5 Common Causes of Structural Electrical Fires and How to Prevent Them

Electrical wiring

Each year, $1.5 billion in property damage is caused by electrical fires. It was estimated that in 2011 alone, 47,700 of the home structure fires reported to fire departments could be linked to electrical failure or malfunction. Not all fires can be prevented, but structural electrical fires are one of the easiest to take preventative measures against.

The following are five of the leading causes of structural electrical fires and steps you can take to prevent them in your home and office.

  1. Light fixtures are one of the most common causes of electrical fires. Roughly half of all non-confined electrical home structure fires that occurred in the U.S. between 2007 and 2011 involved lighting or electrical distribution as the igniting equipment. Of the home structure fires caused by lighting equipment during that time, 63% were caused by electrical wiring and related wiring equipment. As many as 20% of lighting related home structural fires were caused by light bulbs, lamps, and light fixtures; 11% were caused by cords and plugs; and 6% involved transformers and power supplies.

    One way to prevent lighting related fires caused by electrical wiring is to consult a electric contractor or lighting contractor who can evaluate the safety of your home’s wiring. Other steps you can take yourself include always ensuring the light bulbs you use don’t exceed the maximum allowable wattage of your lighting equipment. Also avoid placing clothes or other flammable materials over lamps and nightshades. The fabric can easily overheat and catch fire.
  2. Outdated or old appliances are another common cause of structural electrical fires. If an appliance has a worn or frayed cord, stop using it. Damaged cords can transmit heat, which can then trigger a fire on combustible surfaces such as curtains, rugs, or even your flooring. It is never a good idea to run cords under rugs. Similarly, cords with grounding plugs shouldn’t have their grounding plugs removed to fit into a two-prong outlet. Appliances are designed with an extra grounding plug to ensure the outlets they’re used in can support the high level of electricity they require. If your home or office is 10 years or older, experts recommend speaking with a residential or commercial electric contractor about having new appliances added or major renovations done.
  3. Improper use of extension cords can also cause electrical fires. Extension cords should be used as a temporary source of electricity; never leave an appliance plugged into an extension cord for a long length of time. Back to not modifying appliance’s with ground plugs, if your workplace or home doesn’t have the right type of outlets for your appliances, hire a residential or commercial electric contractor to have new ones installed.
  4. Space heaters placed unsafely can also spark electrical fires. Due to their portable nature, it’s tempting to place space heaters in a wide range of areas about the home. Their compact size often tempts homeowners into tucking the heater into small spaces. It’s important to remember they are still heat sources and need to be kept well clear of combustible surfaces like rugs, clothing, beds, and curtains.

    One of the most dangerous types of space heaters are coil heaters. The coils are capable of becoming hot enough to instantaneously ignite nearby surfaces. Radiator style heaters are a safer option, as they diffuse their heat over their entire surface. No matter which type of space heater you use, however, always keep it well clear of flammable surfaces.
  5. Faulty electrical outlets and outdated wiring account for a large number of electrical fires in older homes. Older homes may not have the electrical capacity necessary to support modern appliances and electrical equipment. Again, experts recommend of having a residential or commercial electric contractor inspect for renovations and new appliances if it’s over 10 years old. The Electrical Safety Foundation International particularly advises having a commercial electric contractor diagnose potential dangers in homes that are 40 years of age or older.

The above are five of the leading causes of structural electrical fires, but they are by no means the only causes. Knowing the potential dangers can help you take prevent electrical problems before they arise. Commercial and residential electrical repairs should be addressed by a professional electrician.

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