Protecting your home electrical system

Protecting an electrical system is often more about what not to do than what to do. Here are some tips to avoid having to deal with  extensive and expensive repairs.

Protecting your home electrical system

1. Check cords and plugs for signs of damage

  • Examine electrical cords attached to appliances and lamps for cracked or worn insulation, exposed bare wire, and black spots (the latter are caused by sparks). Inspect the plugs, too, and make sure that there are no bent or corroded prongs or missing insulation disks. If you spot any of these problems, have the cord and/or plug replaced — or replace the appliance altogether.
  • Preventing trouble with your home's electrical system doesn't take much effort — it probably has more to do with the stuff that you shouldn't do than it is about things that you really need to do.

2. Here are some "don'ts" to follow

  • Don't splice damaged cords. Splices can fall apart and cause fires. Chuck the appliance with the spliced cord and buy a new one, or have it repaired by a professional.
  •  Multiple extension cords and "octopus" plugs that turn a single outlet into multiple outlets can overheat and cause a fire. Instead, plug some appliances into other outlets. If you live in an older home with an inadequate number of outlets, consider hiring an electrician to add more.
  • Don't use outlets that screw into light sockets. They're easily overpowered, causing overheating, melted wires and possibly a fire.
  • Don't get too used to those ugly extension cords. Extension cords are supposed to be temporary, not permanent, parts of your décor. And it's not just that they're tacky to look at — these cords can cause dangerous circuit overloads. And who among us hasn't taken a spill after tripping over an extension cord? If you tug on the cord you're bound to loosen some connections inside, which will cause a short in your system.
  • Don't allow kids, pets and water to get too close to outlets and appliances.

3. Be like a pro

  • Electricity is a powerful and potentially lethal force; as such, you should approach it cautiously. Professional electricians follow these guidelines when they're working with wires, plugs and all that other hot stuff. You'd do well to follow their example.
  • Wear safety glasses when working around electricity.
  • Unplug a lamp or appliance before attempting to repair it.
  • Turn off power to a circuit at the service panel before working on it.
  • Use a voltage tester to make sure a wire isn't live. Do this before you touch the wire!
  • Use plastic-handled tools for electrical work. Even better, do as electricians do and use plastic-handled tools with rubber jackets.
  • If you're in doubt about the safety of any electrical repair or test, call in an electrician.
  • Do not stand on a wet or damp floor when working with electricity. Put as much insulation as possible between you and the source of a shock. Wear rubber-soled shoes, and stand on a rubber mat.
  • Avoid contact with metal plumbing or gas pipes or fixtures when working on electrical wiring or appliances. Touching these pipes and fixtures connects you to ground and will allow any shocks that you might receive to course through your body.
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