Fifty-three percent of residential fires involve electrical wiring, which is intricately hidden behind the faceplates on your light switches. Flying sparks are obvious, but lots of other electrical danger signs are more subtle. Keeping an eye out for these five warning signs can mean the difference between fire prevention and a fiery disaster.
Note: If an electrical fire does start, don’t reach for water! It may seem like a natural reaction to douse fire in H2O, but water conducts electricity, so you might get shocked! Plus, throwing water on an electrical fire can actually make it worse. Instead, use an extinguisher that’s designed for electrical fires to stifle the flames.
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Loose ends on extension cords. If your extension cord has loose ends, or you’ve bandaged an extension cord with electrical tape, it’s time to replace it. Damaged cords may have exposed live wires that lead to shock and fire hazards.
Tripping GFI outlets. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFI) is an outlet typically located in kitchens and bathrooms – often within six feet of a water source – that prevents people from being electrocuted. These outlets immediately stop the flow of electricity (and “trip”) when they sense the slightest change in the current. If your GFI starts tripping repeatedly, you probably have an electrical problem or a worn-out GFI outlet receptacle. Contact an electrician to inspect the problem. To learn more about GFIs, read: Test Your Ground Fault Interrupter.
Wobbly ceiling fans. If your ceiling fan isn’t rotating evenly, your device either isn’t correctly mounted to the electrical box, your blades are unbalanced or your blades are warped. We recommend always calling an electrician to fix damaged wires and electrical boxes.
Inappropriate bulb wattage. Using a bulb that has a higher wattage than recommended is a fire hazard and may overheat the light fixture. If you’re dealing with a fixture with multiple bulbs or a strand of lights, check all of the bulbs individually and replace them as needed. Be consistent with the bulbs’ wattage in this situation.
Warm faceplates. If your faceplate is warm to the touch, you probably have an oversized electrical load operating on that unit. Monitor any warm faceplate you find. If the problem persists, or the faceplate becomes hot to the touch, call an electrician. Note: The exception to this rule is a dimmer switch. Unless it’s too hot to touch, it’s okay.