Preventing Fires and Childproofing Electrical Outlets
Kids are clever, curious creatures that want to know how power, electricity and well, how everything works. Parenting 101: Protect them from injury and life-threatening dangers that exist in our homes. Poisons, pets, and yes — putting their fingers, forks and fire trucks inside electrical outlets. Most parents already get this. We’ll cover the basics of baby-proofing electrical outlets, an absolute must. But it really goes beyond that. Protect your home and family by addressing the top annual contributors to electrical outlet fires and injuries each year. Check out electrical equipment reviews at reviewertouch.com.
The Real Risks of Electrocution and Electrical Outlet Fires
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), each year “2,400 children in the U.S. are treated for injuries caused by electrical outlets.” The ESFI notes that one-third of parents with children have not even taken steps to childproof electrical outlets in their home. That’s scary, dangerous and hopefully an eye-opening call to take action.
In addition to the risk of electric shock and electrocution, the US Fire Administration notes that about 24,000 electrical fires were reported from 2014-2016. These fires caused approximately 310 deaths, 850 injuries and property loss equaling $871 million. And the biggest wake-up call from the study: 12 percent of those fires were caused by electrical outlets.
Childproof Electrical Outlets – Your First Steps
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) addresses the basic steps for baby-proofing electrical outlets. A few of the items could use some clarification and improvement. Let’s take a look:
- Purchase and use safety covers on every outlet in your home that is not in use.
This is absolutely the place to begin, on day one of remodeling a home, moving into a new property, or before the baby begins reaching for things (and certainly before they crawl!). But is installing basic plastic outlet covers enough? In a study conducted by Biokinetics Research Laboratory of Temple University, researchers concluded that 100% of all 2-4 year-olds involved in the study could remove most types of electrical outlet covers within 10 seconds.
The Alternative to Plastic Outlet Covers – Tamper Resistant Receptacles (TRR)
A tamper resistant electrical receptacle prevents the insertion of objects other than plug cords from conducting an electrical charge. How? With spring-loaded shutters that recognize and respond to pronged plugs instead of paperclips, fingers, and spoons. The National Fire Prevention Association explains that “When a plug is inserted into the receptacle, both springs are compressed and the shutters then open, allowing for the metal prongs to make contact to create an electrical circuit.”
- Get help from an electrician when outlets and switches are not working properly.
Avoid loose wiring, open wires, and wiring that creates a safety hazard of electrical shock. It’s not always obvious, but make sure that outlets are not hot to the touch, and that they are not being overloaded by too many devices.
- Make sure all outlets provide a snug fit for every electrical plug you use.
If it’s not snug, it’s dangerous. You may need to replace the device, or more commonly, replace the outlet.
- Cover all wiring by installing faceplates on all outlets.
With any exposure of wires, small hands with even smaller objects will find a way in. Reduce the risk of electrical shock for kids by making sure faceplates are installed securely. Don’t skip any outlets.
Beyond these recommendations and steps for childproofing outlets, remember to pay attention to the changing of the seasons. New furniture, appliances and Christmas trees usually involve a shifting in which outlets are being used and which remain covered. Give special attention to every outlet in your home. It’s also very common to find surge protectors and extension cords in every home. For under $10 you can purchase a safety cover for power strips.
Addressing Electrical Outlet Fire Hazards
There are many considerations to keep in mind for preventing electrical fires caused by electrical outlets. The main warning signs of an outlet that may be at risk include:
Electrical Outlets Sparking
- Main Causes: Improper repairs, water damage, short circuits, overloading an outlet, outdated outlets
- What To Do: Shut off the breaker for that outlet, unplug all connected devices and call an electrician for inspection, repair, and replacement
Burnt Electrical Outlets
- Main Causes: Arcing (sparking associated most often with loose wiring), and backstabbing of wiring (a common but unsafe shortcut that can cause overheating) can produce black or charged marks and sometimes the smell of burning
- What To Do: Shut off power at the circuit breaker right away and call an electrician.
Buzzing Noises from Outlets
- Main Causes: Loose connection or bad outlet – you’re actually hearing the electrical current
- What To Do: An experienced electrician will usually try to tighten all outlet connections behind the faceplate or will choose to replace the electrical outlet
Hot Electrical Outlets
- Main Causes: AC / DC transformer use, too many devices used in outlets, damaged outlets, overloading a power strip & extension cord, use of space heaters & other high-power devices
- What To Do: Test outlets by removing devices and see if it’s still hot after an hour. Relocate devices, so they don’t overload the outlets. Always plug heaters directly into the wall and never into a power strip or extension cord. If the outlet remains hot, call an electrician for repair or replacement.
Electrical Outlet Popping Sound
- Main Causes: A popping sound is not a good thing to hear. In nearly all cases, you’re hearing an electrical spark that could lead to an outlet failing and blowing out, which can quickly produce a house fire.
- What To Do: Turn off the power at the circuit breaker immediately and call an electrician.
Outdoor Electrical Outlet Failure
- Main Causes: Rain, snow, morning dew and other moisture build-up
- What To Do: Weatherproof all outlets and make sure they are plugged into a GFCI to prevent electric shock
It’s Time to Replace Old Electrical Outlets With a GFCI
One of the most recommended ways to avoid electrical outlet safety hazards will require an update of older outlets (especially two-prong only outlets) with a Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). These outlets were designed specifically to protect both kids and adults from electric shock. They accomplish this by monitoring the amount of electricity flowing through the circuit. So when you drop a hair dryer in the toilet or a curling iron into a sink filled with water, a GFCI outlet would recognize that interruption of current and will then cut the power to that outlet — all with the hope of saving lives at risk of shock and electrocution.
When It’s Time to Call an Electrician, Call One!
Electrical outlets can and do go bad. Repairs and replacements, while not typically required too often, do become necessary in many scenarios. There are not too many safe shortcuts where electricity in involved. When in doubt, play it safe for yourself and your kids. Remember, we are creatures made mostly of water — a very effective conductor of electricity. Take the smart and safest road: call a licensed electrician anytime you are concerned about the safety of your electrical outlets.