Friday 10 May 2019


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According to the U.S. Fire Administration, in 2014, electrical fires accounted for 6.3 percent, nearly 24,000 fires, of all residential fires, 11 percent of the fires where someone died and 7 percent of the fires where someone was injured.

The months with the most electrical fires are December and January due to increased use of heating appliances and lights. Most electrical fires start in the bedroom, but the highest number of fatalities occur with fires located in the living room, family room and den.

Some electrical fires happen because of problems in the home’s  wiring or appliance failure, but many occur due to mistakes that homeowners make like overloading electrical outlets or extension cords.

When working with members of your community on fire and life safety, it is important to know the common causes of electrical fires. Here are the 5 most common causes of electrical fires.

1. Faulty outlets, appliances

Most electrical fires are caused by faulty electrical outlets and old, outdated appliances. Other fires are started by faults in appliance cords, receptacles and switches. Never use an appliance with a worn or frayed cord which can send heat onto combustible surfaces like floors, curtains, and rugs that can start a fire.

Running cords under rugs is another cause of electrical fires. Removing the grounding plug from a cord so it can be used in a two-prong electrical outlet can also cause a fire. The reason appliances have the extra prong is so they can be only used in outlets that can handle the extra amount of electricity that these appliances draw from the electrical sockets.

2. Light fixtures

Light fixtures, lamps and light bulbs are another common reason for electrical fires. Installing a bulb with a wattage that is too high for the lamps and light fixtures is a leading cause of electrical fires. Always check the maximum recommended bulb wattage on any lighting fixture or lamp and never go over the recommended amount.

Another cause of fire is placing materials like cloth or paper over a lampshade. The material heats up and ignites, causing a fire. Faulty lamps and light fixtures also frequently result in fires.

3. Extension cords 

Misuse of extension cords is another electrical fire cause. Appliances should be plugged directly into outlet and not plugged into an extension cord for any length of time. Only use extension cords as a temporary measure. If you do not have the appropriate type of outlets for your appliances, hire an electrician to install new ones.

4. Space heaters 

Because these types of heaters are portable, many times people put them too close to combustible surfaces such as curtains, beds, clothing, chairs, couches and rugs. Coil space heaters are especially dangerous in this regard because the coils become so hot they will almost instantaneously ignite any nearby flammable surface.

If you do use space heaters, use the radiator-type that diffuse heat over the entire surface of the appliance. These are less likely to ignite flammable items, but should still be kept away from them.

5. Wiring

Outdated wiring often causes electrical fires. If a home is over 40 years old, it may not have the wiring capacity to handle the increased amounts of electrical appliances in today’s average home, such as computers, wide-screen televisions, video and gaming players, microwaves and air conditioners.

Electrical breakers should be triggered when circuits get overloaded by too much electricity, but outdated breaker boxes often have worn connectors that do not work, causing the system to overload and start an electrical fire.

But one sure way that you can lose your home and everything in it  or your life,  is to use the service of an unlicenced electrician.

It’s natural to search out the lowest price for a home repair or improvement project. However, you need to beware of the dangers of hiring an unlicensed technition instead of a trained, licensed, certified and insured technician.

In June 2017 the American state of Utah’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing performed a two-week sting operation to track down and fine unlicensed contractors, many of which were subsequently  prosecuted.

According to a Fox News report, Alisha Hadden hired a very charismatic contractor whom she paid $15,000 to perform several upgrades to her home. The man left the job unfinished. She later learned that he was not licensed and he left damage to her home and was left having to pay another contractor $15,000 to have the work re-done.

Duringa sting, a total of 45 contractors were fined a great deal of money in Utah for operating without a license. Half of them then went through the proper channels to get their license, the other half did not.”               

With the ease of advertising on social media, it is easy to be fooled by an unlicensed contractor or scam artist. If you have any question of whether or not the contractor or repairman that you are considering is licensed, you can verify the status of his license by going to your government that licensees  those persons.

There are various levels of electrical licenses from apprentice, journeyman, journeyman residential electrician.  With each level, an exam must be taken and a certain number of years of work at the previous levels is required before they are fully licensed.

Years ago, a man was nearly electrocuted after bumping against an ungrounded fluorescent light fixture while holding a copper pipe. The work had been done by an unlicensed electrician.      

When you hire an uninsured repairman, you might not receive any monetary compensation if someone is injured or your home is damaged. Equally important isknowing that the technicians working on your home have insurance covering them. Don’t be afraid to ask them for the name of their insurers. If they won’t give it to you, show them the door they came in.  Also ask them to show you their current certificate issued by the government that licensed them.

If you hire an unlicenced electrician and as a result of his shoddy work, you home caught on fire and was destroyed along with everything in your home. you home insurer will not cover your damages. 

When I purchase my home which cost me over half a million dollars, I learned to my dismay that when it was built, the electrical wiring wasn’t  made of  copper. Hence the connections  could short and cause a fire inside the walls. What was needed was to put in different connectors at the wall. The wiring in the  connectors had to be made of copper. I hired a licensed electrician who did the job. Later another licensed technician inspected the work of the other technician and reported to my home insurance company that everything was done satisfactorily.   

A sizable fraction of ignitions of structures are due to electrical faults associated with wiring or with wiring devices. Surprisingly, the modes in which electrical faults progress to ignitions of structure have not been extensively studied.

The statistics of the National Fire Protection Association available for 1993 – 1997 stated that there were 41,200 home structure fires per year that were attributed to electrical distribution. These electrical distribution fires account for 336 civilian deaths, 1446 civilian injuries, and $643.9 million in direct property damage per year. These figures include a proportional distribution of fires with unknown equipment involved in ignition, but do not include power cords or plugs which are attributed to specific appliances. The 41,200 structure fires account for 9.7% of total home structure fires in the period, placing electrical distribution 5th out of 12 major causes. The $643.9 million in property damage represented 14.4% of total damage, putting electrical distribution in second place behind incendiary or suspicious causes. Earlier statistics compiled for 1985 – 1994 by FEMA showed very similar results: electrical distribution was the fifth-ranked cause of fires, the fourth-ranked cause of fire fatalities, and the second-ranked cause of property loss.

If you hired an unlicensed electrician and months after he finished his work, your house caught fire in the middle of the night and you and your family were hideously burned but still alive, every time you look at your face and that of your family, your decision to hire an unlicenced electrician to save yourself money, will haunt you for the rest of your life.

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