A U.S. Fire Administration report indicates there are about 26,000 electrical fires per year in the United States. Any appliance that has a heating element from light bulbs to space heaters and even dishwashers are even more capable of causing a fire. Faulty wiring can mean anything from damaged insulation on an extension cord to an overloaded outlet. Here is how to identify and avoid wiring issues that can lead to electrical fires.
Appliance and Extension Cords
Make sure you use the proper extension cord for the appliance you are connecting it to. Wire gauges refer to the electrical current capability of the wire. For example, you would not think of plugging in your electric clothes dryer using thin speaker wire. However, you can essentially be doing the same thing if you plug in a space heater to a standard electrical extension cord. The cords themselves may have a similar thickness due to insulation but have vastly different current capacities. For things such as air conditioners or space heaters, you should avoid using extension cords or use only one that is approved to handle the electrical amperage rating of the appliance.
You should routinely inspect every extension and appliance cord used at your home. Lamp cords can be damaged by furniture, stepping on them, vacuums and pets. You cannot see wiring damage in the walls caused by rodents or something else, but you should have any unexplained trip of a circuit breaker thoroughly inspected.
Stored electrical appliances and devices, including holiday decorations, should be inspected before use and before storing them again. Any damaged extension cord should be discarded, and damaged appliance cords should be replaced by a qualified electrician.
Modern homes have a breaker box for an electrical service panel. Some older homes may still have a fuse box. Modern homes may have sub panels that use fuses. If you are not the original owner of your home or have never had the wiring upgraded, you should have a thorough electrical inspection completed, especially if you are having any electrical work done such as adding a circuit for an air conditioner, electric stove or outdoor security lighting. Professional electricians can do a comprehensive electrical inspection and check for overloaded circuits, mismatched wiring gauge/breaker combinations, missing GFCI circuits for outdoor and wet area receptacles, and much more. Plus, wiring can be connected to arc-fault breakers to reduce the risk of electrical fires.
Another electrical problem that is common to many homes is the improper wattage or bulb type used in lamps and lighting fixtures. There are different bulbs for different purposes even though they may look the same on the outside.
Though LED and CFL bulbs emit far less heat than incandescent bulbs, they still get warm. All bulbs have ratings that indicate if they can be used in enclosed fixtures or not. Many ceiling lights have a globe that completely encloses the fixture when it is in place. Using the wrong type of bulb or one rated at a higher than maximum wattage can lead to a fire.
Additionally, many consumers are unaware that lampshades are supposed to be matched to the lamp and bulb wattage to prevent overheating that may lead to a fire.
The wiring in your house and all of its possible faults follows a path from the breaker box through every wire, cord, bulb and appliance back to the breaker box. These are what make your electrical circuits. Visually inspecting the circuit path and being mindful of heat, moisture and nearby combustible objects will help keep your family safer when it comes to electricity. But, if something is (or goes) wrong, call a licensed electrician to properly eliminate all the electrical issues.