Keeping your home's electrical system running safely and efficiently is incredibly important, yet most homeowners don't give it much thought on a daily basis. However, there are small, easy things you can do regularly that make a big difference in preventing hazards and costly repairs down the road. In this article, I'll share 7 little-known tips to help you keep your home's electrical system operating safely.
1. Check Your Electrical Panel Regularly
The electrical panel, or breaker box, is the hub that connects your utility's electricity to the wiring throughout your house. You should be checking it regularly—about once a month—for problems like:
Loose, damaged, or warm breakers: This can indicate they're overloaded or failing. Replace them immediately to prevent fires or blackouts.
Corrosion, dirt, or insect nests: Clean your panel to prevent short circuits.
Overcrowding: If your panel is stuffed to the gills with breakers, it's time to upgrade before adding more circuits.
Damage to the panel cover or box: Replace them to prevent accidental contact with live wires.
Unlabeled breakers: Clearly label each circuit so you can quickly shut off power in emergencies.
Regular inspections take just a few minutes but are crucial to identifying issues before they become serious electrical hazards.
2. Test Your GFCIs Monthly
GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) are special outlets found in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, garages, and outdoors. They detect abnormal electricity flows and quickly break the circuit to prevent shocks and electrocutions.
Test each GFCI outlet once a month by pressing the "test" button to confirm they're working properly. Reset the outlet when you're done. This takes only seconds and is an extremely important safeguard.
Replace any failing GFCIs immediately, as they may no longer protect you from fatal shocks. Also have GFCIs installed in any outlets near water that don't yet have them.
3. Check for Hazards Around Electrical Panels & Major Appliances
Electrical panels and major appliances like water heaters, AC units, and refrigerators all pose increased electrical risks. Make sure there is:
Three feet of clearance in front of panels so you can access them quickly in an emergency.
No debris piled against panels or appliances that could obstruct air flow and cause overheating.
No water sources overhead that could leak onto them and cause water damage or shorts.
No flammable materials stored nearby like paint cans, rags, or cleaning chemicals that could ignite from sparks.
Proper insulation around wiring so cords aren't pinched behind appliances where insulation could fray and expose wires.
Taking a few minutes to scan for hazards around electrical hot spots can help prevent fires, equipment failures, and electrocutions.
4. Look for Damage to Electrical Cords & Outlets
Damaged cords and outlets cause countless home fires and accidents yearly. So it's vital that you periodically inspect them for:
Frayed, cracked, or brittle cords that expose wires. Replace them!
Gnawed or pinched cords from pets, furniture, doors, or windows. Electrical tape won't do—replace the cord.
Scorch marks or melting that indicate an overloaded cord. Unplug it immediately and replace.
Warm outlets that signal unsafe wiring. Call an electrician immediately.
Loose plugs that slip partially out of outlets and can arc, overheat, and ignite fires.
Make cord inspections part of your routine when dusting or vacuuming. It takes little time but protects your home from electrical calamity.
5. Don't Overload Your Electrical Circuits & Extension Cords
It's tempting to plug in several appliances on one circuit, daisy-chain extension cords, or overload outlets with too many plugs. But overloading circuits and cords is a major cause of electrical fires and blackouts.
Use power strips instead of extension cords for temporary needs, and only plug in 1 high-wattage appliance per outlet to avoid overloads.
If fuses blow or breakers frequently trip when using specific outlets, it's imperative you call an electrician to inspect for wiring issues before continuing to use them. Resist the urge to merely replace fuses or reset tripped breakers—that's ignoring a serious hazard that will only get worse!
6. Upgrade Older Electrical Equipment
Electrical technology and safety standards have advanced tremendously over the decades. If your home still has very old fuse boxes, wiring, switches, and outlets, consider upgrading them to modern, safer versions.
Some signs you need an upgrade include:
Frequent tripped breakers and blown fuses from overloaded circuits
Having less than 100 amp electrical service
Two-prong ungrounded outlets
Knob and tube wiring found in attics or walls
Upgrading old infrastructure not only makes your electrical system safer, but gives you opportunity to add more modern conveniences like extra lighting, outlets, and high-tech appliances.
7. Hire a Licensed Electrician for Major Electrical Work
As a homeowner, it's wise to handle minor electrical repairs yourself like changing light switches or outlets. But larger jobs like new circuits, panels, wiring, and service upgrades are best left to licensed electrician professionals.
They have years of specialized training and knowledge of electrical codes needed to safely install and repair home electrical systems. Attempting major DIY electrical projects puts you and your home at serious risk of fires, injuries, or even fatal electrocutions. Always vet electricians thoroughly and get multiple bids to ensure you hire a reputable pro.
While these projects will require a professional payment, it's a small price to pay for long-term electrical safety.
By implementing these 7 easy electrical safety tips regularly, you can protect your home from electrical hazards, greatly reduce risks of fires or shocks, and give yourself peace of mind knowing your family's safety comes first. Be vigilant, take preventative action, and your home's electrical system will provide reliable power safely for many years to come.