Electrical Safety

Electrical Safety

As our homes age, the electrical system inside also ages and deteriorates. Over time, dangerous hazards can develop unseen until it's too late. Connections grow loose and throw arcs and sparks, wire insulation frays and cracks exposing hot wire, wire itself oxidizes increasing resistance and heat buildup along the circuit, our demand grows while the system's capacity gets overburdened. In order to prevent the devastating loss of your home or death or injury of your or your family, remember to inspect and protect.

Between 1994 and 1998, according to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, there was an average of 406,700 residential fires a year, and nearly 17 percent of those were related to electrical distribution or appliances and equipment. Another 42,700, or 10.5 percent were related to heating and air conditioning systems. These combined to cause an average of 860 deaths, 4,785 injuries and nearly $1.3 billion in property damage.
Many of these incidents could have been prevented by having an electrical inspection of the house to find the hidden hazards lurking behind the walls and in the electrical panel and appliances of the home.

What is an electrical inspection?

You may be familiar with the home inspection done any time a house is bought or sold. The home inspection checks skin deep on several facets of the home - the plumbing, the structure, the roof, and the electrical system. An electrical inspection is specific to the electrical system and is much more comprehensive. Still, if you ask ten different electricians what's in an electrical inspection, you may well get ten different answers. So the ESFI suggests that any electrical inspection you arrange include at least the following:

  • Check the condition and capacity of the electrical service to the house and perform a load analysis. Is the present service adequate for present and foreseen demands?
  • Check the quality of the exposed wiring including the service entrance if above ground.
  • Inspect the panel box and check that all connections are safe.
  • Check the wiring of receptacles, switches, and light fixtures, and check for proper lamp wattages.
  • Measure for voltage drop.
  • Verify for polarity and ground wiring at the receptacles.
  • Check for required ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and test each.
  • Identify the type of wiring (aluminum or copper) and check for the proper size of conductors and the presence of over-current protection.
  • Check the type of wiring insulation (i.e., cloth or thermaplastic) and for wiring insulation condition and temperature rating.
  • Check the age and type of various components of the electrical system.
  • Check for presence and proper placement of smoke alarms and test each.
  • Check for appropriate surge suppression, and for areas of the country that experience a lot of lightning, consider a surge arrester.

Who needs an electrical inspection?

An electrical inspection is a good idea for all homeowners, but in particular, the ESFI and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recommend electrical inspections for the following:

  • All homes 40 years old and older.
  • All homes 10 years old and older that have had major additions or renovations or the addition of major new appliances like air conditioning, furnace, water heater, washer and dryer, dishwasher or refrigerator.
  • All previously owned homes at the time of purchase by the new owner.

Can't I check it myself?

No. There are some clues you can look for that would indicate the need for a closer look, but the electrical inspection itself is more complicated than the average homeowner can handle and requires the knowledge and skill of a qualified, licensed electrician or electrical inspector.

New homeowners should get to know their home's electrical system; know its capacity, its limitations and its potential hazards. Especially, understand the demand you place of the system.