Every year, the holiday season seems to approach us before we're ready for it. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, approximately 67,800 home fires occur in a typical year, caused from faulty home wiring and electrical appliances. More home fires happen in December than any other month of the year.
The holidays are a busy time for all of us, and safety planning may take a back seat to the list of things to do such as shopping, party organization, family get-togethers, volunteer missions, gift wrapping, and decorating, to name a few. Let's all work together to make sure our loved ones don't show up as a statistic on the evening news.
Here are the 10 top ways to play it safe this holiday season
Overall home wiring system integrity is crucial. Grounded circuits are safer than ungrounded circuits. Have your panel inspected regularly. This could uncover potential problems before they become unsafe.
Space Heaters can be very dangerous! When using them, do not overload the circuit they're plugged in to. Only use space heaters that have an emergency shut-off if they tip over. Make sure the heater itself is not damaged or compromised in any way. Keep children away from space heaters. Keep space heaters away from all combustible materials such as curtains, rugs, furniture, toys, etc. Never leave then unattended, and particularly when your home is unoccupied. Never use them with extension cords. If you believe the heater is even slightly damaged or compromised, throw it away.
Your homes' heating system should be checked yearly by your heating and cooling company. This could uncover potential problems before they become unsafe.
Extension cords are for temporary use. Many fires are started by extension cords because they are used improperly, tied in knots, overloaded, stowed under rugs and carpet, used for circuit wiring, frayed or cracked or otherwise compromised. The temporary use rule also holds true for devices used to plug multiple appliances into a receptacle. These are sometimes called 'triple taps'. These devices encourage overloading. A safer alternative is the circuit breaker protected outlet strip, or a surge protector strip.
Smoke detectors are not negotiable! New codes call for one in every bedroom, and one at every elevation change. It isn't uncommon to find 10-15 smoke detectors in new homes. Regardless of how many you have, make sure you test them regularly (minimum once a month) to confirm they work. They save lives. Ideally, they should be electric with battery back-up, and interconnected. This way when one is triggered, they all sound the alarm. If you're unsure about your smoke alarm system, have your electrician evaluate.
Additional lighting and appliances can overload your home wiring circuits. Follow the rules above for extension cords and triple taps, and apply common sense to your electrical needs overall. If you have repeated fuses blowing or breakers tripping, there could be an overload issue. Be aware of unusual noises such as crackling or popping, and turn all electrical loads off before plugging in or unplugging. This will eliminate arcing.
GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection is designed to protect human beings from electrocution. Today's code requires them near swimming pools and hot tubs, in bathrooms, kitchens and outdoors, in garages, unfinished basements and crawl spaces, wet bars, boathouses, rooftop receptacles, fountains, and construction sites. If you don't have them in these places, speak with your electrician about installing them. During the holiday season of Christmas lights and outdoor electric displays and decorations, to help prevent electric shock it is essential you use GFCI protection for all of your outdoor electrical needs. You can plug into a GFCI receptacle, a circuit with a GFCI breaker, or a GFCI whip (inline GFCI protection).
Receptacle safety plugs are a great idea (all year round) when kids are present in your home. They should fit snugly and require some effort to remove, because they could also become a choking hazard. These will prevent children from inserting anything into the receptacle; thereby reducing the chances of electrocution. I also recommend teaching your children from an early age about the rules of electrical safety.
Proper outdoor lighting improves security. Motion lighting and floodlighting can provide safer pathways, and aid in home security against prowlers or would-be burglars. It's a good idea to leave on a light indoors when the home is unoccupied. Timers are useful for cycling lamps and other lighting throughout your home.
Ladders are often used to install Christmas lights on homes and trees. Never exceed the load capacity of your ladder. Extension ladders should be placed so that the distance at the bottom is about ¼ the length of the ladder. Keep all areas at the top and bottom of your ladder clear of debris, ice and snow, toys, etc. Keep your ladders free of all slip hazards and materials. Never overextend your reach. Always use fiberglass ladders when working around electrical lines. Never use a ladder for a purpose for which it is not intended.
Many folks are do-it-yourselfers. When working with home wiring, remember to ALWAYS turn power off before performing your project. Respect your skill set limitations, and don't allow distractions. If you feel unsure of your ability in any area of home repair or improvement, hire a professional. Don't risk your safety, your family or your life to save a few dollars.
There are many topics we can discuss that contribute to the safety of your family and home. Common sense and good judgment in the areas listed above will drastically increase your safety, and improve your odds for an enjoyable, accident-free holiday season.