Hidden among the many benefits of electricity are an equal amount of hazards. The valuable resource that makes our lives run so smoothly can be dangerous if not treated with the utmost respect when it comes to safety. It’s estimated that 40,000 residential fires each year are caused by faulty electrical systems or just general misuse of the system.1 Electrical systems become dangerous when circuits are constantly being overloaded. Regularly taxing a circuit can eventually wear it out, causing it to overheat and possibly start an electrical fire.
In most homes, electrical circuits are designed with the anticipated electrical load in mind. Each circuit can only handle a specific amount of wattage so it is helpful to know the wattage each appliance or device in your home uses. For example a hairdryer can draw about 1400 watts and a vacuum cleaner about 600 watts.
Problems can occur when too many appliances are plugged into the same circuit. If the circuit overloads it will trip and shut off the flow of electricity. When a fuse or circuit breaker trips, it is important to find the exact cause of the short and have it repaired. It can be potentially hazardous to merely replace the fuse or flip the breaker switch without determining the cause.
Another potential danger is in the misuse of extension cords. People often will use an extension cord with an adaptor to plug many devices into a single outlet, which could overload the circuit. An extension cord should be used as a temporary measure not a permanent solution. If more outlets are required in a certain area, have a professional electrician install them.
Additional safety measures you can implement include:
- During home remodeling always use a licensed electrician for any additions of electrical circuits.
- Use ground fault interrupters on circuits in bathrooms and around wet or damp areas.
- Extension cords should be three-pronged. They should be kept away from high traffic areas and never be placed under carpets.
- Using power strips with their own circuit breaker protection offers better protection when using multiple appliances or electronics.
Finally, it is important to ensure that each breaker or fuse clearly identifies the appliance serviced by that circuit and that the breaker box is accessible at all times. You should also know where to locate the main trip switch that shuts down power to your house. In an emergency situation, you may not have time to find the right switch.
 “1997 Residential Fire Loss Estimates”, Consumer Product Safety Commission.