While electricity is a necessary and useful tool in our daily lives, it can also be extremely dangerous. In fact, data shows that about 400 people are electrocuted in their homes every year, with about half of those electrocutions resulting in death.
Although leading causes of electrocutions vary, The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that the most common occur due to negligence or simply underestimating the potential danger of this everyday power source. For example, interference with outlets and cords by children or pets, exposure of electric tools to water, failure to turn off a circuit breaker during electrical work, and even failure to read and follow an appliance’s instructions are all marked among the most common causes of electrical accidents in the home.
For this reason, “electrical safety precautions should not be taken for granted,” says Cory Eickholt, a Loss Control Manager for Central Insurance.
Below, we review the five electrical safety tips that every homeowner should know and follow to ensure your safety and that of your family and home.
Watch This: Electrical Safety: How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe
5 Electrical Safety Rules to Follow
1. Maintenance is Key
Maintaining the electrical systems in your home should be considered part of general household upkeep. Doing so will help to prevent electrical fires or surges that can not only put you and your family in danger, but can cause lasting damage to your property.
To ensure your electrical systems are performing as they should, Eickholt recommends:
- Keeping electrical panels free of excessive dust and dirt.
- Not storing items within three feet of electrical panels.
- Keeping panels dry and free from potential sources of water.
- Wiping down panels with lint-free rags and solvents as needed.
- Minimizing heat buildup in rooms with electrical panels.
- Inspecting panels for any signs of corrosion, loose wires/breakers, and signs of excess heat.
These aren’t the only useful measures you can take to prevent electrical issues, according to Eickholt.
“Businesses with larger electrical systems—including a standard electrical preventive maintenance program (EPM)—should schedule inspections of electrical systems that include testing and maintenance of critical electrical components and their support systems,” he adds.
2. Always Replace Damaged Wiring
When it comes to electricity, Eickholt explains how vital it is that you utilize perfectly in-tact tools and equipment, as one small dent or crack in a cable can have detrimental effects on your safety and your property.
Every electrical cord contains a live wire that is securely insulated by the cord. When that cord becomes frayed or damaged, the live wire has the potential to become exposed. Exposed wires are direct channels to the electricity, and can be incredibly harmful when touched. They can also lead to electrical fires when left unattended.
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Avoid these dangers by examining every piece of electrical material in your home regularly. If you notice any abrasion or bend that seems out of place, always err on the side of caution and replace the material. It’s also important not to try and repair damaged wires on your own. PVC tape, for example, is not a permanent solution to an electrical problem. Instead, always call in a professional if you feel there is a dangerous wire that needs repaired.
3. Child and Pet-Proof Your Home
The National Fire Protection Association reports that nearly 2,400 children suffer from severe shocks and burns each year as a result of sticking items into electrical outlets. What’s more, experts in petcare have found that chewing on live electrical wires is the single most common type of electrical injury to household pets. Though these numbers are frightening, there are simple ways to keep children and pets safe from electrical dangers.
Start by identifying what types of outlets you have in your home, then decide if you are going to take temporary or permanent action to make your outlets safe. Permanent action may include replacing regular outlets with those designed to prevent electrical damage, such as AFRC (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) or GFIC (Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets. AFRC outlets are designed to prevent dangerous arcs in your electricity, where the GFIC outlets monitor the electrical current moving through a circuit, shutting power off as needed.
Did You Know: There are two commonly used outlet types in the United States as of 2022—one which has two pins, and one which has three.
More temporary solutions to electrical outlet danger include using plastic outlet covers, outlet boxes, or self-closing outlet covers, all of which can be used to stop children from accessing the dangerous electricity behind paneling.
Keep in mind that outlets are not the only electrical items that need attention to protect your family. Extension cords, power strips, and even plugs themselves should all be addressed as part of this safety practice. Simple fixes like taping down cords, installing a power strip cover, and keeping most electrical items plugged in out of reach of children and pets can go a long way in keeping everyone safe.
4. Avoid Overloading Outlets
One of the most common and most dangerous mistakes homeowners make when it comes to electricity is overloading. Although the average outlet is designed to manage 15 to 20 amps of power, many people find themselves plugging multiple high-power items into the same outlet without ever considering its maximum capacity.
In fact, the invention of surge protectors and extension cords has made it easier than ever for homeowners to dismiss outlet best practices and overload their outlets simply out of convenience. While commonplace, this action itself is considered the most frequent cause of electrical fires.
Pro Tip: Never plug one extension cord or surge protector into another—this is VERY dangerous.
It’s especially vital to avoid plugging high-voltage items into the same outlet. Do an audit of your home to figure out which items are plugged into each outlet, then conduct some research to determine if the combined power level of those items exceeds the outlet’s limit. If so, you should rearrange some of your items, or at the very least unplug items from that outlet when they are not in use to prevent too much power in one place.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Call In Reinforcements
Homeowners often choose to tackle home improvement projects on their own, but when it comes to electrical work it’s always safest to call in a professional. Electricians are extensively trained on the correct practices for dealing with the intricacies of electrical work, and can provide vital training on any specific factors in your home that might make your electrical situation unique.
“It is imperative to remember that…if you are not familiar or comfortable with electrical systems, have a qualified electrician assist you in any inspections, maintenance, or electrical repair needs.”Cory Eickholt, Loss Control Manager for Central Insurance.
Electrical Safety & Your Homeowner Insurance Policy
According to the National Fire Protection Association, $1.4 billion per year in direct property damage is caused by electrical problems. Recovery from such a disaster, while daunting, is much more manageable for those who are covered by a reputable homeowner’s insurance policy.
In case of an accidental fire, your insurance carrier can provide the financing and support you need to help cover damages and get your property back in working order. Keep in mind that the high correlation between poor electrical systems and fire damage has led insurance carriers to weigh the age and quality of a home’s wiring when determining if it can be covered. Older homes with outdated systems such as knob and tube wiring, for example, may have a more difficult time finding coverage in the standard market due to the increased risk for electrical fires.
Learn More: How Much Does Home Insurance Cost?
Stay Safe with Central
At Central, we know your homeowner’s insurance policy is the safety net you never want to have to use. Follow these electrical safety tips to keep your home and your family safe from electrical damage and, if the unexpected does happen, be sure to get in touch with your agent right away. We’re always ready to help.
Post Originally Published in September, 2018 and has since been updated for clarity.