Energy Adviser: Electrical hazards lurk around home



Doing any spring cleaning? As you get down to the nitty-gritty in each room in the house, take a look around for electrical hazards.

Heaters and extension cords are among the most common dangers, said Michael Getman, safety manager for Clark Public Utilities.

If your house has baseboard or in-wall heaters, or if you use space heaters to ward off the morning chill, keep safety in mind. Make sure the heaters are free of dust, lint or pet hair that could inhibit airflow and start a fire. Furniture and other flammables should be at least 36 inches away from any heaters.

Extension cords and power strips are a top concern because they can shock you or cause a fire if not used correctly.

“Make sure that if you’re going to use an extension cord, it’s properly sized and in good condition,” Getman said. “Make sure it’s not cut or split and that it doesn’t have any wire showing.”

Also, check the rating on your extension cords. “Know how much current it will accept and if it matches what the appliance is going to draw,” Getman said.

Never use extension cords for permanently mounted devices such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, built-in dishwashers, microwaves and wall ventilation fans. Nor should extension cords be used with air conditioners or space heaters. All of these appliances or electronics should plug directly into a wall socket.

Be gentle to all electrical cords. Don’t yank on them to unplug them from an outlet; instead, pinch the plug itself. Never nail or staple a cord onto a wall or baseboard and don’t string cords under rugs or furniture. When you plug in your Crock-Pot for the night’s dinner, or pop a piece of bread into the toaster, check those appliances’ cords to make sure they are intact and in good repair.

Other culprits

Extension cords and heaters are top culprits in common electrical accidents at home, but here are other some other safety checks you should make around the house:

• Do you have smoke alarms on every level of the house and near all bedrooms? If they’re not electrically wired, when was the last time you changed the batteries? Make a habit of putting new ones in when you set clocks ahead or back at the beginning and end of daylight savings time.

• Does the wattage on your light bulbs match the rating for the lamps or light fixtures they are in? If the lamp is rated for a 60 watt, don’t screw in any light bulb with wattage greater than that.

• Do you have halogen lamps? Halogen bulbs reach high temperatures. Keep them away from curtains, draperies and any other flammables.

• Are the covers intact on your electrical outlets and switches? If there are children in the house, do you have safety caps on outlets?

• Do your outlets have ground fault circuit interrupters? They protect you from shock by detecting faults and shutting off the electricity. These are especially important in rooms that have both water and electricity — the kitchen, bathrooms or laundry room.

• Do you keep a safe distance between water and electrical appliances? Have you taught your children that water and electricity are a deadly combination? Never stand in water while handling an electrical appliance. If an appliance does fall in the water, don’t just grab it — unplug it first.

• Are your electronics protected from electrical disturbances? If you don’t have a whole-house surge protector wired to your breaker box, use plug-in surge protectors for your TV, stereo and computer so an unexpected blip in power flow doesn’t damage them. Also, allow a little space around electronics for airflow to prevent overheating.

• Does the same circuit breaker trip repeatedly? Do your lights flicker? Those are warning signs you shouldn’t ignore. “You may be overloading your outlets,” Getman said. If there’s nothing you can easily unplug and move to another circuit, it’s time to call an electrician.Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.