Who doesn’t squirrel away aging holiday lights or old patched extension cords, electrical blankets and space heaters better suited for museums pieces? Americans are pack rats. But when it comes to outdated electrical devices pulled out of storage for use during the winter, whatever value there is in saving yesteryear can be a danger. This year, the annual IBEW/NECA Electrical Connection Winter Electrical Safety campaign urges everyone to shed the pack rat mentality. Carefully inspect winter electrical devices and get rid of the old stuff that’s outlived its safe use.
“It’s no secret that home electrical fires and shock hazards tend to increase in the winter months,” said Frank Jacobs, business manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1. “People stay indoors more in the winter months and introduce and often misuse electrical devices, such as space heaters, extension cords and holiday lights. We want to get ahead of that with our annual public safety campaign.” IBEW Local 1 partners with the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractor Association (NECA) to form the Electrical Connection.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)notes thatfire departments respond tomore than 46,000 home fires involving electrical failure or malfunction each year with the risks increasing in the winter months.
“In addition to the dangers of using outdated or damaged electrical devices during the winter months, electrical systems can also be overtaxed,” noted Kyle McKenna, executive vice president, St. Louis Chapter NECA. “Our NECA contractors are frequently called to make electrical repairs to faulty installations that were performed by someone who didn’t have the skills to do the work. We emphasize building to National Electrical Code standards to avoid wiring hazards hidden behind walls of homes and businesses.”
Electrical Connection members provide safe and reliable electrical construction, maintenance, repair and replacement services across Missouri, the nation and the world. For more information visit www.electricalconnection.org.
IBEW/NECA Electrical Connection Winter Electrical Safety Tips
WARNING: While homeowners can visually inspect electrical systems, we do not recommend they attempt to fix or tinker with them in any way. Leave that to a licensed professional.
Always make sure installations in your home or business conform to the standards of the National Electrical Code (NEC). This requires a fully licensed electrical contractor. The Electrical Connection has the largest data base of licensed electrical contractors in St. Louis and Eastern Missouri. It can be accessed by visiting www.electricalconnection.org. Other safety tips to be aware of:
- Space Heaters/Electric Blankets — Never use an extension cord for an electrical heating appliance, such as a space heater or an electric blanket. The cord provided with the heating device is properly rated and should be connected directly to the electrical outlet. Inspect your space heater and discard it if it shows deterioration, particularly around the plug-in cord, or it lacks a functioning automatic shut off if tipped over. Watch where you place the space heaters to keep it away from combustible materials. Keep children away from space heaters. Closely inspect electric blankets and heating pads and discard them if you note any potential fire hazard, such as discoloration due to overheating or exposed wiring.
- Extension Cords — Never use an extension cord for an extended time as a permanent or temporary wiring solution. Extension cords aren’t made to be used for long periods of time and can result in electrical fires. When you are using an extension cord, always ensure that the plug has all three prongs. This ensures that your cord will stay properly grounded, which could prevent the cord from overloading. Any extension cords without the third prong should be discarded immediately.
- Holiday Lights — Examine and discard lights with frayed wires. They are not only a fire hazard, but a shock hazard and are especially dangerous if they come in contact with a metal gutter and ladder while being installed outside. Use lights that are Underwriters Laboratories (UL) tested for safety and don’t exceed the strands of lights that can be connected as detailed on the product. Pay attention to whether the lights are rated for indoor or outdoor use. Consider using LED lights which last 20 times longer and don’t burn hot like traditional incandescent lights. Child-proof all holiday decorations. Lights can be fascinating to young children and if they get too curious can expose them to a live circuit.
- Outlets — Don’t overload sockets with plugs that could start a fire. Any electrical outlets in your home that are near a water source—sinks, bathtubs, washing machines—require a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) according to the National Electrical Code. A GFCI is a fast-acting circuit breaker that shuts down your electricity as quickly as 1/40 of second after a fault occurs. If you’re missing a GFCI an electrical professional can easily install one for you.
- Wiring — Visually inspect your home’s service panel and note any potential concerns. Contact a licensed professional if the panel is not firmly attached to the wall or wires are not neatly enclosed within their protective box or if deterioration is noted. Also contact a licensed professional if you note wiring connection points are not capped with a wire connector and enclosed within an appropriate UL approved junction box.