Energy Adviser: Electrical hazards hide around home

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Odds are that sometime in your life, you've gotten an electrical shock or a thermal burn. If so, it probably occurred at home.

Each year, accidents involving home electrical systems cause 30,000 nonfatal shock injuries. Heaters, extension cords and broken product cords top the danger list, said Michael Getman, safety manager for Clark Public Utilities.

"Houses with baseboard or in-wall heaters and households operating space heaters to warm up cool mornings must keep safety in mind," he said.

Make sure heaters are free of dust, pet hair or lint that might inhibit airflow and then burn, he added. And keep furniture, drapes and other flammable objects, as well as electrical cords, at least three feet away from any heater.

"If you're using an extension cord, know how much current it accepts and whether it matches what your appliance is going to draw," he said. "Then check to see if it's in good condition, without splits or exposed wires."

When you plug in your electric frying pan to cook, or use a power drill, inspect the cords to make sure there are no breaks in the insulation and the plug is in good shape.

Don't yank electrical cords out of their sockets. Pull them out by grabbing the plug instead. Never string cords under rugs or furniture, where they are likely to be pinched or walked on. The same goes for stapling a cord to a wall or baseboard, which can pinch or damage it.

Homes with children need to consider making their wall sockets child proof. Inexpensive plugs, socket covers and sockets designed to be child safe are an easy way to prevent your child from being shocked.

Home safety checklist

Educate your children about electrical and fire safety. Teach them that water and electricity are a deadly combination.

• Never stand in water while touching an electrical appliance, cord or circuit.

• Place smoke alarms on every level of the house and near all bedrooms.

• Allow some space around electronics for airflow to prevent overheating.

• Install carbon-monoxide detectors in the kitchen and garage. On average, 184 people die each year from nonfire, carbon-monoxide poisoning associated with consumer products. The two most common product categories associated with nonfire carbon-monoxide deaths are gas-driven tools and heating systems.

• During power outages, keep the barbecue outside when you cook so carbon monoxide won't build up inside your house. The same goes for gas-powered generators.

• Match the rating of your light fixtures with your light bulbs. A 60-watt bulb in a socket rated at 40 watts could cause electrical problems.

• Keep those hot-burning halogen bulbs away from flammable objects, especially curtains and drapes.

• Switch and plug-in plates are cheap and easy to replace; check them for cracks or breaks.

• Protect yourself from shock by having a professional electrician install outlets with ground-fault circuit interrupters, especially in rooms mixing high moisture and electricity such as the bathroom, laundry room and kitchen.

• Use surge protectors to keep electronics protected from electrical spikes, especially your TV, stereo and computer, so unexpected power surges don't damage them. Alternatively, a licensed electrician can wire a whole-house surge detector at your breaker box.

• Flickering lights are a warning sign, so don't ignore them. "You may be overloading your outlets," Getman said. "If there's nothing you can unplug easily and move to another circuit, then call an electrician."Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.