Despite what you may think, there could be hundreds of electrical safety hazards lurking in your home. Follow these tips and guidelines to ensure that your family is safe.

Electrical Fires

An electrical fire could destroy your home and harm your family. That’s why it’s imperative that you take preventive measures and know what to do in the event an electrical fire does occur.

To reduce the risk of an electrical fire:

  • Be sure your appliances and other electric items are functioning properly.  Never plug in anything with a damaged cord.
  • Be Aware! Frequent tripped breakers or blown fuses are a sign that you need to update your wiring. Never try to solve an overload by installing a higher-rated breaker or fuse. You’ll only mask the problem and greatly increase your risk of starting a fire.

In the event of an electric fire:

  • Unplug any electric appliance or tool that catches fire OR turn off the power at the breaker panel or fuse box.
  • Never pour water on live wires or plugged-in appliances.
  • Use a Class C fire extinguisher or throw baking soda on the fire.
  • If you can’t control the fire, get out of your house immediately and call the fire department from your cell phone or a neighbor’s phone.

Extension Cords

Be on the safe side. Use extension cords properly at all times and know these guidelines.

  • Use extension cords only on a temporary basis.
  • Always use an extension cord that can be grounded and has a duty rating appropriate for the job.
  • Use extension cords that have a seal of approval from a major testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Never use a tool with a three-prong grounding plug with an extension cord that only accommodates two prongs.
  • When outdoors, only use extension cords approved for outdoor use.
  • Use one long cord instead of several shorter lengths. The longer the extension cord is, the larger the wire diameter needs to be. Typically, thicker is safer.
  • Protect your cords from heat, chemicals, oil, etc.
  • Store extension cords in a dry place, coiled loosely.
  • Never nail or staple an electrical cord in place or run cords under rugs.
  • Inspect cords regularly for damage. Replace damaged, cracked or frayed cords immediately. Never patch a cord with tape.
  • Always properly ground extension cords.

Portable Generators

A portable generator can be a valuable tool. Not only can it provide emergency electric power in the event of a power outage, it could save your life if you depend on life support equipment. If you believe that a portable generator fits your home or business needs, the time to purchase one is now. If you wait until a storm approaches, you may pay a higher price, or worse, not be able to purchase one at all.

Once you have purchased your new generator, the biggest decision you have to make is the generator connection. It must be hooked up through a double-pole/double-throw transfer switch unless you are plugging in individual appliances directly to the generator. When you’re using your generator to provide power to the whole house, a transfer switch disconnects your wiring system and generator from your electric cooperative’s system. This eliminates any chance of the generator feeding power back into the co-op’s distribution system.

We can’t stress enough the importance of using a transfer switch and hooking up your generator properly. The danger goes both ways. Should service be restored while the generator is running without a proper transfer switch, the generator can be damaged or destroyed.

A qualified, licensed electrician should be hired to install the transfer switch in accordance with the National Electrical Code and any local ordinances. A minimum of a 10-gauge wiring must be used, and the generator should be properly grounded.

Small generators are usually not powerful enough to run your complete household needs. Overloading can cause damage to the generator and appliances. It can also cause a fire hazard. Undersized extension cords can also overheat. Therefore, list all of the appliances and their wattage totals you want to run. Remember, starting loads are often greater, but your generator should be sized to handle this load. A 5,000-watt generator, for example, could run four lights, a furnace fan (only), a refrigerator, and a sump pump. Voltage levels may fluctuate from portable generators, which can cause damage to your electrical appliances. Be sure and start the largest motor or appliance first. Don’t attempt to speed up the engine for more output. Non-standard voltage and frequency can cause damage not only to your appliances but also your generator.

Install the generator in a clean, dry, well-ventilated area. Obstructing ventilation can cause overheating and produce carbon monoxide poisoning. Never operate it in a confined area where animals or people could be exposed. Keep animals and children away from the generator while it is operating. Do not operate the generator in rain or flooded conditions. Water and electricity don’t mix! Never fill the fuel tank while the engine is running. A hot muffler, engine, or an electrical spark can ignite gasoline. Allow the engine to cool completely before refueling. Store fuel in proper containers. Don’t let a weather disaster turn into a personal disaster.

Restoring your electric service is a dangerous job even in the best of conditions. By installing a double-pole/double-throw generator transfer switch, you’ll know you have done your part to protect the line personnel and your home. They’ll appreciate your concern for their safety.

When purchasing a portable generator, remember that they come in different sizes and have different features. Have a licensed electrician determine your needs and then match the power output of the generator to your needs. Some practical options to look for include:

  • A double-throw switch to safely disconnect power from the co-op’s distribution line.
  • An overhead valve engine for longer life and quieter operation.
  • An auto idle control to reduce noise level and fuel consumption.
  • A large gas tank. For reference, a five-gallon tank may only last five to ten hours.
  • A low oil shutdown feature to prevent engine damage.
  • A wheel kit for easy transport. Generators larger than 3,000 watts can weigh more than 100 pounds.

Holiday Lights

Lights and decorations are an important part of any holiday season. Be sure your decorations are as safe as they are beautiful.

  • Only use outdoor lights and cords in your yard or outside your home. Make sure they are properly sized for the intended use.
  • When buying new lights or extension cords, be sure they carry the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or similar safety label.
  • When decorating outdoors, keep ladders and decorations away from overhead power lines.
  • Inspect your cords and lights. Replace any with cracked or loose sockets, exposed wires and frayed, broken or scorched insulation. Even a tiny crack in a cord is a potential fire hazard.
  • Keep paper and tinsel away from hot lights.
  • Make sure your artificial tree is certified fire-resistant.
  • Keep your natural tree well watered and keep cords and lights away from the tree’s water dish.
  • Unplug cords when you string lights. Unplug lights before you leave the house or go to bed.
  • Stop using any cord that gets hot to the touch during use.
  • Place electrical fixtures out of the reach of children and pets.

“Child Proofing” Your home

When it comes to electricity, a child’s curiosity can lead them to trouble. By taking the time to teach your child about the dangers of electricity, you can reduce their risk of being harmed in an electrical accident. You can also help ensure their safety by making a few simple modifications around the house.

  • Install outlet covers to prevent the risk of a child poking a finger or object into outlets.
  • Unplug and put away irons, fans, toasters, space heaters and other small appliances that kids may be tempted to play with.
  • Use short electrical cords. A cord as short as 12 inches could choke a child.
  • Make sure your child knows the dangers of power lines. Instruct them to stay way away from downed lines and report them to an adult immediately.

At Lamar Electric Cooperative, we want you and your family to stay safe from electrical dangers. It could be the difference between life and death.