Electrical issues are more than an inconvenience – they can be a serious hazard. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, approximately 24,000 home fires are caused by electrical problems annually. Sadly, many electrical fires can be prevented by conducting occasional safety checks. Electrical safety checks are quick, easy, and can potentially save you from property damage or injury. In some cases, they may even save a life! Understanding the common causes of house fires, as well as warning signs of electrical trouble, can help prevent an electrical fire in your home.
Here’s a list of nine things homeowners should make a point to check each year:
The Breaker Panel
Inspect your breaker panel and the surrounding area. You should make sure that there are at least 3 feet of clear space around it. Open the panel and examine the breakers. Do you see any signs of rust, corrosion, or rodents? Flip each of the circuit breakers on and off, noting any that are sticking or not working properly. If you often experience tripped breakers, this could be an indication that your system is being overloaded.
All outlets that are at risk of being exposed to water (near a sink, for example) should be ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI) protected. These outlets can wear out after a while, so it’s essential to test them to make sure they’re still functioning properly. If you look at the face of a GFCI outlet, you’ll notice two rectangular buttons that say “Test” and “Reset.” To test your GFCI outlet, press the test button with your finger. You should hear a snapping sound that trips the outlet and cuts off power to the plug connections.
To confirm that the power is off, you can plug in a lamp or radio into the outlet. If the outlet is working as it should, the device you plugged in shouldn’t turn on. You can also check to see if the outlet is supplying voltage by using a voltage tester or multimeter. There are also GFCI outlet testers, which can alert you whether the outlet is wired correctly. Once you’ve confirmed that the safety function is working, you can press the reset button to restore power to the outlet.
Test Your Outlets
Like your GFCI outlets, regular outlets should also be tested. One of the best ways to check them is by using a receptacle tester, which is also called a “cube” or “block” tester. This device plugs directly into the outlet and indicates whether it detects common wiring issues. These tools are handy and affordable, so we recommend them for any home toolkit!
Many attics and basements have exposed wiring, which can become worn and cracked over time. You should inspect all visible wiring to make sure it’s free of cracks or splits. Rodents love to chew on wires, so you should also keep an eye out for areas of rodent damage. While you’re there, it’s also a good idea to check for other signs of rodents, such as nests or scat. Any damaged wiring should be replaced. If you’ve found evidence of rodents, this should also be dealt with as soon as possible.
All extension cords should be checked for cuts, cracks, exposed wiring, or other types of damage that can occur during home projects. You should also check that any cords used for power tools are within their amperage rating.
Exterior outlets are subject to the elements, so it’s important to make sure that they’re sealed and free from animal intrusion. All exterior outlets should be GFCI protected, so you’ll want to test them to make sure they’re working correctly. If something has been plugged into one of your exterior outlets for an extended period of time, check to make sure it’s not keeping the weather cover propped open. If you do use your outlet for an extended period, you should have an outlet with a cover that has access holes. This will allow the cover to completely close while you’re using it.
Test Your Outlets for Tightness
Outlets, like most things, can wear out over time. If you notice plugs sitting loosely in an outlet, or they slip out enough to expose the plug pin, the outlet should be replaced. If the outlet itself is loose in the electrical box, it can be quickly fixed using plastic outlet shims.
If you’ve noticed that your electrical devices seem to be working irregularly when plugged into a particular outlet, it’s a good idea to test the voltage. The issue could be caused by a loose wire, but a voltage test will help you determine if it’s a more extensive problem. Check the power to that outlet using a voltmeter or multimeter. Standard residential outlets should read between 110 and 130 volts. If you see readings outside of that range, it may be time to call in the professionals!
Use Your Other Senses
Beyond visual inspections, it’s also essential to take note of other things you notice using your sense of smell, sound, and touch. Place your hand on outlets and light switches. Do you notice excessive heat? It’s normal for dimmer switches to get warm when the lights are on, but they shouldn’t be uncomfortable to touch. Do you notice any acrid smells when you plug in a device or flip a switch? Do you hear popping or cracking noises near an outlet or switch? These are all signs that there’s something wrong with the switch or outlet. It could be that it’s defective or worn, or it could be a sign that there’s a problem with the wiring. In any case, it’s best to address the issue as soon as possible
I Found a Problem – Now What?
So, you’ve gone through your home and found some issues that need to be addressed. Now what? In some cases, you may need to replace a switch in the wall. In other cases, you may need to have areas of your home re-wired. At best, electrical work can be complicated. At worst, it can cause damage to your home or put you at risk for injury. Many times, electrical work is best left to the professionals. We offer a variety of electrical repair services, from minor outlet and switch replacements to major repairs and remodels. We hold both mechanical and electrical licensees and offer a 1-year parts and labor warranty on all repairs. If you’ve discovered an electrical issue or don’t feel comfortable conducting an electrical safety check on your own, contact us today at (864) 639-2424 to schedule a service call!