Electrical fires are pervasive throughout the United States, causing injury, claiming lives, and resulting in large losses of property. Most electrical fires result from problems with faulty electrical outlets and old wiring. Problems with extension/appliance cords and plugs also cause many home electrical fires. To help prevent an electrical fire in your home, routinely check electrical appliances and wiring and replace all worn, old, or damaged cords immediately.
Causes of Electrical Fires
According to the National Fire Protection Association:
* Lamps, light fixtures and light bulbs (28%) and fixed wiring (22%) account for the largest share of fires among major types of electrical distribution equipment.
* Cords and plugs (39%) account for the largest share of civilian deaths.
* Lamps, light fixtures, and light bulbs (30%) account for the largest share of civilian injuries.
Many avoidable electrical fires can be traced to misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance, and running cords under rugs or in high traffic areas. Faulty electrical systems also cause many fires. In urban areas, faulty wiring accounts for 33% of residential electrical fires.
Electrical fires occur most often during the months of December and January, winter months that call for more indoor activities and increases in lighting, heating, and appliance use. Fifteen percent of residential electrical fires start in the bedroom.
* Replace or repair loose or frayed cords on all electrical devices.
* Avoid running extension cords across doorways or under carpets.
* In homes with small children, unused wall sockets and extension-cord receptacles should have plastic safety covers.
* Consider having additional circuits or outlets added by a qualified electrician so you do not have to use extension cords.
* Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for plugging an appliance into a receptacle outlet.
* Avoid overloading outlets. Plug only one high-wattage appliance into each receptacle outlet at a time.
* If outlets or switches feel warm, shut off the circuit and have them checked by an electrician.
* When possible, avoid the use of “cube taps” and other devices that allow the connection of appliances into a single receptacle.
* Place lamps on level surfaces, away from things that can burn and use bulbs that match the lamp’s recommended wattage.
Having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.
By the Numbers: Electrical Fires
estimated number of electrical residential building fires each year
estimated civilian deaths due to electrical fires each year
estimated civilian injuries due to electrical fires each year
million estimated direct property loss from electrical fires each year
Warning Signs of Electrical Dangers
* Frequent or re-occurring issues with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers
* A tingling sensation when you touch an electrical appliance or other metal objects
* Discolored or warm wall outlets, or sparks from an outlet
* A persistent burning smell coming from an appliance, room, or area
* Flickering or dimming lights
Replace worn, old, or damaged appliance cords right away.
Publications – Download
* Clothes Dryer Fires in Residential Buildings (PDF, 669 Kb)
* Residential Building Electrical Fires (PDF, 451 Kb)
Links of Interest
* Consumer Product Safety Commission
* Electrical Safety Foundation International
* National Fire Protection Association