibit your ability to make good decisions. Also, slow your actions down to a pace where you feel in control. Doing things in a nervous rush will result in the poor execution of all physical actions.
The other big issue is forgetting an element on your stove. Check over all your elements before going to bed and make sure everything is turned off.
Here are a couple of videos on kitchen fire safety.
Kitchen fire safety:
Home cooking fire prevention tips
Range and stove power plug housings and cords sometimes get damaged from appliances pushed against them. If anything is damaged, get your local electrician to fix it right away. These damages can worsen to a point where contacts or wires can be exposed.
Be on the lookout for plugs that are laying on your countertop. If water floods the area, it becomes extremely hazardous. Never add power strips etc. to power sockets and leave them sitting on the bench top.
Never operate any appliances, light or power switches with wet hands. Keep your kitchen towels accessible to easily keep your hands dry so you can operate any powered devices safely.
How to improve safety in the living room
We like to be comfortable in our living room. Fireplaces and candles are obviously a risk. But what other causes are there?
Space heaters are most commonly electric powered. They are also one of the leading causes of fires during the winter months.
Some of the accidents occur from wanting to dry laundry near the heater. The other one is blankets. Make sure you have at least a three feet away that can potentially burn.
These heaters also draw a lot of power despite their size. So plugging the heater directly into the wall is a must. Please don’t plug your heater into any power strips or other adapters. Try to avoid extension cords too, especially lengthier cords.
One other thing is your electronics devices like AV and gaming equipment etc. I will cover these further down the article.
All these products like heaters and various other equipment that generates heat can be plugged into a smart plug and use it for better control.
The advantage to this is the ability to control them, even when you aren’t at home.
If you perhaps forgot to turn something off before leaving your home, simply pull out your smartphone and turn it off. It also provides the status of the plug so you can see if it’s on or off.
Precautions for the bedroom
es we all know about them and their reputation. But the question is, are they worth the risk? There are a lot of rules around operating and maintaining them safely.
Not only do worn electric blankets cause fires, but electrical shocks too.
Some things to avoid when using an electric blanket:
- Roll them up to store them, don’t fold them.
- Don’t put anything on the blanket. It’s easy to make this mistake when the blanket is on your bed.
- Make sure the cords don’t get twisted up. This is one of the leading causes of fires to do with electric blankets. Also, make sure the cords aren’t caught between anything. Don’t run them under your mattress either.
- It’s recommended that you replace them every 5 years.
- Keep it flat when using it.
- Keep pets away from them.
- Don’t use them with water beds or adjustable type beds.
- Avoid drinking liquids or foods that can spill onto your blanket.
- Don’t sleep with it on.
- Never wrap it around you.
- I highly recommend against it for children.
Other hazards in the bedroom
It’s worthwhile mentioning candles and smoking again for other hazards in the bedroom.
Rechargeable items are best done during the day and not in your bedroom while you are sleeping.
Be careful of lamps with shades that have lost shape or have material bits coming loose.
Make sure you don’t have anything tossed over the lampshade.
Do not cover any electrical or electronic devices with and material items.
For children to check that they don’t have anything that can cause fires before they go to sleep. A lot of fires are caused by children playing with dangerous items too close to piles of clothing or other flammable items.
Never leave your laptop on your bed. Vents can be blocked under it or on the sides. Consequently, this will result in the machine overheating, making it a potential fire risk.
There are plenty of laptop coolers/pads that you can get on the market. They will eliminate the need for being overly cautious about operating your laptop on certain surfaces.
Until you get your hands on the correct product, simply use a hardcover book that cannot bend or a cheap chopping board that you would normally buy for your kitchen. This will keep the laptop on a hard surface so it can draw air in through the vents, as it should.
Other areas that can present some risk
For the safety of your entire house, install and keep your smoke alarms well maintained. Check them every three months, it doesn’t take long and is very easy to do.
Please visit the NFPA’s website to download a free installation and maintenance guide.
Let’s take a look at some other areas in the home that could have potentially risky items.
Most of your utility items are kept in the basement for safety or aesthetic reasons. Some of these utility items are high contributors to fires starting. These include power distribution panels, furnaces, and hot water heaters.
Other commonly stored items in this area like cleaning products and other solvents add other risks.
Another problem is the escape routes. Usually, there is only one way out, which makes getting out is sometimes impossible depending on where the fire has started.
In the garage
Be aware of battery powered tools and overcharging. Some older chargers don’t have shut off or safety circuits to turn the power off the battery to stop charging. In any case, unplug the batteries from their chargers and unplug the chargers just to certain.
Other causes include improper storage of flammable liquids like gas, oil and paint thinner. Keep everything stored in approved containers with the lids tightly secured and away from anything that produces heat.
I also recommend avoiding clutter to reduce the risk of a combination of items causing a fire.
Leaky roofs can cause malfunction with electrical wires or other connections.
Just to be safe, have a professional roofing company inspect your roof for leaks. Insulation around vent pipes for generators can be dangerous.
Insulation should never be installed near high heat sources. Around 43% of fires are caused by electrical malfunction.
Never overload power outlets. Always make sure that anything plugged into a power outlet in the attic is unplugged before leaving your attic.
Rats, mice squirrels and raccoons, and other animals have been known to chew through electrical wiring resulting in fires.
Have your heating and cooling systems checked out by professionals every year to make sure no debris causes issues in any ducting for your furnace or HVAC systems for example.
This area is particularly dangerous as water is surrounding the appliance that washes our clothes.
One of the best safety devices I recommend for this is an automatic shut off valve.
The moment there are any leaks, it can shut the water off to the appliance and the power too. This will avoid flooding or potential electrocution risks.
Make sure that your clothes dryer’s filters are cleaned regularly. If these get clogged up, overheating can occur which result in devastating results.
Always use the proper materials when installing vents and other ducting. Materials that cope poorly with heat can lead to fires.
The highest risk of fires for barbecues is poor maintenance. Keep your outdoor grill clean and be aware of grease build up. Never leave your grill unattended. Once a fire starts, it can reach devastating levels within seconds.
Safety tips for other electronic devices
There are many ways that consumer electronics can cause fires. Anything from gaming or audio equipment to batteries for mobile devices.
Something that I always advise people about when visiting their homes, is the living room entertainment furniture. More specifically, the piece of furniture that houses all of the Audiovisual (AV), gaming and other electronic equipment.
You’d be surprised how many people run equipment like game consoles and AV equipment inside a cabinet of some kind. This is a high-risk situation and by replacing cabinet style furniture with a shelf type version, removes the risk of something from overheating.
If you know something about electronics, you know there is quite a lot of protection built into the circuits these days. However, these protection circuits aren’t perfect and can fail due to poor design or an inferior quality of the component.
This can result in something called thermal runaway, where a component overheats and the protection fails to turn the power off to it. The component continues to increase in temperature until it destroys itself. This has the potential to set a circuit board on fire, or even the surrounding housing of the product.
What about the things that we cannot see?
These are all the areas of your houses wiring and electrical components that you cannot see in walls and behind panels.
Circuit breakers can fail. I highly recommend that all your circuit breakers get tested by a certified electrician every three to five years. It may seem like it’s unnecessary, but it’s such an important safety feature that it cannot be ignored.
In case you are unaware, they are an extremely important component to electrical safety. If something in your home is creating an abnormal load on the circuit breaker that it exceeds it’s rated value, it will immediately trip off and cut power to the line.
You simply cannot afford to not have this working correctly.
The wiring and other connections can also present its problems. At the very least, get your local electrician to do an electrical inspection every ten years.
Don’t keep delaying repairs
If you see a damaged wall socket or some conduit that allows wires to be exposed, it’s worth it to get it seen to.
You never know what children get up to, so it’s not worth the risk.
This holds true for more than just electricity. How about that old looking gas line? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to pay a small amount to get a line replaced to avoid a catastrophe?
Ventilation ducts and hoses need to be maintained, if anything becomes restricted or blocked, your heating or cooling systems can put you at risk.
Overloading your power sockets
One of the other obvious things to avoid with power sockets is overloading. Avoid adding extension leads and adapters to add more devices to one plug.
A general mains socket in your home is capable of handling a maximum current rating of 15 amperes. This is a value given to how much current can be drawn from a single socket.
If you add the power or current requirements of all the devices being connected up to the socket, you don’t want to exceed 15 amps.
I even like to have a small amount of headroom, just to be safe. So for me personally, I prefer not to exceed 13 amps. This is especially true if I’m residing in a house that I haven’t seen an electrical inspection report yet.
So if you take 120 volts and multiply it by 15 amps, this gives you a maximum of 1800 watts. Just in case you need to add your appliances up by wattage instead of amps.
I thank you for taking the time to read over this article. Hopefully, I’ve provided some sort of knowledge around how to improve electrical safety at home.
Try to always be aware of your surrounds by paying attention to your senses. Simply recognizing a smell related to something getting hot or that reminds you of something burning can be life-saving.
While technology offers lots of comforts, it also provides extra risk. So please remember that there is a responsibility that comes with owning all these gifts of the modern world we live in today.
It doesn’t require a crazy amount of time to improve your home’s safety. And it most certainly cannot be compared to any amount of cost either. So why not make the effort? You never know what you might be saving you yourself from in future times. The same holds true for your loved ones too.
Please keep it safe and be conscious of your surroundings when using electricity.