Electricity powers supercomputers and laptops, roller coasters and blenders. It's at once grand and yet utterly domestic. Because of its perceived ordinariness, some homeowners may be tempted to address residential electrical problems on their own. This can be dangerous, however, and should be left for a licensed professional.
Home Electrical Safety Tips
As one of the fundamental forces of nature, electricity is extremely powerful. There are several things that should be checked periodically in order to keep your home safe from electrical hazards.
Check all of your light bulbs and make sure the wattage is appropriate for the size of the fixtures. Bulbs with too great of a wattage might overheat and cause a fire. If you'resure about the fixture, use a bulb that's 60 watts or less. Formarked ceiling fixtures that use miniature bulbs, use one that's 25 watts or less.
Make sure that no furniture is resting on any cords or pushing up against plugs in the wall – this can damage the cords and pose a fire hazard. That goes for rugs too, as stepping on cords can also damage them. Also, don't tightly wrap cords; wrapped cords trap more heat than they should, and this can melt the cord's insulation.
A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a device that senses the amount of current flowing within a circuit. If the GFCI senses a short circuit, it immediately trips the circuit, halting the rush of electricity. Since it can do this in about 1/30th of a second, it can stop the shock before it becomes fatal. GFCI's can be installed at individual outlets or in the service panel, and all new outlets installed in bathrooms, kitchens, garages, basements, and outside the home are required by the National Electric Code to have GFCIs.
GFCI outlets should be tested once a month. To do this, plug a light into the outlet and press the button labeled
test. The light should go off. If it doesn't, you need to replace your GFCI. Next, press the button labeled
reset. If your GFCI is functioning properly, the light will turn back on. To test GFCIs installed in your circuit breaker, simply press the test button. The breaker handle should switch to the middle, or off, position. Remember to move the handle back to the position in order to reset it.
AFCIS and Arc Faults
An arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) is a relatively new type of breaker designed to detect and stop arcs. Arcing wires are responsible for numerous fires each year because they generate hot sparks. AFCIs are required on all new construction.
If an electrical fire occurs in your home, do not attempt to put it out with water as you will run the risk of electrocution. Make sure you own a fire extinguisher that is rated for Class A, B, and C fires. These will be able to handle electrical fires as well as fires involving combustible materials. Also, make sure that you and the members of your household know how and where to shut off the electricity in your home.