According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 47,700 residential structural fires caused by electrical failure in 2011. Those fires caused 418 deaths and $1.4 billion in property damage. Sometimes, electrical fires can be avoided by paying attention to any noises and odors coming from electrical outlets and repairing them as soon as possible. Here's what you need to know.
Odors to smell for
Damaged electrical wiring and outlets sometimes have an odor, which could definitely be a sign that something is seriously wrong with something in the electrical circuitry. Obviously, a burnt rubber odor or the smell of smoke can be a huge red flag that the electrical wiring or outlets inside the walls are sparking, smoldering or on fire.
You may smell an odor soon after you plug something into the wall or turn something on. However, the overloaded circuit that could cause the odor doesn't necessarily have to be directly at the outlet where your electrical device or appliance is plugged into. The wiring can be overloaded at any part in that branch of circuitry.
WARNING: If you smell smoke or the smell of burnt rubber, immediately turn off your main circuit breaker and call 911.
Noises to listen for
There are several distinct noises that can come from your electrical outlets when there is something wrong with them or the electrical wiring that should be connected to them.
These types of noises can be caused by overloaded circuitry, lose wire connections or bad outlets. There should be no noises coming from your electrical outlets, light switches or wiring. All noises should be thoroughly investigated because the causes of the noises could lead to a fire.
It's fairly easy to troubleshoot defected connections to your outlets, which may cause your outlets to make noises. First, it is crucially important for your personal safety to turn off the breaker that controls that particular room. However, it's a good idea to turn off the main circuit breaker for the entire house, to be completely safe.
After you've turned off the electrical circuit breaker, you'll want to unscrew the wall plate to the outlet you are troubleshooting. Then, unscrew the outlet from the wall and pull it out enough to check the wiring connections on the sides. Look for these types of conditions:
WARNING: If there are scorch marks or the wiring appears to have been chewed, do not turn your circuit breaker back on until after an electrician has given you the go-ahead. These types of damages are serious and your house is at great risk of a structural fire.
Putting out an electrical fire
Should you have an electrical fire in your house, of course, you'll need to act quickly. Call 911 and try to extinguish the fire if it is small. The most important thing to do is to be prepared. Electrical fires can be extinguished by a class-C or ABC fire extinguisher. If you don't have one of these available, you can try throwing some baking soda on the fire.
However, since most electrical fires are contained within the walls, this will be quite difficult. This is partly why it is so important to learn more and recognize when there may be problems with the electrical wiring and outlets in your home.
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