A Guide to Electrical Safety at Home

Electricity powers our lives. But it's not without potential dangers. By knowing the most common risks, and using a little common sense, we can promote electrical safety at home.

Electrical safety tips for inside the home

Know these rules of thumb and warning signs to stay safe when using electricity around the house.

Lighting and light fixtures

Lighting is one of the most frequent uses for electricity in the home. Changing lightbulbs and updating light fixtures are common home maintenance projects. Check lamps and fixtures when replacing bulbs to be sure new bulbs use the same or lower wattage. Be sure to hire a professional for any lighting projects outside of your comfort zone.

 

TIP: Unplug lamps before changing lightbulbs, and screw new bulbs in tightly to prevent shorts or shocks.

 

TIP: When replacing light bulbs, use a 60-watt bulb if the wattage requirements for a lamp are not clearly labeled. For unlabeled light fixtures, use 25-watt bulbs.

 

TIP: Consider hiring an electrician to install new light fixtures, especially in homes with older wiring.

 

TIP: Always shut off the power to the fixture at the main electrical panel before you remove an existing fixture.

 

TIP: Never flip a light switch, touch an electric outlet, or plug in anything while your hands are wet.

Electrical sockets and outlets

Electrical sockets and outlets are higher-risk areas in the home. Common issues to avoid overloading sockets, and over-using adapter and power strips. 

 

TIP: Teach children basic safety rules for electrical outlets. Use plastic safety caps in unused outlets to protect younger children and infants. 

 

TIP: Discolored plates and sockets that are warm to the touch are a warning sign of overload. Have them inspected by a licensed electrician. 

 

TIP: Three-prong adapters (also called pigtail adapters or cheater plugs) are a shock risk. Hire a certified electrician to update your two-prong outlets to a ground-fault circuit interrupter.  

 

TIP: Regularly tripping circuit breakers or blowing fuses are serious signs of overload. Immediately unplug anything that shorts an outlet, creates a spark, smokes, pops, or emits a burning or metallic smell. Have an electrician check the outlet and electrical panel. 

Electrical and extension cords

Electrical cords are a convenient way to bring power to spaces without sockets. Chargers keep our mobile devices up. Both cords also are potential tripping hazards and fire risks when used improperly. If you use an electric cord or multiple power strips regularly in your home, consider having an electrician install additional outlets.  

 

TIP: Before using a power cord check for cuts in the insulation, cracks, or fraying near the plug. Any cords or cables with exposed wires, or that feel hot to the touch, should be thrown away immediately.  

 

TIP: When buying an extension cord, choose a three-prong cord that’s been approved by an independent testing lab.  

 

TIP: Never yank a power cord from an outlet. This can damage the outlet and lead to shorts.

 

TIP: Do not nail or staple extension cords, which can damage the insulation.

 

TIP: Never modify or remove the grounding pin from a three-pronged cord to fit a two-prong outlet.  

 

TIP: Never use multiple extension cords together or use power tools with an extension cord that exceeds 100 feet in length. This can cause the cords to overheat.

 

TIP: Store extension cords inside and off the ground to avoid accidental damage and prevent animals from chewing the insulation.

 

TIP: Buy replacement power cords and charging cables for phones, laptops and other electronics from the original manufacturer. Generic replacements may overheat and cause damage. If any part of a charger becomes hot to the touch when charging, throw it away.  

Electronics and appliances

Follow these electrical safety tips when using large appliances and electronics for cooking, cleaning, entertainment, and climate control.              

 

TIP: Always follow the instructions for operating portable heaters and keep them away from blankets, clothing, or drapes. Use portable heaters on a stable surface away from areas with high foot traffic.

 

TIP: Only use one heat-producing appliance (toaster, electric kettle, portable heater, or coffee maker) per outlet.

 

TIP: Always plug large appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, washers, and driers directly into wall outlets. Never use extension cords or power strips with major appliances.

 

TIP: Be aware that larger appliances may require a higher voltage outlet (220V). Call a licensed electrician to install an appropriate voltage outlet.

 

TIP: Always unplug appliances and electronics before cleaning or performing maintenance. Do not try to repair electrical equipment or appliances unless you are trained to do so.

 

TIP: Some electronics, like computers and gaming consoles, can overheat without appropriate ventilation. Regularly check and clean exhaust fans to help prevent overheating.

 

TIP: Keep electronics like radios, plug-in speakers, hair dryers, curling irons, or kitchen appliances away from running or standing water. Never use electronics or appliances when your hands are wet.

Electrical safety tips for outside the home

From landscaping to entertaining, electricity helps us do more outdoors. Working and playing around buried utility lines, high-voltage electrical infrastructure and changing weather requires some additional caution.

TIP: Call 811 to schedule utility companies to flag buried electric and gas lines before you dig outdoors.

 

TIP: Wear rubber-soled shoes and gloves when working with electrical equipment. Be mindful of overhead power lines when using ladders or tools with long or extendable poles.

 

TIP: Keep cords away from blades and sharp edges when using electric hedgers or cutting tools to prevent shock and injury.

 

TIP: Be sure garage and outdoor outlets have ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Install weather-proof boxes over outlets exposed to rain or moisture.

 

TIP: Store electric tools indoors to prevent weather damage.

 

TIP: Take care when using outdoor electric equipment near water. Do not use electrical equipment in rain or snow.

TIP: Always stay clear of overhead power lines, substations, and pad-mounted transformers. Keep in mind that electricity can “jump” up to ten feet from its source.

 

TIP: Immediately report damaged equipment or downed power lines to your local utility.

 

TIP: Assume any downed lines are a serious electrical hazard.

 

TIP: If your car comes into contact with a downed power line, do not exit or touch the vehicle exterior. Contact the fire department immediately for help.

 

TIP: Before planting a tree near overhead power lines, research its growing patterns. Select a variety that will not interfere with the power lines as it grows.

 

TIP: Hire a professional to cut any tree limbs near overhead power lines.

TIP: Make sure you purchase outdoor lighting that is designated for outdoor use. Keep light strands away from pools, sprinklers, and standing water.

 

TIP: Ensure large outdoor appliances such as heaters and hot tubs are plugged into outlets with the appropriate voltage.

 

TIP: Teach kids to drop and walk away from a kite that gets caught in a power line.

 

TIP: Never climb the fence around a substation to retrieve a lost ball or frisbee.

 

TIP: Never use electrical cords as jump ropes, tug of war, or climbing.