Most people think of house fires as starting with things such as sputtering grease or overturned candles. However, the electrical wires in your house can also be to blame when there's arcing or other issues. Learning the warning signs before an electrical fire can help you catch the problem early before it causes serious damage to your home or injury to your family.
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What Is Arcing?
Arcing occurs when there is a break in an electrical circuit, causing the current to jump across the gap, producing sparks and high heat. A fire results if these sparks connect with surrounding combustible materials. It is important to recognize warning signs of electrical fires to keep yourself and your home safe.
Flickering or Dimming Lights
Flickering or dimming lights often indicate one or more poor connections in your home's electrical system. At these spots, arcing may produce heat that can then ignite combustible materials. Since wiring is inside your home's walls, there are a number of materials that can catch fire, such as wallboard and wood framing. If you notice your lights flickering and dimming, make a note of where it happens and contact a licensed electrician to investigate.
Blown Fuses and Tripped Breakers
An occasional blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker is normal. If it's repeatedly happening, it may indicate an electrical problem such as a short circuit. A short circuit means an improper connection between wires is causing a large flow of electrical current. This current is at an unsafe level and trips the breaker and blows fuses, shutting down that flow of electricity. Short circuits potentially lead to arcing, producing high heat that starts fires.
It is a good idea to get a licensed electrician to look at the wiring if you are having these problems. Another safety measure is to make sure to replace blown fuses with new fuses of the proper size.
Outlets Emitting Heat or Smell
Overloading an outlet causes too much heat in one location and can cause a fire. Some examples of this are running too many cords in one outlet or using an extension cord instead of an outlet. If your outlet emits a burning smell or is hot when you touch it, it could indicate there is a danger of electrical fire.
Make sure that the proper number of plugs are being used in each outlet. As an added precaution, do not run any power cords under combustible materials such as rugs or bedding. Make sure that all of your plugs fit into the outlets tightly to prevent excess heat.
Charred Electrical Outlets
Another sign that you might notice on your electrical outlets is discoloration or charring. This can happen if there's electrical arcing in the outlets. This causes high heat that might melt the outlet or leave burn marks. If you notice char marks on your outlets, shut off the breaker to that outlet and call an electrician.
Old Electrical Wiring
While not necessarily a warning sign before an electrical fire, old wiring in your home is a risk factor for electrical fires. The old wiring often can't handle the heavier electrical demands of modern families. If the wires become overloaded, they can overheat or create sparks that can catch combustible materials on fire.
Heather Mckinney has been writing for over 23 years. She has a published piece in the University Archives detailing the history of an independently owned student newspaper. Mckinney holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from University of Texas at San Antonio.