Pay Particular Attention to Your Home Wiring
Nationally, more than 40,000 fires are caused by faulty wiring each year, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries. The financial losses are more than $2 Billion each year.
Older homes are particularly at risk for electrical fires. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have sponsored a study of wiring in older homes. The resulting publication, NFPA 73, Electrical Inspection Code for Existing Dwellings, contains guidelines which could greatly reduce your risk of electrical fire and injury. Note: The National Electrical Code (NEC) is NFPA Publication 70 and governs electrical installations. Obtain a copy (below).
The average demand for electric power in the home is much greater than it was 40 or 50 years ago -due to the wide array of electrical appliances we have now that weren’t available then. Collectively, they now place a heavy load on the electrical system (house wiring).
- Older homes typically have many fewer receptacles than is the standard today, as there are many more things we are looking to ‘plug-in’ today. This naturally leads to the use of extension cords to plug-in the entertainment center or TV set. Extension cords should never be used as a substitute for ‘fixed’ wiring. Extension cords are subject to damage and overloading. If the conductor (wire) insulation is damaged, it can cause arcing (sparking). If overloaded, it will heat up and could possibly ignite some flammable furnishings. Extension cords run under rugs or through windows are prone to damage. One outlet in a room is not enough today. More should be added, especially in kitchens, bathrooms, home offices and wherever there is a need for a lot of power -i.e. where most of the appliances are.
- Ceiling lighting fixtures are often inadequate. The wiring insulation is often brittle and cracking / flaking off due to exposure to heat build-up over a long period of time. The heat is a result of someone using a much larger light bulb than the usual 60 watt rating on a lighting fixture. Actually, some are rated at 100 watts maximum but because of the ceiling location, the heat rises and, over the decades, slowly bakes the wire insulation inside the ceiling junction box, if there is one, where the wires are stowed. A larger light bulb exacerbates the problem. If more light was required, the proper light fixture should have been installed.
- In an old home a closet lighting fixture is often too close to a shelf -which may have been added later. When the shelf is filled with linen or other flammable furnishings, is is sometimes in too close proximity to the hot light bulb and could lead to disaster.
- Old wiring devices and the wiring connections to them sometimes become loose in the wall. In a safely wired home, all the outlets, receptacles, lighting fixtures, switches and junction boxes are insulated and firmly secured. Wiring standards require a sturdy junction box at all junctions (splice or termination locations) to contain any arching (sparking). Wiring should not be covered with building insulation unless a qualified person has confirmed that the wiring is rated for such conditions. Note: Generally speaking, it is permissible to cover modern building wire (Types Non-Metallic Sheathed, MC, AC). It is not permissible to cover the old ‘Knob and Tube wiring’ that pre-dates the aforementioned.
- The National Electrical Code (NEC) provides the following definition of Qualified Person: One who has skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved.
- The grounding arrangement of your electrical system should be inspected by a qualified person for compliance with the NEC. If not grounded properly, the system is not safe and may not protect against electrocution.
- A relatively new safety device is an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI). Whereas, a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protects against electrocution, an AFCI protects against an electrical fire. Arcs can occur between conductors (wires) and between conductors and ground when conductor insulation is damaged or deteriorated. The arcing can generate high temperatures that can ignite nearby combustible materials (wood, paper, home furnishings). The AFCI minimizes the risk by detecting the faults (arcing) as they occur, by cutting off the power to the circuit, thereby removing the heat source that can lead to a fire.
Steps to make a home electrical system safer.
- Take the load off of existing circuits by adding new outlets (receptacles).
- Ensure light bulbs and fuses are the right size.
- Get a qualified electrician to to do an inspection of the electrical system.
- Consider having conventional circuit breakers replaced with AFCI breakers.
- Ask if your inspector is aware of and followed NFPA Publication 73.
- If you cannot afford to improve the electrical system all at once, do it in stages. Fix the most dangerous problems first. Look into a home improvement loan to spread out the expense over a longer term. Ask your insurance company if your electrical improvements qualify you for a reduced premium.
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