Safety First: Get a Home Electrical Inspection
An electrical disaster can strike your home at any time, but the winter months present additional hazards that can harm your house and your family if you aren’t careful. As increased loads put high levels of stress on your home wiring system, taking the time to carefully inspect the electrical components in your house becomes vitally important to your safety and well-being.
Electrical problems are the leading cause of house fires, which makes inspecting your home electrical system for problems one of the best ways to protect your property this winter. While it may be necessary to hire a professional to ensure that your electrical system is in proper working order, there a number of steps you can take as a homeowner to inspect your electrical system on your own.
For starters, check out your electrical service panel. This big box is usually painted gray, and it contains a lot of switches called circuit breakers. In most cases, you can find your electrical service panel in your garage or basement, and you should inspect this panel for signs of age or smoky residue.
If your home was built before 1973, it has an old style of wiring, and you should hire an electrician to inspect your wiring for signs of damage. However, you can easily check your electrical outlets for damage or smoky residue. If an outlet in your home doesn’t work, it’s probably damaged, and you should replace it. Of particular importance are GFCI outlets, which are located in wet areas of your home. If any of your outlets are damaged, you’ll need to take action immediately to protect your home. Here are some other things to be aware of:
- The Anatomy of an Outlet
Electrical outlets are everywhere in your home, but you hardly ever notice them unless something goes wrong. The two vertical bars in your outlets are called “shudders,” and the round hole in an outlet is called the “ground.” If one of your outlets doesn’t have a ground, it’s old, and it should be replaced.
- Understanding GFCIs
GFCI outlets are placed in your bathroom, kitchen, or anywhere in your home where water is present. These outlets shut off if they experience surges of electricity, but they wear out after about 10 years. Plus, you’ll need a circuit tester to determine whether or not your GFCIs are working if they were made before 2006.
- Why Things Go Wrong
During the winter, increased loads on your electrical system can cause old or damaged circuits to overheat and melt. This can lead to a house fire or cause injury and why it’s so important to inspect your outlets and electrical service panel every winter.
- Inspect Your Electrical System Now
Knowing more about your home electrical system is a good start, but you’ll need to put these principles into practice to maintain a healthy and safe home. As soon as you start up the heaters, electric blankets, and humidifiers, your chances of experiencing electrical issues increases, so it’s important to take action quickly to identify and remedy any problems within your home.
Common Electrical Concerns: Make Your Home Safe This Winter Season
The winter months put increased demand on your home’s electrical system, and if you aren’t prepared for the hazards that this season can bring, you could be blindsided. You can prepare yourself for potential electrical pitfalls by adopting some smart homeowner practices to keep your home safe and warm all winter long.
Winter Changes Your Electrical Demand
As the weather starts getting colder, your habits around the house will change. Here are some of the things you need to be aware of as your electrical demand increases this winter:
- When you use too many appliances at the same time in a particular part of your house, you run the risk of tripping a circuit breaker. Your home is equipped with a series of circuit breakers that protect your electrical system from damage, and these switches will automatically turn off when you exceed their stated power rating. Before issues arise, find out where your home’s breaker box is and how to reset a tripped circuit.
- Older homes are more likely to have wiring problems than newer homes. If your home was built more than 30 years ago, it might feature outdated wiring technology, but the most common electrical problem in old homes is wiring deterioration. Consult with a professional today if you have reason to suspect that your home’s wiring might be compromised.
- If you’ve been holding on to that vintage refrigerator or toaster oven for a little too long, pick out a replacement before the weather gets chilly. Older appliances can put dangerous demands on your home’s wiring, and they may also pose fire hazards.
Damaged Electrical Outlets
- Do some of your electrical outlets not work even when you reset the circuit breaker? It’s possible that the wiring in these outlets has melted, and since melted outlets are the top cause of house fires, you’ll need to address this issue right away.
Other Electrical Practices
Every homeowner should test their space heaters. Make sure that they function properly before you put them to work this winter. And if your area has experienced a storm recently, check for any water in your walls. Wet wiring can cause a house fire.
Now that you know how to keep your family safe this winter, it’s time to shore up your home’s electrical infrastructure for the winter season. Once you’ve followed all of the tips in this guide, you might want to consult with an electrician to ensure that you haven’t overlooked any important details.
Holiday Lighting: Making Smart Choices
The holidays are fast approaching and, from a lighting perspective, there are certain things you can do to promote safety without putting a damper on anyone’s sense of enjoyment or festive spirit.’Tis the season when homeowners and businesses alike often use more electricity and see a spike in their energy bills. Still, with every bulb burning bright, there are ways to reduce costs, minimize safety risks and still get all the light you need.
My advice is to revel in the lighting displays you see on your block, around town, or on a holiday trip. But it may help to follow these simple suggestions for a relaxing time, especially if you’re hunkering down and staying close to home this year.
The LED Advantage
For anyone still stringing out their old incandescent holiday lights (anyone?) trade them in this season for LEDs. The benefits include:
- Styles and colors. A variety of styles and colors to match or exceed traditional bulbs
- Energy Conservation. LEDs are 90% more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, last 25x longer, and last 2.5 times longer than CFLs
- Recycleable. LEDs are made from 95% recycleable material
- Affordable. A strand of LED lights from a big-box store costs between $20-$30
Outdoor Lighting Dos and Don’ts
Outdoor lighting prep is different than indoor lighting steps. Pay attention to safety considerations.
- Do use special outdoor extension cords, and keep them off the ground away from snow, rain and puddles.
- Don’t string more than three lighting strands together and check for burned out bulbs.
- Don’t turn on a strand that is missing a bulb. One misplaced finger in a socket can cause a shock or worse.
- Do check connections at the end of and between lighting strands.
- Don’t place electrical cords under rugs or mats.
- Don’t leave holiday lights on overnight.
- Do turn off holiday lights when you are away.
One last thing … with the sheer number of holiday celebrations, be careful not to overload your home’s electrical circuits. An excessive amount of electricity can result in a tripped breaker.
Breaking Bad – Does Your Home’s Electrical Panel Need Replacing?
Today, many of the electrical panels that have been installed in recent decades have been found to be responsible for or contributed to thousands of fires. Still, they continue to be marketed as safe products. To understand whether your home or family could be at risk, you should learn to recognize some of the most dangerous electrical panels. Most people are unaware of these prevalent dangers.
Federal Pacific Electric circuit breakers were widely marketed from the 1960s through the 1980s. Concerns about the safety of “Slab-Lok” FPE breakers led to an investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but the investigation was abruptly closed in 1983. FPE, then, stopped marketing its breakers under its own name, but not before millions of these breakers had been installed. Today, Jesse Aronstein, a prominent electrical engineer, is continuing the fight by presenting compelling evidence regarding the dangers of FPE breakers that is helping to alert up both homeowners and regulators alike.
In the 1970s, Sylvania marketed electrical panels under a popular brand called Zinsco. Thankfully, Sylvania was responsible enough to take Zinsco panels off the market after a couple of years, but these products continue to be used in millions of homes.
Why Are FPE Breakers and Zinsco Panels Dangerous?
FPE breakers also have unique dangers that should concern both homeowners and electricians. First, FPE breakers set in the off position can continue to send power to the circuit, and this could easily lead to electrocution. And second, in the event of a short circuit or current overload, FPE breakers can simply fail to trip. Unfortunately, trip failures caused by FPE products have already led to thousands of house fires.
Zinsco panels can exhibit “bus bar plating deterioration” that can lead to eroding electrical contacts and potential hazards. Circuit breakers need reliable electrical connections to function properly, so deteriorating contacts can lead to electrocution or house fires.
How to Replace Dangerous Electrical Panels
FPE and Zinsco electrical panels can present serious dangers that could potentially lead to your house burning down or an avoidable personal injury on your property. Regardless of your home’s age, you should check your home’s electrical panels to see whether you have one of these bad panels. If you find an FPE circuit breaker or Zinsco panel, promptly get in touch with a licensed professional to have your electrical box rewired with a safe and modern alternative.
Install Smart Smoke Detectors in Your Home
While crackling fires accompany nostalgic memories like camping trips and holiday cheer, there is a less pleasant side to flickering flames. The National Fire Protection Association reported that U.S. firefighters responded to approximately 380,000 residential fires in 2017 or about one every 86 seconds.
The good news for homeowners is that having working smoke alarms cuts your risk of dying in a house fire in half, making them one of the most important safety items in your home.
Types of Smoke Alarms
There are two different types of alarms that are commonly used in residential buildings. This is important because not every house fire starts the same.
- Ionization Alarms. This type of smoke alarm provides quicker detection for flaming fires by identifying smoke particles as they disrupt chains of ionized air particles.
- Photoelectric Alarms. More ideal for smoldering fires, photoelectric detection systems use beams of light to discern smoke in the environment.
Most standard home smoke alarms use ionization detection systems. While this type of alarm is quite effective, it is also prone to going off during normal household activities like cooking and showering. Still, ionization alarms respond as much as 90 seconds faster to fast-burning fires. The NFPA recommends the use of both types of technology. Look for alarms that include both types of sensors for maximum effectiveness and convenience.
Shopping for Smoke Alarms
Though it’s important to understand what type of smoke detector system you have, there are other essential things to consider when choosing your smoke alarms:
- What is the alarm’s reaction time to both smoke and CO2?
- How many alarms should you install in your home?
- What locations in your home require an alarm?
- How often should you replace your smoke alarms?
While deaths from fires far exceed those caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still report an annual average of 430 lives lost to CO2 exposure. Many smoke alarms include CO2 detection as an added feature, but always double check. If you have a stand-alone carbon monoxide detector, expect to replace it every five years; smoke alarms have an average lifespan of about 10 years.
The placement of smoke detectors is regulated by your local zoning laws, so make sure that your home complies with local building codes. Alarms are commonly installed in bedrooms, hallways and major living areas. Modern smoke detection systems are interconnected so that tripping one alarm will cause all the other units to sound throughout your home for a quicker response to danger.
It is clear that smoke alarms can save lives, providing the first line of defense against residential fires. However, you can lose valuable time if you don’t have a functional system in place, so taking the time to maintain your system is a critical component of any home safety plan. Failing to maintain your smoke detection system can render it useless, so test each unit monthly and change your batteries as needed to ensure that the time and care you take choosing and installing your system translates into increased safety for your family.
What You Need to Know About GFCIs
A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a trusty device that can play an important role in promoting health and safety in your own home or the property units you manage. Although it may seem like a small thing on a home maintenance checklist, pay attention to your GFCIs, especially if you haven’t examined them lately.
GFCIs – Why and Where Do You Need Them?
A GFCI is an outlet that should be installed wherever there is a nearby plumbing source: kitchen, bathroom, garage, home exterior, hot tub, and pool area, among others. In short, it monitors the flow of electricity through an outlet and will shut down a potentially lethal flow of electricity that can cause electrocution.
It is as simple as a regular outlet to install and should be checked periodically. It has two small push buttons that read “Test” and “Reset” that you can press to find out if a GFCI is functioning properly.
For new homeowners or property managers, have a professional check the outlets in every room or unit to see if they are working properly. The life span of a GFCI is generally 15-25 years, but they can wear out in as few as 10. If you know little or nothing about your property’s maintenance history, have the outlets inspected.
Does Your Home or Property Have Enough GFCIs?
Here’s a simple way to check if you have the right number of GFCIs. If an outlet is near a plumbing fixture, do you see two distinct push buttons on the device? If every outlet near a water source is a GFCI–and not a conventional outlet–you have the right number of devices.
A Lifesaver at Home and Beyond
In an effort to enhance safety, the National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements have gotten stricter for GFCIs through the years. For example, in 1971 GFCIs were only required in bathrooms and in temporary wiring construction sites. But today, GFICs can be found just about everywhere. You may be surprised to know that GFCIs are required in many public spaces: carnivals, fairs, commercial garages, elevators, and escalators, among others.
Indeed, GFCIs play a serious role in reducing fire hazards and improving home safety as wells as mitigating risk from electrical issues wherever you happen to be.
How to Promote Home Safety After Dark
If you are like most property managers or homeowners, you keep a watchful eye on your property and may wonder what you can do to reduce the risk of unlawful trespassing or break-ins. In addition to having alarms in place, outdoor security lighting is a great way to keep unwanted visitors at bay.
Safety concerns, especially if you own expensive electronic equipment or other valuables, are certainly warranted. Break-ins happen so frequently these days that people often go numb to the stories they hear. But if it happens to you the financial loss or emotional shock will be real. It’s better to have a plan in place: a lighting-security system that you can count on.
Motion detectors use infrared sensors to detect body heat from humans and animals. The technology may seem complicated, but the results are pretty straightforward. Indeed, security lighting can replace almost any outside fixture, and motion-sensitive lights are easy to install and act as an effective deterrent
When you have lights that turn off and on automatically or install motion-sensor lights, you will have greater peace of mind. You will be making your property safer by installing a reliable lighting system.
Complementary Security Devices
If you are interested in improving security in your home, here are some tips for using smart lights and other compatible devices:
- Using floodlights work wonders for covering large areas of a yard or driveway, but smaller LEDs for sidewalks and walkways are also quite effective
- Employing security lights to illuminate your porch and stairs will also enhance security
- Installing a timer that turns on exterior lights before you return from work can be useful
- Integrating your security lights with other electronic devices is key. When a motion detector senses movement, it can turn on lights and a camera to record every step your unwanted guest takes.
Keeping Away Pesky Intruders
People aren’t the only creatures to wreak havoc at night. In both urban and more rural settings, critters often find a way into your trash, yard or even attic and can cause significant harm to your property. But when motion-sensor lights are installed, raccoons and their furry friends will often depart before taking refuge, preventing more serious damage.
Time to Improve Home Security?
Are you ready to experience what new exterior lighting system can provide? Enhanced safety, convenience and peace of mind are just some of the advantages gained by installing a new security lighting system. The installation process is fast, typically one day, when you set an appointment in advance.