Is your home hiding a fire safety issue?

The top fire safety tips for your home electrical systems

When it comes to home fire safety, your mind probably jumps to questions like – do my fire alarms need new batteries; do my kids know the fastest exit in case of an emergency, and, in our case, is it safe to let the teenager use the stovetop when no one else is home? So far, the answer to that last question is no.

This Homework blog focuses on the possible hidden dangers in your home, the things you might not see or may not know if you did see them. Here is a look at some fire safety concerns with home appliances and your electrical system.

Our home inspector, Stanton Bowmer-Vath, recalls a recent near-fire situation during a home inspection in Tacoma. 

“The home had a recalled Cadet heater that can have overheating issues, Stanton said. “When I turned it on, it emitted smoke within 20 seconds. It could have caught the wall on fire if I was not there to act quickly.”

In October 1997, Cadet recalled its model FW, FX, LX, and ZA heaters to replace defective over-temperature black plastic limit switches. Click here to see the list of all the recalled models.

Stanton says to check the model number if you have a cadet in-wall heater. Remove the outer cover and check the model number listed inside. Do not touch any of the wiring inside the unit.

Team member Stephanie Anderson had a scare with an electrical appliance that caused a potential fire danger.

“I was running my dishwasher when a ton of smoke started billowing out of it, and there was a very pungent electrical smell,” Stephanie said. “I called 911, turned off the breaker, and used a fire extinguisher.”

fire safety for dishwashers

The fire department told Stephanie she did the right thing by turning off the power source and using an extinguisher. 

“They said that sometimes the electrical in a dishwasher can short and cause smoke or flames. They told me it’s more common with dishwashers that have the electrical in the door. We had to get a new dishwasher and have an electrician install a new outlet and hookups,” Stephanie said.

The fire department said, do not run your dishwasher when not home so that you can act quickly in the case of an emergency. We are here to tell you that Stephanie has wholeheartedly taken that advice!

What is the most common electrical issue homeowners should know for fire safety and to prevent electrical injuries?

Without question, grounding is the most common electrical issue that Stanton sees in homes.

grounding wires for fire safety

“Proper grounding of your electrical systems is critical for safety! Electricity, like water flow, will follow the path of least resistance. A serious shock or injury (yes, including death) can occur if grounding is not present,” Stanton said.

The backup plan to prevent this danger is a system of grounding wires that run parallel to the hot and neutral wires. They provide an alternate pathway for electrical current to follow should there be a breakdown in your home electrical system. 

If a wire connection becomes loose, for example, or a rodent gnaws through a wire, the grounding system channels the stray current back to the ground by this alternate pathway before it can cause a fire or shock. Staton says that individual outlets should also be grounded.

“I encounter ungrounded outlets in a home weekly. Not to say they will injure a person, but they could indicate a larger problem that a qualified electrician should evaluate,” Stanton said. 

“A simple thing any homeowner can do to check their 3-prong outlets is to purchase an outlet tester for less than $20. Plug it into a random sampling of outlets in your home. If some of the outlets alert to not having a grounding wire, a homeowner should contact an electrician for further assessment. A homeowner should NOT do anything beyond testing an outlet.”

outlet tester
Outlet tester that Stanton recommends

Stanton also recommends that homeowners NEVER tackle wiring projects or additions beyond changing a light bulb unless they turn off the breaker at the panel and verify that the circuit is not live. For example, if you are replacing a ceiling fixture.

This article is for informational purposes only, please consult a licensed electrician for any advice or work on your home electrical systems or appliances.

Check out more blog posts in our Homework series – how to prevent water damage.

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