Most electrical repairs should be made by a professional. But for all you "do-it-yourselfers" out there, here are tips on how to stay safe when dealing with your home electrical systems.
The Electrical Panel
Every time you use an electrical device in your home, power runs through the electrical panel, causing it to heat up and cool down constantly. These temperature fluctuations cause your home’s electrical panel to fail over time—the lifespan of a typical modern electrical panel is around 15 to 20 years. If you have a fuse box or another older-style electrical panel (you’ll usually see these in homes wired prior to the 1960s), it’s recommended to replace it with a modern circuit breaker-style electrical panel as soon as possible. You should also confirm that:
- Circuit breakers are the correct size for your home’s circuits
- Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are installed to provide enhanced protection from electrical fires
- AFCIs, if present, are tested every month, with faulty ones replaced by a licensed electrician
If you aren’t sure what to look for in your home’s electrical panel, your local GPI inspector can identify issues and fixes for you.
Switches and Outlets
Your home electrical safety check should also include switches and outlets. You should confirm that each switch and outlet in your home is functioning correctly, and that you have ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) installed in rooms like the kitchen and bathroom where outlets could come into contact with water. If you notice anything unusual, it’s time to call in an electrician to fix the issue. Here are some potential problems to look for:
- Cracked or otherwise damaged cover plates: these can lead to exposed wiring and risk of shock or fire over time
- Switches or outlets that feel loose: if switches wiggle or plugs don’t fit snugly in an outlet, this can indicate a loose connection in the wiring behind the cover plate
- Switches or outlets that feel warm: if the cover plate on a switch or outlet feels warm, stop using the outlet and call an electrician immediately, as this can indicate an unsafe wiring condition
- Overloaded outlets: having too many appliances plugged into an outlet is a serious fire hazard, so if you have large power needs in one area, have an electrician install more outlets
Making sure electrical cords are in proper working order is key to preventing accidental shock and risk of fire. You should make sure that large electrical appliances like window air conditioning units are plugged directly into a grounded wall outlet, and that electrical cords are placed away from high-traffic areas to avoid tripping.
- Frayed or damaged cords can lead to electric shock, sparks and fire. Repair or replace these cords before using them.
- Make sure cords are not concealed with a rug or other floor covering—cords can overheat if there isn’t adequate air flow around them.
- Relocate cords that are being pinched by furniture, doors or windows. This can damage the insulation around the cord, creating a fire or shock hazard.
Electrical appliances make life easier, but you have to know how to use them correctly to avoid the risk of shock and fire. Major appliances like your refrigerator, stove, clothes washer and dryer need to be plugged into grounded wall outlets. For heat-producing kitchen appliances like toasters and waffle irons, plug only one appliance into a receptacle at a time to avoid overheating.
Your outdoor electrical system improves the appearance and safety of your home, and it should be inspected regularly by a qualified home inspector. An inspector will check for various safety issues, including whether your exterior outlets are equipped with GFCIs or covers and your home’s exterior lighting system is adequately weather-proofed.