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Residential Electrical Fires: Causes, Warning Signs, and Prevention

Each year, in the United States, almost 51,000 electrical related fires result in close to 500 deaths. Many of these accidents could be prevented by understanding what can cause an electrical fire, being aware of the warning signs that could lead to an electrical fire, and knowing what measures to take in order to prevent an electrical fire.

Electrical Fire Causes

One of the most common causes of residential electrical fires is by arc fault. Arc faults occur when a corroded wire or a loose wire connection touches combustible material, causing sparking and extreme heat. Other causes of electrical fires include outdated wiring, misuse of extension cords, faulty outlets, outdated appliances, light fixtures, and space heaters.

Electrical Fire Warning Signs

Unaware occupants often can cause residential electrical fires because the residents don't know the warning signs of a potential failure with their home electrical system. Common warning signs of a potential electrical fire also include flickering or dimming lights, discolored switch plates, continuously blown fuses and/or tripped circuit breakers, and outlets or switches that are hot to the touch.

If you hear a hissing or buzzing sound in an electrical outlet or a light switch, this means you hear an arc happening. This may not mean a fire will happen at any minute, but this noise does mean that you should address the situation immediately.

Most signs of electrical fires are odorless, but if you smell burning vinyl or plastic or the odor of something electrical burning, turn the main power off and contact an electrician immediately.

Electrical Fires Prevention

With injuries and deaths resulting from residential fires, the most important prevention measure you can take is to have functioning smoke and fire alarms throughout your home and to have an escape plan for your family. You have a number of ways to reduce or lower the risk of electrical fires, such as:
  • Prevent the risk of fire from arc fault by using an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) for the outlets and the circuit breakers.
  • Before replacing a blown fuse or resetting a tripped circuit breaker, find out what caused it to overload. If you cannot find the source of overload, contact an electrician to inspect and correct the problem.
  • Replace old or damaged receptacles with newer, three-wire polarized receptacles. Over time, the insulation on wires can wear off and wiring can become loose, so if you live in an older home, prevent shorts or a ground fault by having a licensed electrician inspect the wiring.
  • Do not run electrical cords, including extension cords, under any type of combustible material, such as bedding and carpeting. Do not overload electrical outlets or use extension cords in place of an outlet.
  • Do not use cords that are broken or frayed, and never splice two cords together. To prevent excess heat and electrical shock, make sure all plugs fit properly in outlets.
  • Make sure all outlets near a water source (sinks, tubs, etc.) must be a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which are designed to trip if they encounter water.
Electrical fires are extremely dangerous — they can quickly grow and spread out of control. Keep in mind that, unless you have experience with electrical work, these types of repairs are not typically a DIY project.

If you've ever done some electric work yourself or had someone inexperienced do any type of electrical work in your home, have a professional, licensed electrician inspect the electrical system. This will help prevent against problems in the future.

For residents in the Orlando, FL, area, rely on the quality electricians from In Phaze Electric Inc. We offer a wide range of electrical services to help protect your home against electrical fires and other electrical problems.