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7 Common Causes of Electrical Fires and How to Prevent Them

Electrical fires easily rank among the most dangerous events that can happen in your Weatherford, TX home. These fires can start at any time of the day or night, and sometimes without warning or provocation. Worse still, they can spread rapidly from one end of the building to the other by burning walls and igniting in-wall insulation. The good news is that there are ways to prevent these events from occurring. The following are seven common causes of electrical fires along with tips for safeguarding your property, its contents, and all residents.

1. Space Heaters

Although space heaters aren’t the biggest risk for electrical fires, they are a major one. This is especially true when homeowners plug in heaters with frayed cords, outdated designs, or fast-developing functional issues. If you have to use a space heater for additional warmth this winter, use it as short-term heating solution only. 

If you purchased a used space heater at a local thrift store or garage sale, throw it out and get a new one. Buying space heaters brand new will ensure that they haven’t already sustained internal and potentially dangerous wear that could lead to fires and other problems. It’s also best to replace space heaters that have been stored in basements or attics for years. Modern space heaters come equipped with important safety features and failsafe measures. For instance, if these units ever tip over or get knocked down, their automatic shut-off switches will keep them from burning carpeting, furnishings, and more.

Other best practices to employ when using a space heater include:

Never leaving an active heater untended

Plugging space heaters directly into wall outlets

Turning your space heater off before going to bed

Setting space heaters up on stable, level surfaces

It’s additionally important to keep these units at least three feet away from all furnishings, window treatments, and other flammable items.

The type of space heater you buy matters as well. The best space heaters diffuse “soft,” radiant heat. Comparatively, space heaters with heating coils become exceedingly hot and can ignite just about anything they touch.

Space heaters aren’t just a major risk for electrical fires and other fire types. They’re also an unnecessary one. All Weatherford homes should have fixed, permanent heating solutions. If your furnace, boiler, or heat pump isn’t capable of keeping all of your indoor areas warm, you should have it tuned up, repaired, or replaced.

2. Worn or Outdated Wiring

Faulty wiring consistently ranks as the top cause of residential electrical fires. Although wiring can last up to five decades, it’s best to have your home’s electrical system updated every 20 years. This will keep your entire electrical system on par with your current energy demands. It will also give your electrician the chance to identify and address both minor and developing wiring issues.

Even relatively new wiring can cause a fire if it wasn’t installed properly or if it sustains pest, surge, or wear-related damage. In homes that lack whole-building surge protection, all outlets, appliances, devices, and wires are negatively impacted by each surge event. Worse still, this includes damage caused by countless, mini-surge events that may be happening in your home on a regular basis. 

Fortunately, damaged wiring sometimes makes itself known by emitting fizzing or popping sounds at or around outlets and behind drywall. You might see thin, white smoke coming from your outlets or notice a faint and slightly sweet, burnt odor coming from your walls. Rather than ignoring these urgent warning signs, shut your power off and schedule electrical service right away.

3. Aging, Defective, and Inappropriately Used Appliances

Your appliances can also cause electrical fires. If your dishwasher, washing machine, or dryer has a frayed cord, unplug it and replace it. Appliance cords with exposed wires can generate a lot of heat. Moreover, if they come in contact with ignitable materials, you’ll have a serious problem on your hands. 

Age is a risk factor, too. Aging appliances aren’t always up to standard in terms of their wattage usage. They’re also less likely to have updated safety features and failsafe measures. 

The risk of fires additionally exists with both defective appliances and appliances that are inappropriately used. If you have a hair dryer that constantly short circuits an outlet, regardless of which outlet you plug it into, contact the product manufacturer and ask for a replacement. When using appliances of any type, never run their cords under furnishings or rugs, and never plug them into overloaded outlets. 

4. Faulty Electrical Outlets

Ranking just after faulty wiring, faulty or damaged electrical outlets can turn a home into ash and cinders. Much like faulty wiring, faulty outlets frequently emit burnt smells and thin, white-colored smoke as evidence of their distress. However, you may have outlet problems that serve as potential fire hazards even if the outlets in question work perfectly or aren’t working at all. 

Outlets have an average lifespan of about 15 years, but some of these fixtures could last three decades or more. If you’ve had the same outlets in your home for more than 20 years, it’s time to schedule an electrical inspection to learn more about their condition.

It’s always a good idea to replace outdated outlets that have two prong holes instead of three. Three prong outlets are the standard in modern electrical systems. Their third prong holes accommodate cords’ grounding prongs, and they establish low-resistance grounding paths to electrical panels that trip circuit breakers when problems occur. 

Many different factors can contribute to or accelerate the breakdown of your outlets. Even the simple act of plugging cords in and taking them back out causes cumulative wear. If you have an unchecked pest infestation involving any animal or insect species that chews on wiring insulation, lives in outlets, or leaves detritus behind, scheduling a professional pest treatment is the surest way to prevent electrical system damage. 

5. Overloaded Light Fixtures

Surprisingly, even installing the wrong light bulbs in your lamps, overhead lights, or appliances is a fire risk. Determine the guidelines for wattage at each fixture before purchasing and installing bulbs of any type. Don’t use standard light bulbs in your range hood vent, oven, or refrigerator, and avoid exceeding wattage limits by even the smallest possible amount.

6. Improper Use of Extension Cords

Despite being incredibly handy, extension cords are dangerously easy to misuse. If you have a television, lamp, or personal device that can’t reach an outlet, only use one extension cord to solve the problem. Connecting multiple extension cords to one another or “daisy-chaining” them is a major fire hazard. 

It’s also important to use extension cords that are properly rated for the items they’re supporting. Avoid overloading your extension cords, and throw them away when they become bent, frayed, or damaged at their plugs.

7. Overzealous Holiday Displays

When homeowners add new air conditioners, washing machines, or refrigerators to their living spaces, they often have their electrical systems updated to accommodate greater power demand. Unfortunately, given that the holiday season comes just once a year, consumers rarely make these changes before hanging countless strings of lights, setting up inflatables, and firing up lawn displays. As such, the risk of electrical overload is often quite high.

To minimize this and other fire risks, always make sure that the outlets, extension cords, and electrically powered decorations that you’re using are properly rated for both their locations and their applications. Never use indoor lights outdoors, and never use multiple “daisy-chained” extension cords. When strings of lights and other elements have visible wear, swap them out for new ones.

Since 1983, we’ve been proudly serving residents of Weatherford, TX and the surrounding cities. Homeowners can turn to us for superior heating, cooling, plumbing, and electrical services. If you need help upgrading, maintaining, or repairing your home’s electrical system, give Lightfoot Plumbing, Heating, Air & Electrical a call today.

Meet the Author
Gary Lightfoot

With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Gary Lightfoot took over his family business and continues to run it with the values and standards set 35 years ago

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