Many people are unaware that their homes may be “hot-wired” for a fire. This is more common in older homes, as many of them were built before stronger codes were in effect, or many have been worked on numerous times by homeowners throughout the life of the home.
One of the leading causes of house fires in the United States involves electrical issues. The United States Fire Administration (USFA) reports that in a normal year, around 68,000 fires are started by problems with electricity. Just last month, we had two fires break out in the same week in Livonia, and both were electrical in nature. There are some small things you can do and look out for to help avoid this problem in your home.
One of the biggest problems in homes is overloading the electrical circuit. This can happen when you plug too many appliances into the same circuit. This can heat the wires and start a fire. While the fire can start on the floor or at the appliance, it can also start behind the electrical outlet on the wall and burn undetected for a period of time. If you have problems with blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers, you should contact an electrician to help you distribute the electrical load in your home better.
Other problems that may point to an electrical issue are discolored or warm wall outlets, which can indicate that arcing is going on behind it. Flickering or dimming lights may point to a short in the wire, which needs immediate attention.
Inspect the electrical cords and extension cords in your home for cracks in the protective outer coating or any fraying. Avoid running electrical cords across doorways or under carpets, where they can have their coatings cracked or rubbed off easily. If you use extension cords on a permanent basis, you should have an electrician come out and add additional outlets and/or circuits to help you with that problem.
Newer homes that have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in them have a system that is designed to shut off the circuit before a fire breaks out. This is a nice added safety feature that can be added to older homes when you have an electrician come out to update your home.
While the thought of any fire in your home is scary, some preventive maintenance of your home's electrical systems may be just what you need to help you sleep better at night. If a fire should break out while you are sleeping, make sure you have plenty of working smoke alarms in your home. They are always there and ready to operate when smoke is in the air. If they do go off, put your family escape plan into action.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia Fire Department.