What Causes Electrical Fires and How to Prevent Them

According to the FEMA Agency, electrical fires in homes claim the lives of about 280 Americans each year and injure 1,000 more. Electric malfunctions and electric appliances cause about 10% of all fires in USA households, and most electrical fires originate in the fixed wiring in the house. Second to that are fires that are caused by cords and plugs, and in the third place you will find light fixtures, switches and outlets to blame. As well as those, light bulbs, circuit breakers, and transformers can cause fires. Short circuits, bad insulation, current overload and poor connections can all ignite an electric fire. These fires can be avoided by following some best practice guidelines of the correct usage and maintenance of electric appliances and equipment in your home:

Correct usage

Make sure to use the right plug and outlet for your electric appliance, and that the appliance is plugged in properly.

Replace worn or damaged cords.

Do not stretch an extension cord over carpeting (especially fitted carpeting), which may catch fire. Avoid the usage of extension cords or power strips for “heavy duty” electric appliances such as ovens. If you do buy an extending cord, buy one with built-in circuit breakers that will shut down in the case of an overload.

Avoid blocking the air vents of electrical appliances, especially of electric heating devices.

Make sure to use bulbs that are suitable to the light fixture’s maximum wattage.

Keep flammable items such as clothes from electric heaters for a distance of at least three feet.

Be extra careful when using an electric blanket, since it short circuits easily and has no over-temperature sensors.

Maintenance

Sparks and hiss or crackle sounds from an electric output can indicate loose wiring. Other fire risk indicators include dimming bulbs, a burnt smell coming from the electric board or transformer, and getting an electric shock from an appliance or outlet. Do not attempt to fix these problems yourself. Call an electrician.

Have your electrical board checked by an electrician regularly. If living in an old house or apartment, check the wiring regularly and its electrical load capability.

Take immediate care of leaks: wetness may seep into the wiring in the walls and instigate electric circuit shorts or flood your basement, where electric appliances are often kept.

Keep your air conditioning unit dust free.

Make sure to clear on a regular basis the lint filter on your clothes dryer. The lint may blow into the interior of the dryer and catch fire, even after the dryer is on longer connected to the power

Keep your kettle, dishwasher and water heater isolated from moisture and wetness. Make certain the drain tube of your freezer does not become blocked and causes a leak within your refrigerator.

General safety tips 

Before going to sleep or leaving the house, make sure all unnecessary electric appliances are turned off, especially your gas/oven range. Leave your key in the keyhole to make sure you can escape from your home easily in case a fire breaks out while you are sleeping. Do not leave the house while your washing machine, dishwasher or dryer are still working.

Install Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) for a safer electrical environment, especially in bathrooms with electric fixtures close to the ground.

Buy your electric appliances (including electric equipment such as adaptors) from reliable retailers which sell products that comply with federal safety standards. Even when shopping for well-known brands, you run a risk of buying a faulty model that hadn’t been recalled by mistake. A Consumer Report from 2012 has stated that over 15 million appliance units have been recalled in the past five years for defects that could cause a fire, mostly of dishwashers. You can search the Saferproducts.gov for warnings about products that may be hazardous.