Electrifying Information About Your Electrical Panel
According to the National Fire Protection Association, one of the top causes of home fires is your electrical system. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports there are about 31,000 fires and 200 deaths related to home electrical problems. A key to staying safe is to have a properly functioning electrical panel.
That’s some pretty electrifying news. Fortunately, we can provide some edification about your electrical system so you don’t ever become part of these reported statistics.
Electricity is something we all take for granted, and that can sometimes lead to carelessness. Overloaded circuits, improper wiring, water near electrical outlets and appliances, outdated and unsafe electrical panels can lead to sparking with the potential to cause a fire, electric shock or even electrocution.
In this post, we take a look at home electrical safety tips and when to upgrade your electrical panel:
- Proper electrical maintenance
- Outlet safety
- Appliance safety
- Childproof safety
- Electrical panel upgrade
Proper Electrical Panel and Wiring Maintenance
Make it a habit to regularly check the power cords in your house and how they are connected. Replace frayed or cracked wires. A damaged power cord can be a serious electrical safety risk that can cause both fire or electrocution. Remind household members not to pull a cord out by its wiring, but by the plug itself to avoid damaging the cord or the outlet.
Household members tend to plug in wherever it is most convenient. This sometimes leads to tangled cords or cords that run under rugs. It’s best to use cord wraps (use ones specially designed for this purpose, not the ties used for garbage bags) to organize the cords so they don’t crimp or twist. Don’t run electrical cords under rugs; it might seem like a good idea to hide unsightly cords, but cords under rugs can overheat and potentially cause a fire. If you want to hide electrical cords, there are covers designed especially for this purpose in colors to match your walls and moldings.
Too many devices plugged into a regular extension plugged into a single outlet or a multi-outlet converter can overload the outlet. Instead of an extension cord, use a power strip that is designed especially to safely and economically distribute electricity to multiple devices using a single outlet. Better yet, add more circuits and outlets to avoid the use of a power strip altogether. In fact, extensive use of extension cords or power strips means you need more electrical outlets. Consult a licensed electrician to effectively plan and install outlets.
Keep equipment and electrical cords plugged into the outlet away from water. Things like hair dryers don’t belong close to a full bathtub or a leaky faucet. Water conducts electricity, and using an appliance exposed to water can conduct that electricity to you. There’s no such thing as “it is only a little bit of water, what harm can it do?” Keep your hands dry whenever handling electrical equipment.
In places like bathrooms and kitchens wherever water is used, code requires ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. GFCIs minimize shock hazards, particularly where certain conductors, such as water, are present.
Consider using smart plugs that outlet power loads to alert you to a potential issue. Some smart plugs can shut off appliances if it detects an overheating outlet.
The only thing you insert into a plug is an electrical cord. No screwdrivers, knives or anything else. If you need to unscrew an outlet for any reason, shut off the circuit breaker for that outlet. Better yet, if there’s any reason to remove an outlet, call a licensed electrician.
Look for Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or Edison Testing Laboratories (ETL) certifications to ensure appliances comply with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) electrical safety rules.
Always follow appliance and electronics instructions. There’s a reason why manufacturers insist you “read the instructions” before plugging in a new appliance.
An appliance that gives you a shock, however slight, is an appliance to unplug. Whether the problem is the appliance itself or the electrical outlet it is plugged into, do not use the appliance until the cause of the problem is determined and corrected.
If you aren’t using an appliance, unplug it. Even though you aren’t using the appliance and it is turned off, it is still drawing electrical power. Reducing the electrical load in your house also saves money on your electrical bill.
All lightbulbs are not the same. Use the correct wattage for lighting to avoid potential electrical issues. If the light fixture does not specify a wattage, the best recommendation is a 60-watt bulb. For unmarked ceiling fixtures, use a 25-watt bulb. Consider LED bulbs, which consume less power and reduce the risk of fixtures overheating.
To avoid overloading, plug each heat-producing appliance, such as a toaster or coffee maker, and any other high-wattage appliances into its own dedicated outlet. Do not place anything near a heat-producing that could possibly combust. Make sure there is proper space around the appliance to avoid overheating. This is particularly important for portable heaters.
It almost goes without saying, but we’ll say it. Whenever you attempt to repair an appliance or electronic equipment, unplug it first.
It’s the nature of small children to put their fingers where they don’t belong. Needless to say, their fingers don’t belong in electrical sockets. To prevent this, install tamper-resistant safety caps in all unused outlets.
Teach your kids that electrical cords, electrical appliances and equipment are not toys. Show them how to pull cords properly out of the cort, and not to yank on the cord and possibly damage the cord and compromise electrical safety.
Replace Old and Unsafe Electrical Panels
The electrical panel is the heart of your home electrical system. Just like the heart pumps blood through the body’s circulatory system, the electrical panel regulates the proper distribution of electricity throughout your house. Also just like the heart, malfunctions cause problems.
What are the signs that your electrical panel is potentially on the verge of a “heart attack”?
- How old is the panel? If it’s older than 25 years, or if you just bought an old home with the original electrical panel, consider replacement.
- Are you continually flipping breakers to restore power? Possibly you only need to replace the individual breaker. But if it is happening to several breakers, replacing the entire panel is a better consideration.
- Don’t have breakers? If you have fuses, you have an old out-moded electrical panel. Replace it.
- The electrical panel is warm and/or you smell something burning (!) from the panel.
- You feel you don’t have enough outlets for all your appliances. At the very least, you can add circuit breakers to the existing electrical panel. But if there is insufficient capacity to add breakers, you need either another electrical panel or a new electrical panel entirely.
- Lights flicker or dim whenever you turn on an appliance or additional lighting.
While it’s safe to flip a breaker, here are a few things it is not safe to touch in an electrical panel:
- Anything that looks burnt or damaged
- Any bare metal parts
- The main black cable that leads to the electrical panel
The cost of a new electrical panel varies, depending on your needs. But it is absolutely vital to replace an old and/or malfunctioning electrical panel. If you have a heart problem, your health depends on fixing it. For the same reason, the safety and health of you and your family depend on a safe electrical system powered by a safe electrical panel.
Why You Must Call an Electrician When Replacing Your Electrical Panel
Upgrading an electrical panel is not a DIY project. Nor are most if not all issues related to your electrical system, such as replacing circuit breakers or installing additional outlets. Whenever you are unsure of any electrical outlet or appliance or electrical panel, consult a professional. Electricians are licensed and educated on both safe installation and ensuring your home electrical system is safe.
There are actually additional benefits to upgrading your electrical panel beyond ensuring the safety of your home electrical system. For one, it improves the value of your home, especially if you also add outlets to run more appliances and equipment. You’ll also find that appliances run more efficiently with an upgraded electrical panel, which conserves energy and can lower your utility bills.
Whether you decide to upgrade your electrical panel or if you have other electrical needs or concerns, Ongaro and Sons licensed professionals understand your concerns. When you need an electrical contractor, Ongaro and Sons is the safe choice for quality service and 100% satisfaction.