Do you have these 3 common causes of electrical fire in your home?
October 14, 2018
Fire Prevention Week is October 7-13 and we'd like to take the opportunity to remind you of a few shocking electrical hazards that could be lurking around your home.
1) Overloaded power bars
Power bars can be a great tool to maximize outlets and minimize the potential impact of power surges. However, many homeowners make the mistake of overloading these devices. Most 120-volt power strips are rated at a maximum load of 12 amps so just a few appliances plugged into a power strip will easily exceed its maximum load. For example, a 1,300-watt toaster and a 1,100-watt coffee maker plugged into the same strip has a combined load of 20 amps which will easily exceed the power strip's capacity, creating a risk of overheating and potential fire.
What to do:
Be careful not to overload your power strips. Also, never use your power strip for energy-intensive items such as portable heaters, fridges, hot plates, etc. – they can overheat the circuit and cause an electrical fire. Many products have installation instructions that prohibit use with extension cords. Check your power strips frequently and if they are showing signs of overheating such as sparking or scorch marks, etc. take them out of use immediately. Over-current devices (breakers and fuses) are there to protect the circuit in the event they become overloaded. If a breaker is tripping or a fuse is blowing, don't continue to reset or replace it, call a licensed electrical contractor to determine why.
2) Heaters near combustible material
Combustible materials such as blankets, curtains and clothing must be kept away from sources of heat, such as baseboard heaters, in-floor heating vents, and portable heaters. Otherwise, they may burst into flame. One house fire last year on Vancouver Island was the result of a blanket falling down on top of a baseboard heater behind a couch.
What to do:
Always follow the manufacturer's clearance instructions. Depending on the type of heater clearances can vary from a couple of inches (50 mm) up to a foot (300 mm). Portable heaters must also never be used with extension cords or power strips due to the potential for these energy-intensive items to overheat the cord and cause a fire.
3) Copper-only devices on aluminum wiring
Updating electrical plugs and switches to the latest style seems like an easy fix, but what many aren't aware of is that these standard off-the-shelf devices are designed for use with copper wires only. Many homes built in the 1960s and 1970s have aluminium branch circuits which are not compatible with standard copper rated devices. In one electrical fire we investigated, we found an aluminum branch circuit feeding a gas furnace. The furnace was rated by the manufacturer for copper only and the wire nut used to terminate the branch circuit to the furnace was a copper only wire nut. The termination oxidized created a hot spot and a subsequent fire.
What to do:
Replacing plugs, switches and light fixtures is considered regulated work and can only be performed by qualified individuals or, in certain circumstances, under a homeowner permit.
Terminating aluminum branch circuit wiring can be tricky and we recommend that it only be done by trained qualified individuals. If you suspect you have aluminum branch circuit wiring in your home and would like the plugs, switches or light fixtures updated, we recommend you call a licensed contractor (find one here).
These tips are just some of the ways you can avoid electrical fires in your home.
About Technical Safety BC
Technical Safety BC is an independent, self-funded organization that oversees the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment. In addition to issuing permits, licences and certificates, it works with industry to reduce safety risks through assessment, education and outreach, enforcement, and research.
Technical Safety BC