As a homeowner, commercial building owner, or business owner, there’s never a morning when you wake up and think, “There’s going to be an electrical fire today. I had better be prepared.” Despite this, it happens to people and when it does, it takes them by surprise. In some cases, electrical fires are even fatal.
As an electrician who has helped people prevent and recover from electrical fires, I can tell you that a few extra updates to your electrical system are well worth the investment in your safety.
Reasons Electrical Fires Start
Electrical fires start within the electrical components of a building or appliances, usually when there’s a power overload or an uneven distribution of electricity. A fire can ignite in the electrical equipment itself (such as the outlet or in the wiring), in an appliance, or in lighting equipment.
Most electrical fires are the result of arcing, which can happen due to loose or faulty electrical equipment. Many electrical fires start with faulty outlets (also known as receptacles). Wiring loosens and wears down over time, and under the right conditions, this can spark a fire.
Worn out appliances can also be the culprit, especially if their cords are damaged, stripped, or fraying. Overloaded outlets, bulbs with wattage that’s too high for the fixture, and old or faulty wiring or circuit breakers can also be the culprit. Finally, putting something flammable near lighting can cause a fire, since lighting can be a significant heat source (although LEDs do not heat up enough to cause a fire, which is one benefit of making the switch!)
It’s important to note that most electrical fires start in the colder winter months, when we tend to use heaters and other electrical equipment more frequently. These numbers can also spike around the holiday season, when we have more lighting and additional appliances running.
How to Prevent Fires
Fire prevention starts with maintenance and updates. A few of the common electrical upgrades we’re called in for regularly include:
- Installing new circuit breakers
- Updating old wiring
- Adding outlets
- Replacing damaged insulation on cords
Older systems are not designed for the major power draws that we demand of them in the modern age, and older wiring does not always have the proper insulation. If you aren’t sure about the electrical system in your home or you know it’s old and hasn’t been updated, start with an inspection by a qualified electrician in Edmonton.
Other preventative tips you can easily do at home include:
- Taking care of the cords of your appliances – don’t bend or coil them, and don’t pull on the cord to remove them from the outlet
- Keep electrical cords away from water and heat sources
- Have regular inspections on your electrical system every 3-4 years
- Buy appliances approved by the CSA (Canadian Standards Association)
- Repair or discard broken or malfunctioning appliances
One of the main reasons electrical fires can be so harmful is because they’re often hidden. If you notice an electrical fire on, say, an outlet, keep in mind that there is a chance that the fire is already spreading behind the walls.
One way to discover a fire before it becomes more destructive is to sniff it out. If there’s a persistent burning smell in the air, it may signal an electrical fire starting. If you suspect this, cut the power immediately and call Polar Electric so that our professional electricians can search for the source.
Another sign of an electrical fire is discoloured outlets. In the past, Polar Electric has been called out to replace an outlet that’s black (with a line of black up the wall). The owner did not realize that this actually indicated that a spark had already ignited. Although it wasn’t enough to cause a full-blown house fire, it could have. Keep in mind that your outlets should never feel hot to the touch, either.
When your breakers tripping constantly tripping, it’s a sign that they’re overloaded, short-circuiting, or there’s a ground fault. Be sure to give your local Edmonton electrician a call to take a look and talk about upgrades and fixes.
Finally, keep an eye out for flickering or dimming lights, which can also indicate an overloaded circuit or distribution issues, and keep power bars and extension cords to a minimum to prevent overloads.
What To Do When a Fire Occurs
The first thing to note is not to use water on an electrical fire, as it could worsen the fire or electrocute you (water is a conductor, which means electricity can travel through it). Electrical fires are Class C fires, but if you don’t have a Class C fire extinguisher on hand (and most people don’t), you can also use baking soda to try to put out a small, contained fire, such as a kitchen appliance that has ignited. A final method for putting out an electrical fire would be to smother it with a fire blanket.
For more serious fires or if you don’t have the above items on hand, you should focus on your safety first. If it’s safe to do so, head to your electrical panel and turn off your power. This cuts off the source of the ignition, reduces the risk of electrocution, and allows the fire to be doused with water without the risk of electrocution. Once you’ve cut the power, leave the house immediately and call emergency services.
Avoid Electrical Fires Altogether
Electrical fires are one of the leading sources of house fires in Canada. At Polar Electric, we’re homeowners, too, so we understand the importance of keeping your house and family safe. If you are concerned about your electrical system or you’ve noticed issues that could signify a larger problem, please reach out to us today. We’ll send a highly qualified electrician to your home to inspect your electrical system from top to bottom and provide you with the next steps for preventative maintenance and repairs.