May is Electrical Safety Month; That Old House, This New Update: Is your home a fire risk?

Contact: Jeannie Vogel 517-373-9280
Agency: Licensing and Regulatory Affairs

May 8, 2015 – With May designated as Electrical Safety Month, citizens are urged to practice electrical safety and be aware of potential home electrical hazards especially in older homes, previously owned homes, homes that have been renovated or where major new appliances have been added within the last 10 years.

“There is greater risk of overburdening electrical systems of older homes, especially homes built before 1970, that can lead to fires or electrocutions,” said State Fire Marshal Richard Miller. “Fortunately, several updates can be made to minimize the danger. The first step is to have an electrical inspection by a licensed electrician if your home is over 40 years old.”

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates 47,700 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments each year involve some type of electrical failure or malfunction as a factor contributing to ignition. These fires result in 418 civilian deaths, 1,570 civilian injuries, and $1.4 billion in direct property damage.

Miller emphasized that electrical safety is important for all ages especially children and adults over age 65 who are at higher risk. “From a child swallowing a button-cell battery which can be fatal, to the do-it-yourselfer using a portable generator or power tool, to the elderly using a worn out extension cord, we all need to use caution around electricity,” said Miller. “Call the fire department immediately anytime you hear a buzzing or hissing sound, or smell something hot or burning, and get out.”    

Here are electrical safety tips for home, school and workplace:

  • Never throw water on an electrical fire!  Water conducts electricity. Electricity from the fire can shoot through the water and possibly shock you to death.
  • Replace worn out electrical cords, switches and outlets.
  • Don’t overload extension cords; use cords according to their ratings (indoor/outdoor use).
  • Install ground fault protection for outlets in the kitchen, bathrooms, garage, crawl spaces and unfinished basements, laundry and utility rooms, and outdoors.
  • Don’t overload outlets with too many appliances. 
  • Charge laptop computers, iPads, and cell phones on a desk or countertop – never charge them on a bed or chair that could overheat and catch on fire.
  • Don’t overload electrical circuits. Surge protectors protect equipment, but they do not provide protection from the potential hazards of an overloaded circuit.

LARA’s Bureau of Construction Codes, Electrical Division, currently administers the 2011 National Electrical Code, with Michigan Part 8 amendments and the 2009 Michigan Residential Code. The codes establish standards for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in commercial structures and one- and two-family dwellings in Michigan.

“Hiring a qualified, licensed electrician to perform any electrical work in your home is the best way to protect your family and your home,” said Bureau of Construction Codes Director Irvin J. Poke. “For older homes, it is critical that electrical systems are updated to keep up when adding more appliances and amenities.”

Poke emphasized the importance having a basic understanding of your home electrical system, and knowledge of how to navigate and maintain it. “Do not attempt electrical work that is beyond your skill level and know when to call a licensed electrician,” Poke said. “Cutting corners can be a costly mistake. Don’t run the risk of an electrical fire, injury or electrocution.”

Call a licensed electrician right away if you have any of these warning signs:

  • Listen to your breaker!  A circuit breaker that trips immediately after it is reset shows there is an electrical problem.
  • Dim or flickering lights, bulbs that wear out too quickly.
  • Unusually warm or overheated plugs, cords or switches.

When purchasing or using electrical products, look for the independent testing laboratory mark such as the Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL), to confirm compliance with industry safety requirements.

The Bureau of Construction Codes and Bureau of Fire Services work as a team to ensure that the built environment and the systems within are sound, safe, and sanitary; the public’s health, safety, and welfare is protected; and that, through a coordinated program of code compliance, investigation and training, there is consistent application of standards. 

Electrical Safety Month is sponsored by the Electrical Safety Foundation International, a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety.

For more information, go to the Bureau of Construction Codes website at www.michigan.gov/bcc or the Bureau of Fire Services as www.michigan.gov/bfs.

For more information about LARA, please visit www.michigan.gov/lara
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