Boost Electrical Safety at Home

Maintain your home's electrical system and keep the lights on and the power flowing.

It's a true miracle: the electrical power that infuses your home. Your electrical system keeps the lights on and the household humming, and illuminates every aspect of life. Power has its price, however. Treat your electrical system with respect: Learn these simple safety routines and schedule maintenance chores.

Simple Safety Routines

Be alert for problems. Keep a careful eye out for electrical hazards at home. A flickering lamp or crimped extension cord could cause a short or worse, a fire. Be on the lookout for frayed or bent wires, or a shock or tingling when you touch an appliance.

Repair quickly. If an appliance appears to have an electrical problem, take it out of active use until it is repaired. Don't pass the trouble on to others by donating or selling the item. Have the appliance repaired if possible; if not, dispose of it to keep every home safe.

Know your circuit box. Most homes have a central circuit box or breaker panel. This service box controls delivery of power to different areas of the home. At the circuit box, you can cut power to any — or all — areas of the home.

Take time to get familiar with your circuit box. If your circuit box uses fuses, lay in a supply of extra fuses for emergencies. Work as a team with another family member to label each circuit; labels will make it easier to cut the power in the right place if an emergency arises.

Test GFCIs monthly. Ground fault circuit interrupters, known as GFCIs, are special outlets used in kitchens, bathrooms and utility areas — anywhere water is present. GFCIs have a sensor that detects fluctuations in electrical current; when current surges, they shut down to protect against shock.

GFCIs have small colored buttons that permit you to reset a tripped circuit. The red "test" button allows you to test the GFCI. Test GFCIs monthly, and after any thunderstorms, to be sure their protective function continues to work. Replace them if they no longer trip when the "test" button is pressed.

Note: Do not plug refrigerators or freezers into outlets with GFCI protection. In the event the circuit is tripped without your knowledge, the appliances will shut down, spoiling the food inside.

Use electricity safely 

Prevent shock hazards and system outages by observing these safety rules:

  • Use hair dryers safely. Keep hair dryers away from water in sinks and bathtubs.
  • Take the right precautions. Unplug appliances before you clean them, and never carry a small appliance by the cord.
  • Avoid overloading. Don't overload outlets with multiple cords, or try to force a plug into an outlet where it won't fit. Avoid the use of "cube taps," and if a tap or cord feels warm, unplug it immediately.
  • Avoid extension cord hazards. Don't run extension cords beneath rugs, under carpets or across doorways.
  • Childproof electrical outlets. Install childproof outlet caps on electrical outlets in households with young children.
  • Check light bulbs. Make sure that light bulbs have the correct wattage for the lamp in which they'll be used. Don't use bulbs with a higher wattage than that specified by the fixture. This can overheat the bulb, and may cause a fire. Tighten light bulbs securely; loose bulbs can also overheat.

Checklist for household systems

Household systems work hard to keep us comfortable and safe. Keep them running smoothly with this maintenance list:

Every month:

  • Check bathrooms, kitchens and utility rooms for leaking faucets or signs of water damage. If the refrigerator has an ice dispenser, include it in the inspection.
  • Change the filters on the central heating and air systems. Clean air filtration devices as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Test smoke detectors.
  • Test remote alarm systems according to the instructions of the monitoring service.

Every 3 months:

  • Make an inventory of first aid supplies. Replace any missing items. (Print a free first aid kit inventory checklist at Organized Home.com.)
  • Hold a family fire drill, and review the family disaster plan with all household residents.

Every 6 months:

  • Drain sediment from the bottom of hot water heaters (if sediment is allowed to accumulate, it can affect the efficiency of the heating element).
  • Replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Check fire extinguishers to make sure they're charged and ready for use.
  • Clean the ashes from the fireplace or a wood-burning stove, and empty the ash pit.
  • Check the hoses installed on washing machines, and replace them if they show signs of wear, or every two years.
  • Vacuum refrigerator coils to remove dust.
  • Check refrigerator gaskets with the "dollar-bill" test: insert a dollar bill between the door and the refrigerator. If you can pull it out easily, the refrigerator gaskets are loose and they should be replaced.
  • Remove and clean kitchen exhaust fan filters. Most can be washed in the dishwasher to remove grease buildup. Alternately, spray the fan filters with a degreaser and then rinse. Dry them before replacing.

Reduce energy costs

In these days of rising prices, opening the power bill can be a shocking experience. Save money and lower your household's energy use with these ideas:

Light it right. Home lighting is a major player when it comes to energy use. Reign in unneeded lighting with low-tech practices such as turning off lights when you leave the room, together with high-tech methods like motion-sensitive light switches.

Light it well with CFLs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use one-third the energy of their conventional counterparts — and they last eight to 12 times longer. To help cushion higher up-front costs, look for governmental rebates that assist with the transition to CFLs.

Harness the power of power strips. Even when not in use, computer equipment, televisions and home electronic devices continue to draw power. Cut them off at the source with by using a power strip to turn these devices on and off. Look for new "smart power strips" that will power down printers and peripherals automatically when the computer is turned off.

Bundle up the hot water heater. Adding an insulating jacket to the hot water heater lowers energy costs for hot water. Don't miss any exposed hot water pipes; plastic pipe insulation is inexpensive and easy to apply.

Double up in the oven. When you turn the oven on, make its energy use count. Slide side dishes in next to the Sunday roast for a whole-meal solution. When baking potatoes, add extras, for making potato salad later in the week.

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