There's no more important thing to think about for your home than the safety of you and your loved ones. When it comes to electrical safety, you shouldn't mess around. Electrical safety hazards can be potentially life threatening, but the good news is that with proper precautions you can reduce any risk of electrical shock and keep you and your family safe.
At Experts In Your Home, our Chico electricians are only a phone call away if you have questions or would like to have us inspect your home for electrical dangers. In the meantime, here are some tips for electrical safety in your home:
Electrical Safety Tips for the Bathroom
- Be proactive about outlets or light switches that feel warm to the touch, frequent blown fuses or flickering lights. All three are indications of wiring problems, which should be repaired promptly by a licensed electrician.
- Check the cords of all plug-in appliances, including blow dryers and curling irons. The cords should be devoid of cracks, dings and fraying – all of which could pose a fire hazard.
- Keep the appliances away from the sink, which can be tricky to do if you're tight on counter space and have only one outlet. In this case, consider calling a licensed electrician to install another outlet for you.
- Turn off and unplug appliances when you're done using them. If you take the half-measure of turning them off but leaving them plugged in, they still pose a shock hazard, especially if they come into contact with water (such as if they tumble into a sink full of water).
- Inspect your lighting choices. Pendant (or hanging) lights may be more attractive to you, but they're not as safe as enclosed ceiling lights in the bathroom. If you must have hanging lights, make sure they're out of the reach of someone using, or is still wet from using, the tub or shower.
- Avoid bringing new plug-in appliances into the bathroom, especially radios and tape players. Each new plug-in appliance increases your chances of electrical shock – or worse.
Electrical Safety Tips for the Kitchen
- Test all of the ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in your kitchen. These outlets cut off the flow of electricity when they sense trouble, such as the presence of water. GFCIs can be particular life-savers in kitchens, where water is a constant presence. In theory, GFCIs should be checked every month; in practice, try to check yours twice a year (when you also check your home's smoke detectors).
- Check the batteries in the smoke detector located closest to your kitchen. Ideally, you should have a detector installed at least 10 feet away from the stove (so that a false alarm isn't triggered).
- Turn off a large appliance at the circuit breaker if you ever receive a shock – and not one from static electricity, but a full-fledged shock. This indicates a serious problem with the wiring, which should be inspected immediately by a licensed electrician.
- Despite the presence of GFCIs, take the extra precaution of keeping countertop appliances – the coffee maker, toaster oven, waffle maker, indoor grills – at least several feet away from the sink. Why take chances?
- Unplug countertop appliances when you're not using them. Again, this is a purely precautionary step. And be sure to unplug appliances before you clean them.
- Keep the cords of small appliances out of the path of any and all heat sources so that they don't accidentally ignite. For the same reason, don't wrap a cord around an a appliance until it has fully cooled down.
- Keep your stove and oven free of grease, oil and food buildup to reduce the chance of fire. Also, keep the stove and oven free and clear of paper and cloth materials.
- Vacuum the coils at the base of your refrigerator regularly. Dirt and dust balls can pose a fire hazard.
Electrical Safety Tips for the Bedroom
- Check the batteries in the smoke detector(s) leading to your bedrooms. One smoke detector should be located within 10 feet of every bedroom in your home – a precaution that could save your life especially if a fire breaks out at night. Test the alarms monthly.
- Test all the ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in your bedrooms. These nifty outlets are designed to cut off the flow of electricity when they detect trouble, such as the presence of water.
- Inspect all the outlets and light switches in your bedrooms. They should be securely mounted to the wall and in good condition. Child-proof outlets by covering exposed holes with plastic plugs. Light switches that make a sparking sound when turned on could indicate a wiring problem. In this case, call a licensed local electrician in Chico to make this important repair.
- Check the cord of every lamp, computer, phone and electrical device you plug into an outlet. The cords should be in good condition – not frayed, bent or otherwise damaged.
- Limit the use of extension cords in bedrooms, and never use them as a permanent source of power. Overusing them can cause the outer jacket to overheat, which can trigger a fire. Check the maximum wattage capacity of an extension cord—and don't exceed it. (For even more helpful information on electrical safety when using extension cords, please refer to an article on our blog: “Extension Cord Safety Tips When Doing Electrical Repairs").
- Check the bulbs in all bedroom lamps to ensure they are the correct wattage. A bulb that is too “hot” for a lamp could literally spark a fire.
- Ensure that any window air conditioners are connected to their own circuit to reduce the risk of fire. Turn off these units when no one is in the room.
- Keep any space heaters at least 3 feet away from furniture, window treatments and other objects. Never block them.
- Check the condition of any electric blankets, including the control. Look for any suspicious signs, including cracks, protruding wires and especially charred marks. Discard a blanket that exhibits any of these signs. Remember that nothing should be placed on top of an electric blanket – such as another blanket – and that it should lay flat. A folded electric blanket can overheat.
- Correct any “wobble factor” on bedroom ceiling fans, which can wear down the motor and potentially spark a fire. Turn off the fan and tighten all the mounting screws on the fan to eliminate the noise and movement.
Electrical Safety Tips for the Garage
- Test all the ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) at least once a month. (And if they're not installed, they should be.) These potentially lifesaving outlets cut off the flow of electricity when they detect a problem, which will reduce your risk of electrical shock. However – and this is a big however – large appliances such as a refrigerator or freezer – should not be plugged into a GFCI receptacle. Doing so could cause the breaker to trip and – you guessed it – cause everything inside to spoil. Ensure that these appliances have dedicated 20 amp appliance circuits to appropriately handle the electrical load they demand. This is an important and somewhat complex job, so call a licensed electrician to handle it for you.
- Test the circuit breakers that lead to your garage by flipping them on and off three times. While you're in front of your electrical panel, make sure that none of the circuits are overloaded. (For help with this electrical safety issue, see an article on our blog titled, “DIY Electrical Repair: How to Handle an Overloaded Circuit.”) If your electrical panel is not clearly marked, room by room, or you're not certain which breakers are connected to your garage, call Experts In Your Home for assistance.
- Inspect the cords of all your tools and appliances and the condition of all your extension cords. They should be in pristine condition, with no cracks, contorted sections, protruding wires or other signs of damage.
- While you're focused on cords, ensure that your extension cords are matched for the tool or job you use them for. Extension cords are classified for indoor or outdoor use and should be used appropriately. And they should never be used to supply power to tools on a permanent basis. (we addressed this in a previous article titled, “Extension Cord Safety Tips When Doing Electrical Repairs.”)
- Ensure that your garage door opener is hard-wired (just like a refrigerator or freezer) and not plugged into an extension cord.
- Use a special-made, hand-held lamp to shed light on cars, appliances and projects. Sturdy and usually encased in rubber or plastic, these lamps will ensure your safety. Don't cut corners and use an ordinary house lamp.
- Refrain from stacking boxes or other items against outlets. Keep them unobstructed to prevent accidents and to make it easier for a licensed electrician to access them, if need be.
Electrical Safety Tips When Using Space Heaters
- Do not put a space heater in the vicinity of gasoline, kerosene and other flammable liquids.
- Position a space heater on a flat, sturdy surface and out of the path of children and pets. In addition, place it away from doorways and passageways where it's likely to be knocked over.
- Place a space heater away from clothing, window treatments, and other fabrics. A good rule of thumb is at least 3 feet. Keep it further away from water to prevent electrical shock or even electrocution.
- Minimize the risk of fire by plugging a space heater directly into an outlet – not into an extension cord or power strip.
- Ensure that the plug fits securely into the outlet. If it doesn't, the plug is probably faulty and the heater should be discarded.
- Do not run the cord to a space heater under throw rugs or carpeting to disguise it from view. In time, the cord could become damaged to the point of triggering a fire.
- Check the space heater occasionally while you are using it, placing your hand on the plug, cord and outlet faceplate. Hotness is a sign of potential overheating, in which you case you should unplug the space heater immediately. Set it aside until a licensed Chico electrician can determine the source of the problem.
- Never leave a space heater unattended. Pull the plug before you leave the room.
Electrical Safety Tips When Using an Electric Blanket
First, do a safety check and discard your blanket if these things are true:
- Electric blanket does not carry the endorsement of Underwriter's Laboratory
- Electric blanket exhibits dark or charred spots
- Electric blanket includes a cord or plug that is cracked, frayed or otherwise damaged
- Electric blanket includes a malfunctioning or broken control unit
- Electric blanket has exceeded its projected lifespan, which should be noted in the owner's manual, but is usually no more than 10 years
Follow these safety tips:
- Do not use an electric blanket on adjustable beds, sofas, and recliners, including hospital beds, Murphy beds, and pull-out sofas. The heated wires could become pinched and/or overheated.
- Do not run the control cords between the mattress and the box spring. Friction could damage the cord or electricity running through the cord could become trapped there, creating a fire hazard.
- Spread out the electric blanket so that it lays flat. It should never be folded, rolled up or bunched up in any way.
- Exclude the following people from electric blankets: infants or small children, people with disabilities, someone who is immobile or cannot operate the control unit, or anyone highly sensitive to heat.
- Place an electric blanket on top of you, not below you. Do not sit or lay on top of the blanket to avoid damaging the internal coils.
- Do not place heavy objects, such as books and laptops, on top of an electric blanket to reduce the risk of overheating.
- Keep pets – or at least those with sharp claws and teeth – away from an electric blanket. They could accidentally puncture the wire insulation or damage the wiring.
- Never leave an electric blanket unattended for an extended period time – for example, longer than the time it takes to run to the bathroom or get a drink of water in the middle of the night.
- Unplug an electric blanket immediately if you see or smell smoke or see sparks flying from it.
- Turn off and unplug the electric blanket when you're done using it.
Store Your Electric Blanket Safely
- Unplug the controls from the electric blanket and the wall.
- Very loosely wrap the cords around the control unit. Be sure not to pinch the cords or place any amount of strain on them. Place the control unit in a small storage bag.
- Fold the blanket in large, loose sections, again taking pains to avoid sharp folds and creases. Since you want to store your blanket on a top shelf, without anything sitting on top of it, you might wish to measure the space and fold the blanket to the appropriate dimension.
- Place the electric blanket in a large storage bag. Place the small bag containing the control unit on top and place the large bag in a cool, dry place until you're ready to use the electric blanket again.
Electric blanket safety don'ts
- Do not wash an electric blanket in a washing machine. The turning, twisting and tugging involved in a wash cycle will almost certainly damage the internal coils.
- Do not dry clean or use a cleaning solvent on an electric blanket. Both could damage the heating wire insulation.
- Never iron an electric blanket. The heat could melt the heating wire insulation.
We hope these electrical safety tips are helpful and that your house is up to snuff on safety. If you have any questions, give the Chico electricians at Experts In Your Home a call today or fill out a service request online. We do more than you think and are happy to help make your home a safer place.
Experts In Your Home has been serving the North State’s construction, remodeling and maintenance needs for over 30 years and provides home painting, heating & air conditioning, plumbing, electrical services & more for your home or business in the communities of Chico, Paradise, Magalia, Durham, Oroville, Red Bluff, Corning & Orland, California.