According to the US Fire Administration, electrical problems account for between 5% and 10% of all residential fires. Most of these occur in homes that are built for one or two families, and winter is the most common time of year for them to happen. Most of these fires spread to other parts of the home, from attics, bedrooms, and crawl spaces.
Even though the majority of these fires start in the bedrooms, most people die from electrical fires in their dens, family rooms, and living rooms. This is because fires spread quickly, often unnoticed, until they reach areas where people spend the most time. Understanding how to recognize the signs of electrical issues and how to handle fires is important for keeping your residence and family safe.
How Do Electrical Fires Start?
Most electrical fires in Phoenix homes start at the point of damage to a wire. A small fire can then spread to the surrounding structure, such as the building’s framing. Electrical fires typically begin when there is a short circuit, worn-out insulation, or some type of malfunction in the system. All it takes is a small spark or a bit of overheating, and you have the ideal conditions for an electrical fire.
Other sources of electrical fires in homes are appliances, including space heaters. This is why most fires happen during the winter. Besides the wiring of the home itself, damaged outlets, old appliances with bad wiring, and improper use of space heaters and are the most common causes of residential electrical fires.
Signs of an Electrical Problem
You should monitor your home for signs of electrical problems that could lead to a fire. Some of the most common early indications of issues with your electrical system and wiring are:
- Outlets and switches that are warm to the touch
- Pungent odors in your home, especially around electronics
- Black marks on the walls, outlets and switches
- Sparks, tingling or shocks when using a light switch or outlet
- Circuit breakers that frequently trip
- Lights that flicker or dim when other lights and outlets are used
- Signs of smoke or pungent odors coming from an outlet
- Higher utility bills for an unchanged pattern of usage
If you notice any of these issues in your Phoenix residence, call Christian Brothers Air Conditioning, Plumbing, & Electrical to schedule a service appointment. Typically, these are small hints of much larger issues going on behind the walls of your home. We will troubleshoot the problem and recommend repairs and updates to your wiring.
Putting Out an Electrical Fire
Electrical fires can start at the point of an outlet or light switch. If you can see the flames, immediately shut off the circuit breaker and apply a good amount of baking soda to the fire. This removes the oxygen that feeds the blaze. Call 911 right away, and take your family outside until help arrives.
What to Do If an Appliance Catches Fire
If an appliance or lamp catches fire due to an electrical issue, you’ll want to isolate it. If possible, move it away from other items that could also catch fire. Lamps may be easy to move, but larger items such as washing machines and dishwashers should be left in place. Instead, try to move as many flammable materials away from the problem device as possible. You can try to put out a small fire, but if it spreads, the priority is to get your family to safety.
Do Not Use Water on Electrical Fires
Water is often used to put out various types of household fires, but in the case of electrical fires, this is far from an ideal solution. It’s a bad strategy because water conducts electricity, and you run the very real risk of being shocked. Outlets and switches in your home carry a significant amount of current, and combining this with water can be deadly.
Fire Extinguishers Are Recommended for Electrical Fires
It is always a good idea to have household fire extinguishers in your home. You can find them in sizes that fit easily in a kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room cabinet. The one you purchase will probably be rated for Classes A, B, and C, and the Class C rating is for electrical fires. Normally, the canister will be filled with either monoammonium phosphate or sodium bicarbonate. Both have nonconductive properties that make them suitable for smothering a fire in a live electrical appliance. If you see an electrical fire from an outlet or switch, reach for the fire extinguisher. Beyond this, make sure that your family is safe before you try to address the fire on your own. When in doubt, take your family outside and call 911.
Electrical Fires Inside the Walls
In some cases, you may not know that there is an electrical fire in your home because it is inside the walls or attic. You may only notice a strange odor. Do not try to troubleshoot the fire source. It is best to contact the fire department and get your family outdoors. If they are located away from where you detect the smell of a fire, you can switch off the circuit breakers.
Electrical Fires in Older Homes
Even the highest-grade electrical wire is designed to only last 30 to 40 years. If your home is older than this or close to this age, the chances of an electrical fire increase significantly. The wiring in older homes is more prone to fire hazards because it is not designed to handle the amount of electricity that is needed for modern appliances, devices, and electronics. It is much easier to overload the circuits.
Aluminum Wiring Is More Prone to Electrical Fires
In addition to the low capacity of older wiring, many Phoenix homes were originally constructed with aluminum wiring. The material is no longer used in home electrical systems because it was found to corrode and break down faster than other materials. Copper wire is now considered the gold standard for residential electrical systems. If you aren’t sure what type of wiring is in your older home, you can look for labeling on the outer casing of the wire. If you prefer, we can schedule an appointment with one of our electricians to perform a comprehensive inspection of your electrical system.
Electrical Fires Can Be Prevented
Fortunately, you can take some simple precautions to protect your family and property from electrical fires. Here are some steps to follow:
- Check cords for damage.
- Limit the use of extension cords and power strips.
- Schedule an appointment for any necessary repairs.
- Replace old appliances.
- Have your home inspected by a professional electrician.
- Don’t ignore electrical issues, no matter how minor.
- Consider updating wiring in an older home.
- Make sure that your devices and appliances are not overloading your electrical system.
Learn More About Electrical Safety in Your Home
If you would like to learn more about electrical safety and steps to take to reduce the risk of fire in your Phoenix home, speak with one of our experts. Call us today at Christian Brothers Air Conditioning, Plumbing, & Electrical in Glendale. We can schedule an appointment for an electrician to come to your location. Be sure to ask about our other services as well. We perform a full range of heating, cooling, plumbing, and electrical installation, repairs, and maintenance.