Electricians Educational Content
HOME ELECTRICAL SAFETY
Overloaded circuits. Breakers will shut off power to overloaded circuits, but don’t rely on this safety measure. Overheated wires in an overloaded circuit pose a fire risk. Signs of an overloaded circuit include switch or outlet plates that are hot to the touch or that look, smell, or sound strange. They might make popping or buzzing sounds, for example. Also take note of any lights that flicker or dim at random intervals or of breakers that trip often. To prevent overloaded circuits, try not to rely on power strips, extension cords, and outlet extenders for extra outlet space. Appliances should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Never plug an appliance into an extension cord or outlet extender. Use a separate wall outlet for each appliance. If your home does not have enough outlets, contact an electrician for help.
Cords. Furniture should not rest on any cords or push up against plugs in the wall. This can damage the cords and poses a fire hazard. That goes for rugs too. Stepping on cords repeatedly can damage them. Avoid wrapping cords tightly. Wrapped cords trap heat, which can melt the insulated coating protecting the wire. Use extension cords only when you have to. Inspect the cord before you use it. If it is frayed, cracked, or showing bare wire, throw it away. Do not connect extension cords to each other to create a longer cord. Extension cords are not a substitute for permanent or damaged wiring.
Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. For the best protection, have an electrician install hardwired smoke detectors with battery backups. Smoke detectors should be installed inside and outside every bedroom and on every level of the house. Carbon monoxide detectors can also be hardwired. They should be installed outside bedrooms and on every floor of the house. Carbon monoxide detectors can be installed anywhere on a wall or ceiling. Test all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home once per month. Replace batteries at least once per year.
ELECTRICAL SERVICE PANELS
Electrical service panels are typically located in an accessible but out-of-the-way area. Most modern homes have 100-, 150-, or 200-amp service panels. Ideally, your home’s panel will have a few open spaces for additional breakers. If your panel is full, an electrician may need to install a subpanel. Each circuit has a circuit breaker or fuse that interrupts the flow of electricity when too much current is drawn through the circuit. Newer panels use circuit breakers, while panels installed before 1965 often use fuses. Panels have one main circuit breaker or fuse block to shut off all power to the house.
Once a circuit breaker is tripped or a fuse is blown, first turn off the appliance or device that caused the problem. Switching a tripped circuit breaker all the way to the “off” position and then back to the “on” position resets it. Blown fuses must be replaced. Fuses come in different sizes for different circuits. A burned-out, low-amp fuse should never be replaced with a higher-amp fuse.
GFCI receptacles. A GFCI receptacle, or outlet, monitors electricity flowing through the hot and neutral wires in a circuit. The outlet cuts off power if even a small amount of electricity leaves the circuit. This action prevents shock or electrocution. The National Electrical Code requires GFCI outlets in outdoor spaces and in bathrooms, kitchens, and garages.
AFCI receptacles. Arc faults are one of the leading causes of electrical fires. Arc faults occur when electricity jumps between conductors rather than following the circuit. Because this jump generates heat, an electrical fire is often the result. Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are designed to detect such arcs and quickly disconnect the circuit. A licensed electrician can install AFCI receptacles in the walls and AFCI breakers in your electrical service panel. If your panel has branch/feeder AFCI breakers, ask your electrician about upgrading to combination-type AFCI breakers. This newer type of AFCI breaker gives you more comprehensive protection from all types of arc faults.
Tamper-resistant receptacles. Tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs) have spring-loaded covers behind the plug slots. These covers only open when equal pressure is applied to both slots at the same time. This style of outlet is now required in all new construction by the National Electrical Code. Replacing a traditional outlet with a TRR is no different than replacing it with another traditional outlet. The additional cost is nominal.
Backup generators run on natural gas, propane, gasoline, or diesel and provide electricity in the event of a power outage. Before purchasing a generator, consider how much electricity you will need when the power is out. Buy a generator that is sized appropriately.
A standby generator senses the loss of power from the public utility, automatically starts the generator, and automatically switches your electrical load to the generator. All automatic generators require the installation of a transfer switch. The transfer switch is what shifts your home’s electrical load from the public utility to the generator and then back again. An incorrectly installed transfer switch can back-feed electricity into the power lines and electrocute a utility worker. Only licensed electricians should install transfer switches.
A surge protector can help prevent damage to electronics from power surges. Surge protectors control the amount of power to an electrical device by diverting excess electricity through a grounding wire. Plug-in surge protectors plug into a wall outlet and have a hub of plugs for multiple devices. Whole-house surge protectors are also an option. If you opt for a whole-house surge protector, an electrician can install one at your power meter or main panel. Whole-house units only protect against incoming surges, so combine them with plug-in units for the best protection.
Standby power is another name for the small amounts of electricity used by items that are plugged in but not in use. Standby power can sneakily raise your electricity bill. Minimize standby power with smart power strips. Smart power strips can shut down power to individual devices after a period of inactivity. For additional savings, look for energy-efficient models when it’s time to replace major appliances.