Smartphones, watches, wireless headphones and all their chargers, coffee makers, microwaves, heated blankets in the winter, humidifiers, air purifiers, fans, electric fireplaces, TVs, game consoles, decorative lights, table and floor lamps, and even automatic pet food and water bowls. The list of appliances we plug into just one room to enjoy technology and the comforts of our home is lengthy. However, it is important to be careful to learn how to prevent electrical fires as we use the electricity in our homes, especially if your home was built more than 20 years ago.
Why Electrical Fires are Especially Hazardous
Electric wall fires are one of the most hazardous and unpredictable causes behind home electrical fires. In this wireless day and age, we often forget that our wireless home accessories are powered by the hidden wires within our walls. It is easy to settle into our wired (and wireless) existence and forget the dangers shrouded behind our walls. Electrical fire hazards are a very real and dangerous but often invisible threat. Simple knowledge and acts can help you and your family learn how to prevent electrical fires.
One of the reasons why electrical fires are especially hazardous is because of that invisibility. Unlike other types of fires, like wood-based or kitchen grease fires, electrical fires often have a slow detection process. Learning about how to detect these unseen threats while learning how to prevent electrical fires and the answers to “what are the signs of an electrical fire” will only help protect your family against electric wall fires and home fires caused by faulty wiring.
Common Signs of Electric Wall Fires
The most common signs of a possible wire fire include the smell of burning, intermittent power outages, and sparking or shock from power outlets.
Living rooms especially may include high wattage items like televisions, computers, electric fireplaces and is also usually a popular place for charging personal devices. While most of us may wonder, “how can I hide all my cords to make my decor work?” You should be wondering how you can safely run the electricity you need in order to prevent any electrical fire hazards.
So, “How do electrical fires start?” There are several common signs to look out for when protecting your household against electrical fire hazards.
The biggest and most noticeable sign is visible sparks or physical shocks when using an electrical outlet.
The next is the smell of burning. What does an electrical fire smell like? Any unknown scent that smells like burnt toast, hair, or a sharp tangible sulfuric smell can be one of the signs of electric fire in walls.
Once we answer, “how do most electrical fires start,” we can begin to educate our families about electrical fires, their causes, and their prevention.
The Causes of and How to Prevent Electrical Fires
Circuit Overloads Can Cause Wire Fire
One of the most concerning electrical fire hazards is overloading your circuit breakers and not understanding the limits and use of your breaker box.
Think of the breaker box like a map. Each circuit should be labeled and will tell you how much power should go to each room or how much electricity each room is wired to handle. If you have too many things plugged into the walls in your living room, for example, the circuit breaker can be overloaded. It will trip and turn off the power to that room, and this is one of the reasons electric wall fires occur.
In cases like this, you will most likely flip the breaker back on, but often it will again go off when you plug another device in. Follow directions, use the right wattage bulbs in your lamps, and watch for signs of an electrical fire in walls.
Do the Math
Add up the watts used by each device, whether it is plugged in or hardwired, that is connected to that circuit breaker. Make a list of your light bulbs in fixtures, lamps, computers, phones, or another electrical device that is plugged in, etc.
Most homes use a 120-volt circuit in each branch of the house. For example, a home office may have a 15-amp branch circuit. Add up the total wattage from your list, and divide it by the voltage of the circuit that branch has been labeled. If the total amps in this equation exceed the allowance, it is time to either relocate some electronics or call a professional electrician to rewire that part of your home. This practice can be an easy and free way to prevent electric wall fires.
The Risk of Electric Heaters
Learning how most electrical fires start in houses goes beyond understanding that faulty electrical wiring can cause fire and more damage and injuries or even deaths than non-electrical fires. You might think most fires start where your appliances are plugged in, like the bedroom, living room, or kitchen. You would be right. But wires are throughout your home, and many fires start in areas you can’t see.
Electric heaters should only be used in case of emergency and only under constant supervision. They are especially dangerous due to the power surge added to the circuit breaker and the faulty electrical wiring older electric heater models have.
Improper Cord Use
Another of the more prevalent electrical fire hazards includes the overloading of extension cords. Extension cords should be used sparingly and are not a permanent solution to not having enough outlets.
Don’t “daisy chain” cords together. A big electric fire hazard is when cords are overloaded from one power strip plugged into another extension cord plugged into another power strip, etc. Read the packaged instructions to avoid wire fire.
High wattage devices like microwaves, coffee pots, humidifiers, and hair appliances can cause more damage than good when left plugged in unattended. When wires are under carpets or even floors, it creates a possible hazard. Heat needs to escape, and cords tangling could cause excessive heat or even a short circuit.
Check Your Wiring
Outdated home wiring often cannot handle the increased power load modern appliances require. Older wiring will heat up quickly and result in a wire fire. Old wiring can be hard to spot since it’s hidden in the walls.
Be sure to check for faulty or worn-out electrical outlets. Sometimes, sockets are not properly grounded. As outlets and switches get older, the wiring behind them gets older too, and the wires that loosen and deteriorate over time could break and become electrical fire hazards.
Old appliances can be the culprit in many electrical fires, especially ones that draw a lot of power. Appliances like microwaves, toaster ovens, and refrigerators that are older may have frayed, and damaged cords could be risky fire hazards.
In Case of Wire Fire, Remember ABC
How to put out an electrical fire
Whatever you do in the event of an emergency, the worst thing you can do is to use water to extinguish an electrical fire. Water is a conductor of electricity, and if you pour it on an electrical fire, you can create sparks and shocks. This can be a deadly combination.
There are various kinds of extinguishers for different types of fires. All fires are dangerous, but it can be even more dangerous trying to put one out with the wrong method. Fire extinguishers for live electric fires have a special C classification, but there may be a more useful code for your home. Class A is for fires like wood or cardboard. Class B is for flammable liquids like gas or paint.
ABC extinguishers, which work for all of the above, are the kind you should have in your home. Store an ABC fire extinguisher in each room, keep them regularly serviced, and educate your family on how to use them to have the best chance of recognizing electrical fire causes and preventing them.
Signs of an Electrical Fire in Walls
Warning signs include a circuit breaker that blows often, lights that flicker, or your power going out for no apparent reason. Do your appliances or devices feel hot when they are plugged in? Maybe your outlets spark or even give you a shock. Any and all of these, especially coupled with the smell of burning are signs of a hazardous electrical fire in walls.
Why Learn How To Prevent Electrical Fires
Learning about how to prevent electrical fires is the first step to preventative maintenance. Understanding the electrical fire causes and prevention, why electrical fires are especially hazardous, and the dangerous effects of faulty electrical wiring help bring education to everyone in your household.
Even small children can learn what the signs of electrical fire are, and even how to put out an electrical fire. A wire fire can be prevented with proper identification of electronics and wattage used, and hazards can be eliminated.
A little math, investigation, and communication will result in minimizing electrical fire hazards in your home.