Electrical-related fires increase in winter months; more than 45,000 home electrical fires reported annually
As the winter months approach, the Electrical Connection, a partnership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractor Association (NECA), is raising awareness to reduce hazards of home electrical fires typically associated with colder weather.
Improper use of space heaters, extension cords, holiday lighting combine with overtaxed circuits to enhance the risk of electrical fire hazards over the winter months.
According to a 2017 report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 45,210 home structure fires reported in the U.S. between 2010 and 2014 involved electrical failure or malfunction. The fires resulted in 420 civilian deaths, 1,370 civilian injuries and $1.4 billion in property damage.
“People tend to stay indoors more in the winter months and sometimes misuse electrical devices, such as space heaters, extension cords and holiday lights, creating a potential fire hazard in their homes,” Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs said. “We want to get ahead of that by launching this public safety campaign.”
BY THE NUMBERS
According to the NFPA report:
• 57 percent of home fires involved electrical distribution or lighting equipment.
• 19 percent involved heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.
• Nine percent involved kitchen and cooking equipment.
• Seven percent involved personal and household equipment.
According to the NFPA report, non-home fires resulted in:
• 20 civilian deaths,
• 190 civilian injuries and
• $659 million in direct property damage.
HIRE A LICENSED CONTRACTOR
“Our NECA contractors are frequently called to make electrical repairs to faulty installations that were perform by someone who didn’t have the skills to do the work,” noted Doug Martin, CEO of the St. Louis Chapter NECA. “We emphasize building to National Electrical Code standards to avoid wiring hazards hidden behind walls of homes and businesses.”
Electrical Connection members provide safe and reliable electrical construction, maintenance, repair and replacement services across Missouri, the nation and the world.
For more information, including a list of licensed contractors, visit electricalconnection.org.
Electrical Connection safety tips
Electrical installations in your home or business should conform to the standards of the National Electrical Code (NEC). This requires a fully licensed electrical contractor. While homeowners can visually inspect electrical systems, the Electrical Connection does not recommend they attempt to fix or tinker with them in any way. Leave that work to a licensed professional.
The Electrical Connection has the largest data base of licensed electrical contractors in St. Louis and Eastern Missouri available at electricalconnection.org.
• Space heaters/electric blankets – Never use an extension cord for an electrical heating appliance, such as a space heater or an electric blanket. The cord provided with the heating device is properly rated and should be connected directly to the electrical outlet.
Inspect your space heater and discard it if it shows deterioration, particularly around the plug-in cord, or it lacks a functioning automatic shut-off if tipped over.
Watch where you place space heaters and keep them away from combustible materials.
Keep children away from space heaters.
Closely inspect electric blankets and heating pads and discard them if you find any potential fire hazard, such as discoloration due to overheating or exposed wiring.
• Extension Cords – Never use an extension cord for an extended time as a permanent or temporary wiring solution. Extension cords aren’t made to be used for long periods of time and can result in electrical fires.
When you are using an extension cord, always ensure that the plug has all three prongs. This ensures that your cord will stay properly grounded, which could prevent the cord from overloading. Any extension cords without the third prong should be discarded immediately.
• Holiday lights – Examine and discard lights with frayed wires. They are a fire and shock hazard, especially if they come in contact with a metal gutter and ladder while being installed.
Use lights that are Underwriters Laboratories (UL) tested for safety and don’t exceed the strands of lights that can be connected as detailed on the product. Pay attention to whether the lights are rated for indoor or outdoor use.
Consider using LED lights which last 20 times longer and don’t burn hot like traditional incandescent lights.
Child-proof all holiday decorations. Lights can be fascinating to young children and if they get too curious can expose them to a live circuit.
• Outlets – Don’t overload sockets with plugs that could start a fire. Any electrical outlets in your home that are near a water source — sinks, bathtubs, washing machines — require a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) according to the National Electrical Code. A GFCI is a fast-acting circuit breaker that shuts down your electricity as quickly as 1/40 of second after a fault occurs. If you’re missing a GFCI an electrical professional can easily install one for you.
• Wiring – Visually inspect your home’s service panel and note any potential concerns. Contact a licensed professional if the panel is not firmly attached to the wall or wires are not neatly enclosed within their protective box or if deterioration is noted. Also, contact a licensed professional if the wiring connection points are not capped with a wire connector and enclosed within an appropriate UL approved junction box.