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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

How Do Electrical Fires Start? Signs and Prevention

1/12/2021 (Permalink)

fire damaged extension cord from an electrical fire Electrical problems can pose a larger risk to your home than you may think.

When there's roughly 45,000 electrical fires that cause $1.3 billion in direct property damage every year, taking steps to be educated on them is highly important. Many homeowners don't think about the possibility of a home electrical fire due to our constant, safe use of electricity and electrical appliances. But, with this constant electrical use, there is also always the possibility of an electrical fire.

Here, we will detail the causes of electrical fires, the signs of electrical fires, as well as how to help prevent them in your home.

What Causes Electrical Fires?

There are numerous causes of home electrical fires due to the extensive electrical systems and electrical appliances in our homes. When not used properly, any appliance can pose an electrical hazard, but some are more likely than others. The most common causes of electrical fires are as follows:

1.  Faulty Wiring

According to the NFPA, electrical distribution equipment is the top cause of electrical fires, referring to the electrical wiring system in your home. The wiring in your home can be considered "faulty" if:

  • Your home is older than 20 years old and has not had the wiring system updated
  • Wires are damaged by rats, mice, squirrels, or other rodents
  • There is improper installation

All of these things can cause your wiring system to not be able to handle the electrical demands of our modern day appliances and result in an electrical fire.

For example, faulty wiring may not be able to handle multiple air conditioners, TVs, light fixtures, refrigerators, washers, dryers, computers, and other electrical appliances on at the same time without being overloaded. Older wiring heats up more quickly than new wiring and can cause a fire when overloaded.

2.  Outdated or Damaged Outlets

Similar to faulty wiring, old or faulty outlets can also pose a significant risk for an electrical fire. When outlets are older, the wiring behind them may have a loose connection that can disconnect and start a fire. Outdated or damaged outlets may also not be able to handle the amount of electricity needed for modern appliances, causing it to spark or become too hot.

3.  Power Cord Issues

This cause of electrical fires refers to overloading power strips, using frayed or damaged power cords, removing the third prong from power cords, or running extension cords beneath rugs. All of these things can cause sparking or excessive heat from the cord to catch flammable items nearby on fire.

4.  Light Fixtures

When you use a higher wattage light bulb than a lighting fixture calls for, you're putting it at a high likelihood of starting a fire. Placing flammable materials over lightbulbs or shades like cloth or paper may also cause it to heat up and catch fire.

5.  Space Heaters

Useful on cold nights during the winter, portable heaters are also a common cause of electrical fires. Space heaters that use high-heated coils pose the largest fire hazard as they become extremely hot. Some homeowners make the mistake of placing space heaters too close to flammable items such as curtains, beds, blankets, or furniture which can cause them to catch fire.

What Are The Signs of an Electrical Fire?

If you know what to look for, you can catch an electrical fire in your home before it is too late and causes extensive damage. When you identify any of these signs of an electrical fire, you should call your local electrician to rectify the problem as soon as possible.

Signs of a possible electrical fire include:

  • Circuit breaker keeps tripping - Your circuit breaker turns off electricity to prevent overheating of the circuit. When it keeps tripping, this means that you are overloading an area of your home, there is a short in the wiring, or the wiring has gone bad.
  • Burning smell that you cannot find the source of - When you can't tell where a burning smell is coming from, that means the source may be the wiring hidden behind your walls.
  • Hot or burnt outlets - Your outlets and light switches should be cool to the touch. If they aren't, this indicates a wiring problem.
  • Flickering lights - If replacing or tightening a light bulb doesn't fix a flickering light, it's likely a wiring issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Sparking or buzzing outlets - Small sparks are normal when plugging in an appliance. But, if there is constant large sparks or buzzing sounds from an outlet, there is something wrong with it. Stop using the outlet and have an electrician inspect it.

Preventing Electrical Fires in Your Home

Preventing electrical fires in your home is easy when you follow proper electrical safety and resolve any problems as they arise. But to be sure, follow these tips as well:

  • Use heavy-duty extension cords
  • Do not run any extension cords under rugs
  • Do not permanently rely on extension cords - they should be for temporary use only
  • Check the cords of your appliances for fraying, exposed wires, or excessive heat.
  • Be sure to only use the proper wattage or lower for all light fixtures
  • Don't cover lamps with flammable materials
  • Call an electrician to inspect your home when you identify any signs of an electrical fire or are experiencing electrical problems

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