Boost Electrical Safety at Home

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

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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.

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.

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Excerpted from Houseworks, by Cynthia Townley Ewer

Text Copyright © 2006, 2010, Cynthia Townley Ewer, extracts from Houseworks, reproduced with permission from Dorling Kindersley Limited

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