Electrical fires can be devastating and hard to put out. Even if you happen to have a fire extinguisher that is rated to put out an electrical fire, the defective wiring itself can continue to cause damage to the system. Not to mention the very real threat of a seemingly minor electrical fire damaging other nearby flammable materials.
Of course, modern homes, offices, retail spaces, and commercial properties rely on electricity to power lights, appliances, technology, and all the other essential features. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help prevent an electric fire from devastating your property.
Take Care Of Heat-Producing Appliances
A lot of homeowners and personal offices use some type of space heater, oil-filled radiator, an electric fireplace or other heat-producing devices to augment the existing heating system. As time goes on the elements within the heating device can gradually start to degrade. Especially those that use a resistor to generate heat.
When an electric element starts to fail it can do so quickly, which often shuts the device down as the circuit is essentially broken. Though there are times when an element can gradually start to burn out, or when it fails it maintains a partial physical connection. This can result in more severe fire damage and potentially cause a fire in other internal components or plastic housing.
It’s also worth noting that the power cord running to a heating device like a space heater will also produce a fair amount of heat. Especially, with inexpensive heating devices that where, the manufacturer might have used the bare minimum gauge of wire or made the power cord longer than necessary.
Making sure that power cords are never buried under something like carpet or tucked behind a piece of furniture is a great first step to prevent electric fires. Even something like a throw-rug to disguise the cord could insulate the heat and cause it to fail or accelerate an electrical fire.
Unplugging a heat-producing device when not in use is also a smart move. Getting into the habit of quickly unplugging it after every use, will spare you the real-life worry of accidentally leave it on and unsupervised!
Pay attention to the plug and outlet with every use. The third prong of the grounding plug should never be removed. Make sure it is always seated firmly in the plug and that none of the prongs are bent or loose.
Use The Appropriate Type Of Extension Cord
Extension cords might seem like a simple solution for getting electricity from the wall socket to a distant appliance or device. Yet not all extension cords are made the same. The two primary factors that determine the necessary capacity of an extension cord are the gauge, which is the general thickness or diameter of the cord, and length.
The lower the gauge number, the thicker the cord will be. Most extension cords available at the consumer level are either 10, 12, 14, 16 or 18-gauge. This means that an 18-gauge extension cord may only be rated to handle up to 5 to 7 amps within a length of 25 feet.
Yet on the other end of the spectrum, a robust 10-gauge extension cord may be rated to handle up to 20 amps for carrying power up to 100 feet. The length of the extension cord will affect voltage drop. Ideally, you want the shortest possible extension cord at the thickest gauge for what you are powering. Using too thin of an extension cord for the voltage can cause the cord to heat up, short out or otherwise fail, which increases fire risk.
There are also some extension cords with special features built into them like a fuse in the outlet, a waterproof exterior prong or a locking connection. These power cords tend to be more common in places like the construction industry, but you can find them at the consumer level. They’re especially helpful if you have a handyman with a workshop in your family or you frequently need to use power outside.
Install GFCI Outlets In All Wet Area
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. This is essentially a small fuse-like device that’s built into an outlet. You often see them in bathrooms where the threat of water and humidity buildup are a threat. Though some older homes don’t have GFCIs in the bathroom, which leaves electric appliances and the older outlet itself at risk of short-circuiting or starting a serious electrical fire.
It’s also worth noting that GFCI outlets aren’t just for the bathroom. They also deserve to have a place in the kitchen, laundry room, or any other part of the house where water or condensation from high humidity could affect the wiring inside the outlet itself.
Consider Upgrading 15 Amp Circuit Breakers To 20 Amp
Most standard home circuit breakers are rated for either 15 amps to 20 amps. This is a direct representation of the amount of wattage a particular circuit can carry. A 15-amp circuit breaker will handle up to 1,800 watts. If you routinely push this circuit to the maximum capacity it could gradually increase the risk of an electrical fire. Upgrading to a 20-Amp circuit breaker will allow the breaker to carry up to 2,400 watts.
Have All Outdated Outlets And Wiring Upgraded
In some older homes, there might be outlets with only two prongs or outdated light fixtures. Not to mention the very real concern about outdated wiring that might not meet modern-day safety codes. These outlets and other electrical components can be a serious risk for failure, which could lead to an electrical fire. In some cases, having the electric outlets and outdated wiring professionally replaced might even translate into a lower homeowner’s insurance premium.
Don’t Overload Surge Protectors And Outlets
Some people see the copious outlets on a surge protector as a convenient way to plug in a lot of devices to one outlet. While there are safety mechanisms built into newer surge protectors, there is still a very real risk of exceeding the cord capacity or the outlet capacity. Especially if you use one to power an electric heating device like a space heater.
Don’t Exceed The Wattage Rating Of A Light Fixture
If you look closely, you’ll find that most light fixtures have a suggested maximum wattage rating from the manufacturer. This is a little bit of a throwback to the older incandescent lightbulbs. Installing a bulb that exceeds that rating can overload the fixture, causing a short and lead to an electrical fire in the wall or ceiling
Have A Routine Electrical Inspection Performed
Having a certified electrician perform a routine inspection of your home or office is a sound step toward preventing electrical fires. It can also be a great way to find energy-efficient upgrades. Many insurance providers recommend having one performed every ten years. For older homes, they might recommend once every five years.
Keep A Class C Fire Extinguisher In The Home Or Building
Electrical fires need a different type of fire extinguisher. A Class C fire extinguisher is suitable for handling live electrical fires. They have both mono ammonium phosphate as well as sodium bicarbonate with nonconductive properties. So, if an electrical fire does occur, at least you’ll have the proper equipment to put it out quickly and minimize the damage.