Electrical fires can be severe.
In fact, home electrical fires account for 51,000 fires per year and more than 500 deaths, says the Electrical Safety Foundation International.
Approximately 5,300 fires are caused by electrical receptacles, and most of these fires are easily prevented with routine maintenance and knowing the warning signs of a faulty outlet in your home.
If you are like most homeowners, you do not think much about your wall outlets. You know how to plug in items correctly, and you are careful not to overload them, but what about the dangers lurking behind that plastic plate?
The National Fire Protection Association contributes 2,590 home fires per year to faulty outlets, and homeowner’s insurance pays the tab of $94 million in property damage per year.
As a homeowner, you need to be proactive and ensure your home does not have dangerous outlets. This includes ensuring they are in the right place and safe, working condition.
Warning Signs of a Potential Outlet Hazard
- Your Outlet is Next to the Shower or Bathtub
An electrical outlet should always be as far from a water source as possible. Therefore, you should have a minimum of 3 feet between your outlets in the bathroom and your bathtubs and showers. While a GFCI receptacle improves the situation and may be safe enough to leave it, it is best to contact an electrician and have the outlet moved; the cost is much less than the cost of losing your home in a house fire.
- Outlet is Next to the Wash Basin
An outlet can be located off to the side of a sink or wash basin, but it cannot be directly over it. Otherwise, you may have a cord that rests inside the wash basin, which could potentially rest in pooling water and lead to a short or fire.
- Overloading the Outlet or Power strip
Outlets, even with multiple plug options, are not capable of handling massive loads. Power strips extend a number of items a single outlet can handle, but they too have a capacity. When you plug multiple high-voltage items into a single outlet or power strip, you run a high risk of overloading that circuit.
Also, adapters plugged into a power strip to allow additional plug-in space increases the risk even further.
Always select a model that has a circuit breaker attached when purchasing power strips. If that power strip becomes overloaded, the circuit will trip, and you can avoid a fire and costly claim submitted to homeowner’s insurance later.
- Unprotected Outlets
Young children are fascinated and often drawn to outlets.
If they were to place a finger over that strip, they might be shocked or burned. Also, if a child were to insert a metal object into that outlet, they could cause severe electrical shock but also cause a fire.
Child safety wall plates are the best solution, but if you do not want to replace the outlets in your home, you can install plastic outlet covers.
- Cracked Outlet Covers
Sometimes it is not the outlet or the wiring behind the outlet; instead, it is the outlet cover.
Cracks and missing pieces on the outlet cover allow dust and debris to accumulate next to the electrical wires. This in turn could lead to a devastating fire; especially if there is a short in the outlet.
- Loose Outlets
Have you ever plugged something in only for the cord to quickly fall back out?
Over time, the blades inside an electrical outlet become loose. While it is a nuisance to you, loose blades are also an extreme fire hazard. These free blades cause extra heat to generate, which may lead to a fire.
If you notice your outlets are no longer keeping plugs in, replace them.
- Forcing a Plug into an Outlet
Older homes may have oddly shaped outlets that do not accommodate all types of plugs.
While you may think you could jam in that appliance, these outdated electrical outlets must be replaced first. Forcing the plug into where it doesn’t fit can cause permanent damage, but also cause an electrical fire.
- Outlets that Work, then Don’t Work
Sometimes an outlet works fine, but other days it is not functioning. This could be an indication that there is a problem with the outlet or the wiring to the outlet. Do not attempt to fix this yourself; instead, contact a qualified electrician to diagnose which component is faulty.
- GFCI Outlets No Longer Grounded
Modern homes come with GFCI outlets pre-installed. These often have indicator lights on the outside of the outlet, letting you know if the outlet is safely grounded.
The Bottom Line: Knowing the Warning Signs Could Save Your Home and Your Life
While your homeowner’s insurance policy covers fire damage and the unexpected, it will not replace the memories and items you have collected over the years. You can protect your home and your loved ones just by monitoring your outlet usage and looking out for the warning signs that you have a potential outlet hazard.
By being a proactive homeowner, you can lessen the chances you will have a household fire in the future and give yourself peace of mind.
Make Sure Your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy is Up-to-Date
While you are going around the house checking outlets and looking for potential hazards, do not forget to check your homeowner’s insurance policy annually to see if you have the right amount of coverage for your home’s value as well as your possessions.