An image of a black cord plugged into an electrical socket, and the cord is on fire.

The Top Five Causes of Electrical Fires and How to Prevent Them

There are plenty of things you can neglect around the house. Washing the dishes can wait another night. Mowing the lawn can wait a few more hours while you enjoy going for ice cream with your family instead. But maybe the outlet in your bathroom sparked when you plugged in your hair dryer this morning, and you went to work and decided to worry about it later if it sparked again. However, that’s not something you should put off, as neglecting anything that has to do with your electrical system can mean an electrical fire!

Many people think an electrical fire will never happen to them, but the truth is it can happen to anyone. Learn more about some of the common causes of electrical fires and how to prevent them in your home today.

Cause Number One: Overloading a Circuit

There’s more potential for demand on a circuit in your home than ever before. And while modern electronics and appliances are more efficient than ever, there’s still a chance of fire when a circuit becomes overloaded. For example, it might be convenient to plug a new appliance into an extension cord or add additional plug options to an existing outlet. However, doing so can be dangerous because you may overload your circuit with too many high amp drawing items.

Electrical fires are much higher in the winter because of the increased electricity usage in homes, which comes from added work for your circuits thanks to things like space heaters, holiday lights, and electric decorations. Instead of adding extension cords or additional plugs to your circuit, it is better to have an electrician come and add more outlets to your system safely so your system can handle all the extra appliances and lights in the winter months.

The breaker trips and closes the entire circuit when a circuit becomes overloaded. If the breaker doesn’t work or doesn’t exist, the insulation around the circuit could melt and start a fire. If you’ve ever smelled smoke randomly in your home or had a breaker trip unexpectedly, you may want to have a licensed electrician inspect your system. Don’t put off having your wiring checked; it could mean danger if you overload your circuits!

Cause Number Two: Light Fixtures / Improper Bulb Wattage

Lightbulbs have different wattages for a reason! You should never install a bulb that exceeds the maximum wattage on the appliance. A lamp that can only handle up to 100w should never have a bulb with a higher wattage than that. That’s because higher-wattage bulbs strain the wiring inside the appliance and can cause an electrical fire.

Can you install a lower-wattage lightbulb for an appliance?

If, for example, an appliance can handle 100w, can you install an 80w lightbulb? Yes, you can safely install a lightbulb that is lower than the recommended wattage on the device.

Cause Number Three: Bad Outlets

There are two types of outlets that you may have in your home- grounded and ungrounded. Ungrounded outlets are common culprits for electrical fires because they are more likely to spark. But grounded outlets are not immune from causing issues, as even grounded outlets get worn out over time. The wires in grounded outlets may eventually loosen and can cause electrical problems.

Check your outlets for signs of wear or evidence of ongoing issues. Soot on the outlet, electrical switches, loose wires, or sockets could indicate that your electrical wiring needs work and can warn you that an electrical fire is on the horizon. Never try to perform electrical work yourself; always get in touch with a licensed electrician if you find evidence that your electrical wiring needs attention.

Cause Number Four: Space Heaters

There are more electrical fires in the colder months because people consume more electricity through appliances like space heaters. Understandably, you want to keep your home toasty during winter’s chill but need to ensure you are using your space heaters responsibly.

Space heaters are portable and convenient, but you should treat them like the sophisticated, dangerous appliances they are. Space heaters are well-known for causing house fires because they heat up quickly and can cause flammable materials to combust relatively quickly. Never put your space heater near combustible materials and always turn them off and unplug them before you go to bed. Ensure you are near your space heaters as they are running, and do not under any circumstances put blankets, bedding, or clothing over the space heater.

Cause Number Five: Extension Cords

Extension cords are incredibly convenient if you want to plug something in and you don’t have an outlet nearby. Unfortunately, an extension cord can also prove dangerous if you aren’t using it correctly. Plugging too many things into the extension cord can overload the line and cause an electrical fire. Additionally, plugging appliances like air conditioners or washing machines into an extension cord increases the fire risk.

It would help if you considered extension cords temporary; they are not permanent solutions for your outlet needs. Instead of adding more extension cords throughout your home and putting additional strain on your circuits, have an electrician come and install new outlets throughout your home to give you safer, more accessible options for plugging in your electronics and appliances.

If you do need to continue using extension cords, you can prevent extension cord fires by buying new ones every few years, only plugging in the appropriate number of items into them, and ensuring you are not using them to power appliances that require a large power draw.

How Can You Prevent Electrical Fires?

Aside from the tips provided above to help you prevent electrical fires, there are some other general things you can do to keep your home safer from this danger.

  1. Have your home’s electrical systems inspected to help prevent electrical issues.
  2. Replace electronics or wires with frayed, broken, or cut wires.
  3. Never overload a circuit or plug too many things into an outlet. Have an electrician come and install new outlets if you need them.

Some other preventative measures include installing smoke detectors throughout the home and having a fire extinguisher that can handle electrical fires available in a fire emergency.

What Should I Do in Case of Electrical Fire?

According to fire marshal recommendations, there are a few things you might want to do in case of an electrical fire. If you have an outlet or appliance catch fire and you’re there to see it happen, cut the power to the thing that’s on fire. Remove the plug from the wall or source of electricity if that’s safely possible, and then smother the fire with baking soda or a Class C fire extinguisher. Turning off the circuit breaker is another option, if you can’t unplug the thing that’s on fire safely.

Never use water to try to extinguish an electrical fire. Water conducts electricity and the current can travel back to you, leaving you with the potential for an electrocution or an even worse electrical fire.

If you cannot put out the fire yourself, you do not want to attempt it yourself, or it is too large to be contained, you need to exit the building immediately. Remember to stay as close to the ground as possible to avoid smoke inhalation as you leave the building. After you’ve left the building, you can call 911 for help.

Call 911 even if you have managed to put the fire out, as there may be other issues that need addressing. Additionally, fires can reignite, especially if you can’t stop the power source or safely remove the plug from the wall. You will also want to call a licensed electrician to come and check your electrical system before restoring power to your home.

Have You had Your Electrical Systems Inspected Recently?

Homeowners should have their homes inspected every three to five years. If you can’t remember the last time you had your electrical systems checked or want more outlets in your home, get in touch with the professionals at RS Martin for help with all your electrical needs. Just contact us today!