Electricity is an essential part of modern life, but it can also be dangerous if not handled properly. As a homeowner, there are several simple yet effective things you can do to reduce the risks of electric shocks and electrical fires in your home. I’ve learned many of these tips over the years from professional electricians who are experts at electrical safety.
1. Check Your Home's Electrical Panel
The electrical panel, or breaker box, controls and regulates power to your entire home. It's a good idea to periodically inspect your home's electrical panel to make sure everything is in working order. Look for:
Rust, corrosion, or damage - This can indicate moisture leaks or shorts.
Proper labeling - Every breaker should be clearly labeled for the circuit it controls. This helps you quickly shut off power in an emergency.
Signs of overheating - Discolored, warm, or buzzing breakers may be overloaded.
Tight connections - All wires should be securely fastened to prevent arcing.
2. Use GFCIs in Wet Areas
GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) are inexpensive devices that detect abnormal current flows. If a GFCI senses even a small amount of stray current, it instantly cuts power to prevent serious shocks. I make sure to install GFCIs in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and outdoor outlets. Testing GFCIs monthly with the test button ensures they're functioning properly.
3. Check Electrical Cords Regularly
Fraying or damaged power cords can easily start fires or shock someone. I inspect cords on appliances and extension cords periodically for wear and tear. Look for cracked or loose plugs, exposed wires, and sections where the cord is pinched. It’s safer to just replace deteriorating cords instead of taping or splicing them. I also make sure not to overload outlets or daisy chain too many extension cords.
4. Use Light Bulbs with the Right Wattage
Inserting bulbs with wattages higher than a fixture is rated for can generate excessive heat that’s a fire hazard. Check lamp and fixture labels for maximum recommended wattages. LED and CFL bulbs run cooler than equivalent incandescent bulbs. I keep spares on hand in the proper wattages.
5. Avoid Using Electrical Outlets Hidden Behind Furniture
Having to squeeze behind furniture to plug in a cord puts extra strain on the outlet. This can loosen connections over time, leading to dangerous arcing and shorts. It's much safer to make sure cords and outlets remain accessible and visible. If an outlet positioned awkwardly behind furniture needs to be used, I have an electrician come move it to a more convenient location.
6. Keep Appliances Away From Water
Electricity and water are a hazardous mix. I make sure not to position appliances like TVs, radios, and laptop chargers close to sources of water like sinks or tubs. Using kitchen appliances near the sink can be risky if water splashes. Ground fault interrupters provide important protection in kitchens and baths. I also never handle electric devices with wet hands or while standing in water.
7. Update Older Electrical Systems
Homes older than 40 years often have outdated wiring that doesn't meet modern electrical demands. Warning signs of an overloaded system include frequent tripped breakers, flickering lights, and outlets or switches that are warm or make crackling sounds. Upgrading the electrical panel, wiring, and outlets improves safety. I have a professional electrician periodically inspect older systems and make recommendations.
Staying on top of your home's electrical safety takes vigilance, but is worth the peace of mind of knowing you're reducing shock and fire risks. Following these tips and having a qualified electrician make repairs and upgrades when needed keeps my home's electrical system operating safely for my family.