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Winter Safety Series — Electricity Safety

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

power out in home in winter

In our last post, the first of our Winter Safety Series, we discussed heating safety. While furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, and portable space heaters are used in many homes across the country during the Winter months, they aren’t the only means by which people stay warm, and many heat sources work in tandem with electricity.

Electricity is, obviously, used all year long, so a reminder of fire safety when it comes to electricity is always welcome. But, since we’re all trying to stay warm and comfortable in our homes right now, and we’re all likely using a little more electricity than usual, now is a great time to brush up on how to prevent fires in your home caused by this common form of energy. First off, some statistics from the NFPA:

  • Electrical failures or malfunctions were the second leading cause of U.S. home fires in 2012-2016 (behind fires caused by unattended equipment), accounting for 13% of home structure fires.

  • Fires involving electrical failures or malfunctions accounted for the highest share of civilian deaths (18%) and direct property damage (20%).

  • Nearly two of five fires (39%) involving electrical failure or malfunction occurred in the cold weather months from November through February.

  • Arcing was the heat source in approximately three of five home fires involving an electrical failure or malfunction.

  • Home electrical fire deaths peak between midnight and 8am.

And now, some tips to follow to help prevent an electrical fire in your home:

  • Have all electrical work done by a qualified electrician.

  • When you are buying or remodeling a home, have it inspected by a qualified private inspector or in accordance with local requirements.

  • Only use one heat-producing appliance (such as a coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc.) plugged into a receptacle outlet at a time.

  • Major appliances (refrigerators, dryers, washers, stoves, air conditioners, microwave ovens, etc.) should be plugged directly into a wall receptacle outlet. Extension cords and plug strips should not be used.

  • Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) shut off electricity when a dangerous condition occurs. Consider having them installed in your home.

  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to reduce the risk of shock. GFCIs shut off an electrical circuit when it becomes a shock hazard. They should be installed inside the home in bathrooms, kitchens, garages and basements. All outdoor receptacles should be GFCI protected.

  • Test AFCIs and GFCIs once a month according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. You do not need a flame to start a fire. Fires can start when heat builds up near things that burn. This can happen when a hot light bulb is near things that burn, such as cloth or paper, or a cord has been placed under a carpet.

  • Check electrical cords to make sure they are not running across doorways or under carpets. Extension cords are intended for temporary use. Have a qualified electrician add more receptacle outlets so you don’t have to use extension cords.

  • Use a light bulb with the right number of watts. There should be a sticker that indicates the right number of watts.

Finally, call a qualified electrician or your landlord if you have:

  • Frequent problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers.

  • A tingling feeling when you touch an electrical appliance.

  • Discolored or warm wall outlets.

  • A burning or rubbery smell coming from an appliance.

  • Flickering or dimming lights.

  • Sparks from an outlet.

Make it a late New Year’s Resolution for 2020 to make sure these tips are followed in your home! Limiting the prospect of an electrical fire for the rest of the year is a great idea—and making it happen during the Winter is even better.

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