Furnaces or space heaters running more often, and the water heater is becoming a necessity–these are the realities in most households now that the cold weather is upon us.
Considering these things, it’s obvious that your home’s demand for electricity is higher than normal compared to the other months of the year. This means electrical safety should be top of mind, and we highly recommend conducting an electrical safety test around the home.
Did you know? Besides cooking, electrical malfunction and faulty heating equipment are the leading causes for house fires in the U.S.? That’s a total yearly average of 358,300 home fires (NFPA) just for these three reasons alone. In addition, it’s during the winter months that these incidents occur, and it’s mostly due to space heaters, extension cords, and improper use of holiday decorations.
To help you go over your electrical system and ensure that all components are working correctly, we provided some tips below on how you can run an electrical safety test at home.
1. Inspect your main electrical panel
Your circuit panel is the key component that provides electricity all over your house, so it’s a good starting point when you’re doing an electrical safety check.
The first thing to do is to inspect the area surrounding your electrical panel. There should at least three feet of clear space around it. Open the panel door and closely look at the circuit breakers. Keep an eye out for rust or if there are exposed wires.
Try also flipping the breakers on and off. These should move smoothly and should not get stuck. It’s also a good idea to review with the adults at home about how to reset a circuit breaker in case it trips.
Tip: Keep a battery-operated light source near the main panel so you can use it in case the power goes out
2. Examine wall outlets
Another vital component in your home’s electrical system is your wall outlets. You can use a device called a “block tester” or a “cube tester”, which you can simply plug into the outlet and it will display lights indicating if the receptacle has an issue or not. If it does show that there’s a problem, it’s important that you call a licensed electrician immediately to prevent serious electrical accidents.
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3. Check integrity of receptacles
Just like most of the things in your home, electrical outlets can wear out over time. If you plug in a device and it’s loose or slips out, it’s a sign that the receptacle should be changed with a new one. Plugs that are not inserted in the outlets properly can cause an electrical arc or start a fire. Make sure that you have this fixed immediately if you spot this issue.
4. Test GFCI outlets
Ground Fault Interrupter Circuits or simply called GFCI are outlets that are often used in areas where there is a possibility of coming in contact with water (e.g. kitchen, bathroom, laundry area). These safety outlets interrupt the flow of current in case there is a presence of water or an electrical overload. GFCI outlets are easy to identify as these are the ones that have rectangular red buttons on them. These buttons pop out when the current is shut off.
To test a GFCI outlet, all you need to do is to push the “reset” button (color red in most GFCI outlets) and plug in a testing device, like a lamp. Then press the “test” button. The light on the lamp should go off after this. If the light is still on, then it’s a clear indication that the GFCI is not working properly and you should have it replaced by a professional electrician.
5. Look at exterior outlets
Especially during winter, you want to make sure that the exterior outlets of your home are sealed and protected against the elements. These outlets should also be GFCI protected, so it’s also good to test them. If you’re using an exterior outlet for long periods, be sure that the outlet has a covering that has access holes, which will securely close when in use.
6. Scrutinize electric wires
Do a visual inspection of any visible wires around the home. Look for any rodent activity, cracks, or splits on the wires. If you see exposed wires, you can wrap them with electrical tape, or schedule a visit from your local electrician if you’re unsure what to do.
7. Check your extension cords
Extensions cords are practically a must-have in every home, especially over the holiday season when there are too many gadgets plugged in. However, extension cords should not be used for long periods and are not designed for permanent use.
It’s a good idea to examine your cords for any cuts or damage before using them or include them in your to-do list when you’re conducting an electrical check around the house.
Read our article on safety tips for extension cords here.
8. Do a visual check on Tamper-Resistant Outlets
The 2008 edition of the National Electrical Code requires the use of tamper-resistant receptacles or TRRs for all 15 and 20-amp outlets in homes, particularly in areas that are within reach of children.
See our article on electrical safety tips for homes with children here.
If you want to make sure that you have TRRs at home, a simple visual check will do. You want to look out for a plastic barrier behind the openings of the receptacles. If you see a space behind the openings, it means that your receptacles are not tamper-resistant. Hire an electrician if you’re unsure how you can upgrade your old outlets to TRRs.
9. Inspect electrical appliances
As you go around the house, you also want to make sure that electrical appliances are used properly. For example, if you’re using a space heater, ensure that combustible materials are a minimum of three feet away from the heat source. Also, keep away electrical devices from water sources, and ensure that there’s adequate circulation for refrigerators and dryers.
Check out our pro tips on how to make electrical appliances last longer.
10. Run the five senses test
Besides eyeballing electrical components around the house, it’s also a good practice to conduct the test using your other senses.
For example, place your hand on your outlets and light switches to check for excessive heat. Note that these should never be too hot to touch, if they do, call an electrician immediately.
The smell of burning plastic around the switch could be a cause of overheating or if you hear popping or crackling sound in an outlet, it’s another indicator that you have electrical issues to address.
Electrical issues and home fires can occur any time of the year. An occasional check on your electric system is an important task that every homeowner must complete–not just in winter.
We hope we gave you some ideas on what you need to do as your run an electrical safety test in your home. Remember, if a job seems too big, you can always call professional electricians to do an inspection and make repairs.