Signs You Might Be At Risk For Home Electrical Fire (And What To Do To Prevent It)

It’s a scary situation anytime you have a fire in your home. There are many ways for a fire to start in a home. Dish rags left too close to your stove while you’re cooking can ignite, or candles knocked over by pets can scorch carpets, rugs, or drapes.

Electrical fires, though, can be particularly scary because they often happen quietly. They can also start through no fault of the homeowners. Electrical fires are the second leading cause of fires in homes, accounting for about 13% of fires.

“There are some common causes of electrical fires that are unseen, which are due to wiring and there’s no rhyme or reason behind it,” says Rebecca Serratos, the emergency services manager of Paul Davis of Northeast Indiana. “But we also see preventable causes, too.”

Fortunately, electrical fires often have warning signs that alert you to a potential fire. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can look for to help reduce the risk of an electrical fire in your home.

FLICKERING/DIMMING LIGHTS

If you notice the lights in your home dimming or flickering, it could be a sign there’s an issue with your wiring.

When only one light in your home is having issues, chances are it’s simply a loose connection, or something related to that fixture. If several lights in your home are dimming or flickering at the same time, it’s likely that there’s a problem (exposed wires, hot spots, etc.) on that circuit, which can lead to arcing. Call an electrician to have your system inspected ASAP.

YOUR BREAKER CONSTANTLY TRIPS

Like flickering or dimming lights, if your circuit breaker is constantly tripping and cutting off power, you’ve got a problem.

More often than not, a circuit breaker will trip because too much power is trying to be used on the circuit. This can happen when too many large appliances are running at one time. If you’re home when this happens, it’s usually pretty obvious.

However, circuit breakers can also trip because of short circuits — when a hot wire touches the neutral wire or a ground source. Short circuits cause a spike in the flow of electricity, which trips your breaker.

If your breaker is tripping regularly, it means there’s an issue with your wiring or your circuit, which leads to an increased risk of electrical fire.

BURNING ODOR

Have you ever been sitting on your couch, sipping a nice cup of coffee or tea, and suddenly smelled the acrid aroma of melting plastic? That could be the smell of the insulation on your electrical wiring melting.

“Anytime you smell something like a burning-type or fire-type smell, you definitely want to take a look around and sniff around,” Serratos says. “Even if you don’t see any active flames it’s still a good idea to call the fire department because there’s a chance it could be going on in a wire within the wall and that it’s smoldering and you can’t see it yet.”

Fire departments have infrared sensing equipment that can detect heat sources behind a wall. A call to the fire department to inspect a possible hidden fire in your wall could save you from having to deal with a full-blown fire.

“You know what your house smells like, looks like, and feels like, and if there’s anything you’re just not sure about — like you think you smell burning or smoke — get it looked at anyway,” Serratos says. “The earlier it’s caught, the less severe it will be.”

OLD/ALUMINUM WIRING

Nothing lasts forever, and that’s true of electrical wiring, too. While copper can last for a long time, it’s often the insulation around the wire that degrades and needs to be replaced. Often, the wiring in older homes (40 years and older) simply can’t handle the needs of modern appliances and electronics.

Grounded outlets in homes weren’t mandated until 1974, and at that time many homes were still on 60-amp service. Today, to accommodate modern appliances, 100-amp service is the minimum required for a home to be up to code.

“If you have an older home, you want to make sure you have everything grounded properly,” Serratos says. “If you’re buying a home and seeing two-prong outlets, make sure you bring it up to your realtor and insist on an inspection and make sure those issues are addressed.”

Similarly, some homes built in the late 60s and early 70s were constructed using aluminum wiring instead of copper. As aluminum gets hot (like when electricity runs through the wiring and creates heat) it expands, and when it cools off it shrinks. That means that connections made with aluminum wiring can become loose over time as it’s used.

Loose wiring creates an opportunity for a spark or an arc across the wiring to happen, which can lead to a fire. If you suspect (or know) you have old or aluminum wiring in your home, it’s best to have an electrician conduct a thorough inspection.

HOW TO BE PROACTIVE

If you’re concerned your home may be at risk for an electrical fire, here are a few things you can do (or keep in mind) to practice good home electrical safety:

– Make sure that your plugs fit tightly in outlets. If they’re loose fitting it can be a hazard.
– Make sure you have covers on the outlets if you have kids in the home so that they’re not putting things in an outlet that could injure them or start a fire.
– Never remove the grounding prong on a cord if you have a two-prong outlet.
– Don’t overload an adapter or too many appliance plugs. This is especially important around the holidays when many people daisy-chain strings of lights.
– Extension cords should be used on a temporary basis. They’re not meant to be used permanently, so keep an eye on them.
– Inspect any electrical cords you use. If they’re cracked and showing signs of wear then you should get it replaced.

HAD A FIRE? PAUL DAVIS RESTORATION CAN HELP

If you’ve had a fire in your home, Paul Davis Restoration of Northeast Indiana can help you get your house back in order. Our team of experts is available 24/7 to aid you with restoration services. Call us at 260-436-7510 for more information, or to speak with a fire mitigation professional.