Leading Causes of Electrical Fires and How to Prevent Them

feature electrical fire

As temperatures begin to dip, homeowners will start using their heaters soon. And while heating equipment helps make our houses more cozy and warm during the coldest days, they are also one of the top causes of residential electrical fires in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, around 24,000 electrical fires occur each year. December and January (the winter months) have the highest percentage of electrical fire-related mortalities as per the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA. In addition, reports also show that these incidents cause $1.3 billion in property damage annually.

Besides electric heaters, there are more possible causes of electrical fires that homeowners should be mindful of. We listed in this article the top common reasons for residential electrical fires and the things you can do to prevent them.

common causes of electrical fire

Outdated or Damaged Wiring

Do you live in a home that’s over two decades old? If you haven’t had an electrical inspection and your wiring upgraded, there might be a chance that your current system can no longer meet the energy consumption requirements of modern devices. When there is an increased demand for power load, the outdated wiring can heat up and catch fire.

And even if you don’t have old wiring, if a light switch or a fixture had poor electrical work (probably because they weren’t done by a licensed electrician) this could also pose as a major fire threat.

Some indications that your home may have wirings issues are:

Circuit breaker frequently tripping
• Appliances/light switches are too hot to touch
• Electrical shocks or sparks after plugging appliances in outlets
• Unusual burning smell
• Flickering lights

The best way to prevent an untoward incident to happen due to old or faulty wiring is to hire an electrician to inspect your system and have any damaged or outdated wiring replaced. While you’re at it, it might be a good idea to get a major electrical upgrade for your older home.

Ungrounded outlets

Try checking the outlets around your home. Do you still see sockets that can only accommodate two-pronged plugs? These types of sockets are now considered outdated and dangerous because they lack grounding. Without the third prong, unstable electricity does not have a path to travel safely to the ground (thus the name) away from you and your electrical system. This heightens the risk of an electric spark, electrical arc, or electrical fire.

Although the latest NFPA National Electric Code still allows the use of two-prong receptacles in homes as long as they are working properly, it is recommended to switch to three-prong outlets instead. Plus, most appliances today are compatible with three-prong outlets anyways.

Improper use of extension cords

A typical home office would have a computer or laptop, charger, printer, and other electronics plugged into a single extension cord or a single outlet. This practice, however, is dangerous and is an electrical accident waiting to happen.

Plugging multiple devices into an extension cord or to a single socket could cause a circuit overload, which could trip the breaker or worst, start an electric fire. The simple solution to this is to be mindful of not overloading your sockets and unplug when necessary. Only use an extension cord occasionally because they are not designed for long-term use and never plug in large appliances to it. If there is no outlet near the appliance, make sure to call a trusted electrician to install additional sockets to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Here are other safety tips when using an extension cord:

• Use extension cords according to their use – some cords are made for indoors while others are for outdoors.
• Check the ratings on the extension cord to see if they can be safely used with the electronic device you’re planning to plug in it.
• Never plug extension cords together. This is dangerous and increases the risk of an electrical fire.
• Make it a habit to check for any damages or wear and tear before using an extension cord.
• Never run cords under rugs, carpets or through ceilings, floors and walls as the heat from the cord may not dissipate easily into the air, which could start a fire.

Old appliances

Some may think that they are penny-wise by not replacing their old appliances until they are beyond repair. Unfortunately, using outdated appliances, especially those that have frayed cords, can ignite.

A good practice would be to inspect old appliances and look for any signs of damage. If you notice anything unusual, such as a burning smell or the appliance making weird noises, better have it checked by an appliance repair pro or invest in a newer model that is up to standards.

Improper use of light fixtures

One of the most used electrical items in the home for long periods is light fixtures. That is probably why improper use of it is a top cause of residential fires.

Using bulbs that have a higher wattage than the fixture’s maximum wattage can create excessive heat in your living space and is an electrical fire hazard. Another common mistake that homeowners make with regards to their light fixtures is leaving flammable materials like a cloth or paper near a lightbulb that’s turned on.

To prevent electrical fires related to light fixtures, make sure to only use bulbs with the correct wattage and keep items that could easily catch fire away from your lighting devices.

Space Heaters

As mentioned earlier, portable or space heaters are one of the leading causes of electrical fires in the U.S. Although these heating devices are very convenient, there are risks associated with using them.

For example, since most people use portable heaters in bedrooms or living rooms, there’s a chance that heaters are placed on top of a rug or near curtains or a bed. However, these items are highly flammable and can catch fire when the heater becomes extremely hot.

A good practice is to only use the space heater in an area that is clear of flammable items. Also, make sure to only use the heater for short periods and never run them while you sleep.

We hope that our safety tips and suggestions will help prevent an electric fire to occur in your home. If you are suspecting that your house has electrical issues, schedule a visit from your local electrician to address the problem immediately.