Even though electricity adds ease and convenience to our lives, there are many times and incidents when we as humans can take its potential and power for fire-associated dangers for granted. A fire in your home or office is messed up enough. Still, an electrical fire indicates an entirely different level of threat that proves to be incredibly challenging to fight back.
Electrical fires are quite common in residential and commercial settings. Home electrical fires are responsible for over 50,000 fires every year, with over 1,500 injuries, thousands of deaths, and approximately $1.5 billion in property damages. With electrical fires becoming so widespread, it becomes mandatory to take action.
This makes it considerably important to be aware of the potential causes and dangers of electrical fires and stay vigilant at all times for signs to understand how they can be avoided. In this essential guide, we discuss the common causes of electrical fires, the various ways to prevent electrical fires from starting in your homes, and the basic electrical fire safety measures.
What Is An Electrical Fire?
A malfunction or failure within any electrical modules of specific machinery or equipment can most likely cause an electrical fire. Typically, most electrical fires originate in circuit breakers, cables, electric wires, and electronic components.
Fires might start up in your home’s electrical panels due to the panel’s age or from overloaded circuits. These circuits and boards tend to become overloaded because of inadequate electricity distribution.
On an occasional basis, the lighting equipment in your home or office might also become the source of heat that might start a fire if it’s placed too close to highly combustible materials.
Most Common Causes and Risks of Electrical Fires
Human beings heavily rely on electricity to power their homes, offices, and cars too. You should never assume that the electrical systems in your homes or offices are properly functioning because they work daily with no such problems.
Electrical systems can pose an electrical fire risk at any given point in time. It is essential to know about the common causes of electrical fires so you can prevent and maintain your electrical systems to alleviate electrical fires. Here are some of the most common causes:
1. Faulty outlets or appliances
Most of the electrical fires are a consequence of old and outdated appliances or faulty electrical outlets. In other cases, fires typically start on account of faults detected in appliance cords, switches, and receptacles.
You should never use an appliance that’s outdated or has a frayed or worn-out cord as it can send heat onto easily combustible surfaces such as rugs, curtains, floors, etc., and start an electrical fire.
Removing the grounded plug (third-prong) away from a cord to use it in a two-prong electrical outlet is another reason that might lead to a fire. The third prong grounds the electricity to protect anyone who uses any metal-encased appliance from electric shock.
2. Light Fixtures
Installing a light bulb that has a way higher wattage than the light fixtures or lamps can support is the most leading cause for a fire to occur. Placing combustible materials such as paper or cloth on top of a lampshade is also another reason. If this material heats up, it will ignite, burst in flames, and start a fire. Faulty light fixtures and lamps can also cause electrical fires.
3. Extension cords
Misusing your extension cords is also a significant cause of electrical fires. Pay special attention to plugging your appliances directly into the outlet. Your appliances mustn’t be plugged into an extension wire for any specific length of time or used as a permanent power source. If you don’t have the proper electrical outlets for your appliances, get a new permanent outlet installed.
4. Poor maintenance
This includes taking care of inspecting and replacing faulty switches or circuit breakers and keeping them dust- and dirt-free. Bends and twists in wiring can result in electrical resistance within the electrical wire, generating enough heat to cause a fire.
Arcing can also result in an electrical fire, meaning it can happen in electrical panels and enclosed spaces, damaged phone chargers, and frayed extension cords and wires.
Outdated and old wiring are the most frequent reasons why electrical fires can start. Is your home over 20 years old? If yes, it might no longer have the wiring capacity to handle the intense load of electronic appliances and machines.
Breakers must be activated when electrical circuits get too overburdened with excessive energy. However, outdated breakers have frequently damaged connectors that don’t work. This might cause the system to overwork and result in an electrical fire.
6. Space heaters
People might often place space heaters too close to combustible materials or surfaces like chairs, curtains, clothing, beds, rugs, and couches as they are portable.
Coil space heaters are riskier since the coils can turn incredibly hot and almost instantly ignite the flammable surfaces or stuff nearby.
While using space heaters, try to use the radiator types that can diffuse heat over the appliance’s entire surface. They are less likely to flare up flammable items.
7. Not staying in touch with safety codes
The electricity demand continues to increase, it is essential to keep up with the safety codes. Old and outdated wirings that don’t support the existing electrical demand are prevalent in older commercial buildings and homes.
Wiring with a worsening coating or wires is highly likely to arc and cause a fire. This is particularly more likely if the wire is not equivalent to the circuit amperage. When the circuit’s amperage rate is higher, the wires need to be larger to avoid the surplus heat that can burn the wires and cause a fire.
8. Electrical panels and circuit breakers
A circuit breaker safeguards your electrical circuits from harm by automatically switching off the power connection to the circuit. A breaker can trip due to overworked circuits, a short circuit, power spikes or surges, and ground fault.
When a circuit breaker collapses, it might damage all the equipment and appliances connected to the circuit, or worse, cause an electrical fire.
The Best Ways to Prevent Electrical Fires
By now, you must have understood that electrical fires are nothing like your regular fires. For instance, an electrical fire doesn’t start from a burning cigarette or a matchstick landing face down on a pile of papers, nor can it be put out with water.
This only goes to say that an electrical fire is bound to cause some severe damage and destruction to your home and place your family and belongings safety at risk. Luckily, there are many ways by which you can often prevent an electrical fire from starting.
Here are some things you must take care of at home to prevent electrical fires.
- Only use an extension cord on a temporary basis. If you wish to install additional permanent sources of power, just call us in. We can have one of our professional and certified electricians work on it.
- Keep all your heat-generating appliances unplugged when they are not in use. When such appliances malfunction or you accidentally leave them on for a long, they are at risk of overheating and being caught on fire. The safest thing you can do is unplug your kettles, irons, toasters, curling wands, and any other hot appliance when not in use.
- Aluminium wiring, knob-and-tube wiring, 60-amp electrical systems (usually a part of older homes), etc., are all at a higher risk of overheating. You should consider upgrading to electrical systems that incorporate the most contemporary wiring supplies (such as copper) and have 100 amps at minimum to drastically mitigate the chances of causing an electrical fire.
- Don’t ever cut off the third prong on an electrical power cord. This third prong (commonly referred to as the “ground”) exists for a reason. Its primary aim is to safeguard you and your family in the case of an electrical malfunction or a power surge. Suppose you have only two-prong electrical outlets in your home. In that case, you can always contact
- It is definitely good to thoroughly read through the instruction manuals for any new appliance. Also, pay special attention to following the directions, warnings, and usage guide to significantly prevent electrical malfunctions or fires.
- Do not connect any device into the power socket if it has a damaged power cord. If you observe a power cord frayed, cracked, peeling off, or hanging loose from its plug, it is crucial to first get it repaired before plugging it in.
- Never ever oversee the signs of trouble. These signs might just signify that your appliances are overheating or there is an issue with the electrical socket that needs to be fixed:
- A burning smell when you plugin or use an item.
- Discolouration or burn marks around a light switch, socket, or light fixture.
- Electrical sparks every time you plug in a machine or an electronic device.
- An outlet, an appliance, or the power cord feels uncomfortably hot against the skin.
- A light fixture flickers despite changing the bulb.
- Feeling an electrical shock every time while plugging in a device.
- One (or all) of your breakers have started to trip frequently, or your fuses blow regularly.
If any or most of these signs are observed, immediately stop using the device or outlet and get in touch with an electrician straight away.
Basic Electrical Fire Safety Measures and Tips
- Get your home electrical system entirely inspected by a reputable and professional electrician to make sure your home’s electrical work meets all the safety provisions. Also, get them to check your extension cord if it feels uncomfortably warm or hot.
- Pull the plug but not the cord.
- Don’t disconnect the power supply by jerking or pulling the cord from the outlet. This can cause damage and result in an electrical shock.
- Install smoke detectors at all levels; outside the sleeping areas, in the kitchen, inside the bedroom, etc.
- Test your smoke detectors (preferably each month) to see if they are working accurately.
- Establish an evacuation plan to use in emergency cases, and practice it religiously with your family.
- Request a qualified electrician if your home can be safer with AFCI protection, particularly during inspecting old homes or upgrading your electrical systems. These new and modern safety devices can detect risky conditions which your standard breakers cannot.
- Use light bulbs that are equivalent to the required wattage on the light fixtures.
- Install tamper-resistant receptacles to prevent burns and electrical shocks, especially if you have children at home.
- Look for unusual electrical problem signs like flickering or dim lights, unusual buzzing or sizzling sounds from electrical systems, etc.
- Conduct an ongoing assessment of your home’s electrical cords, electrical systems, extension cords, power outlets, and plugs. Don’t use plugs and cords if they are damaged. Just discard them.
- Keep your extension cord away from oil, water, and heat as they tend to damage the insulation and cause shocks.
- Use an extension cord only when you need a temporary power supply in an area without a power outlet and never as permanent wiring.
- Don’t overload outlets by plugging in several items in one electrical outlet. Instead, consider installing additional outlets or circuits by hiring a qualified electrician.
- Essential appliances such as stove, refrigerator, dryer, or washer must be plugged directly into a wall outlet.
The Importance of Getting a Smoke Alarm and Checking It
As tempting as it might be to leave your smoke alarm unchecked and suppose it is working just fine, it is just not worth the risk. As per the National Fire Prevention Association, one of the biggest causes of fires starting in homes and fire-associated damages or injuries is cooking.
You can make this everyday family activity so much safer by checking and maintaining your smoke alarms to ensure they are working. Besides safety switches, smoke alarms are another significant safety equipment that is essential to have at home.
Despite most people having a smoke alarm, many people still die every year from house fires. This is primarily because their smoke detectors did not go off. Either their batteries were worn out, or they have been removed because of numerous false alarms.
Some people might also remove their smoke alarms to get them replaced or repaired, but it takes more than just an intention to ensure your safety at home. Some responsibilities just can’t be ignored because of the disastrous consequences associated with them.
Smoke alarms are one of them. Indeed, having your smoke detectors tested every once in a while is not at all complicated. Anyone (including you) can do it in a matter of minutes.
Smoke Alarm Maintenance
Despite the many regulations, studies indicate that merely 45% of houses visited by fire services had installed smoke alarms, out of which 31% were not functional. To ensure your smoke alarm is working and keeping your family protected, keep it active and in good working order.
- Once a month, test all of your home alarms to ensure they are up-to-date and working correctly. They usually have a button that can be pressed for testing purposes. Make sure it beeps.
- Once a year, replace your alarm’s batteries to make sure they efficiently continue to detect the CO levels and smoke in your home.
- Once in 10 years, recycle or replace your old alarm to alleviate chances of failure on account of age or deterioration. Get a new unit with a lithium battery and a lifespan of another 10 years.
- Dust the smoke alarm using a vacuum cleaner brush.
- House fires are more prevalent during the winter months, especially December and January, so take special note to have a functional smoke alarm during this period.