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Avoid Disaster: Maintaining Electrical Safety in the HomeOctober 11th, 2012 by
This article was crafted with the help of Universal Home Experts.
Residential electricity as an industry is fairly young; electrical systems have only been a standard installation in new homes since about 1930. In fact, most of the evolution of safety features within the electrical industry has come about in the last 40 years.
Great strides have been made in harnessing the natural phenomenon of electricity and safely utilizing it in the family home. Still, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, more than 400 people per year are injured by home electrical accidents, including shock and fire.
As Ed Valot—owner of Universal Wiring & Electrical Service in Houston, Texas—points out, these injuries are mostly due to homeowners’ lack of knowledge about electrical safety.
The electrical system of a house is one of the few systems that will offer a homeowner some warning signs when a problem arises. “The good thing about electricity is that it’s so stable,” says Ed. “If you have appliances or lights that aren’t working well, then that’s a warning sign that there is a problem.”
In addition to flickering or dimming lights, a constantly tripping circuit breaker is one of the main warning signs—and one that often goes ignored. When a circuit breaker cuts power, most homeowners will simply reset it and forget it. However, not only can frequent tripping be a sign of something seriously wrong, but persistent resetting can also be a hazard in and of itself.
“If people continually reset a tripped breaker, it may cause the breaker to quit tripping altogether,” says Ed. “What’s happened is that the arcing, bad connection, or other problem that was telling the breaker to do its job and turn off, has now essentially blown itself clear, and the breaker can no longer recognize when something is wrong.”
A worn breaker compromises the entire safety system, because the problem that has caused the tripping has not been addressed, and the breaker’s function of interrupting a dangerous electrical current and alerting homeowners to safety concerns has been overridden. The next arc or surge may not be caught by the system, and this may be the one from which tragedy springs.
The Power of a Great Electrician
“You know what the number one cause of our repair jobs is? Poor workmanship,” says Ed. He cautions that quality electrical work is highly complex and full of small details to consider. “Personally, it took me ten years of training before I mastered my trade. You have to be really careful when you hire a generalist, who offers all kinds of services, to come in and do your electrical work.”
Someone like a handyman may be able to perform a simple task like changing a light switch, but if he encounters more serious problems—a broken electrical box, a tangle of fraying wires—he may not have the training needed to even recognize the extent of the trouble, let alone properly provide a solution.
“A good, decently trained electrician will say, ‘Wait a minute. What’s wrong with this picture?’ I think that is one of the biggest advantages people get when they hire a professional, licensed electrician,” says Ed.
“They get a guy who understands what he is looking for, and when that guy finds something that isn’t right, homeowners should stop and listen. This is their opportunity to correct something and possibly eliminate a threat to their home’s safety.”
In addition to making repairs, a trained electrician can also offer suggestions for upgrades and safety improvements. For example, homeowners may want to consider installing some of the following devices if they haven’t already:
- Arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI)—an upgraded model of circuit breaker designed to detect electrical arcs and disconnect the power before a fire has the potential to start.
- Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)—a type of electrical outlet that disconnects the circuit when an imbalance in the electrical current is detected. Designed to prevent shock, these outlets are usually installed (and required) in wet areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry areas, and outdoors.
- Tamper-resistant outlet (TRO)—an outlet designed to prevent small children from inserting foreign objects into the outlet’s sockets. An internal spring keeps the sockets closed unless both are triggered at the same time, as by an electrical plug.
Electrical hazards in the home can arise in any room, but the central problem is usually found in the components of the electricity’s delivery system, including outlets, power cords, or the electrical panel itself.
Cease using the affected outlets, and contact a licensed electrician immediately.
Move cords so that they are unrestricted by other objects, and only wrap cords if they are being stored. Periodically check casings for damage, and replace any frayed or cracked cords immediately.
Consult a licensed electrician for panel upgrades and installation of AFCIs, and test AFCI breakers on a monthly basis.
An increased awareness of electrical safety issues is an important factor in keeping your home and family safe. By seeking out the services of a qualified electrician and following a few simple rules of electrical safety, homeowners can enjoy all the benefits of their electrical system and be prepared if problems arise.
This article was crafted with the help of Universal Home Experts, a Houston expert in Electricians. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.