January 25, 2024
By Mark Paup

Best Winter Electrical Safety Practices to Protect Your Family This Season

Winter is often associated with toasty, warm homes heated by fireplaces, space heaters, and furnaces. Unfortunately, winter is also known for its increased risk of electrical hazards. According to a report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire stations responded to an estimated average of 46,700 house fires related to electrical defects or failures each year in the past decade. Local fire departments responded to more than 44,210 home structure fires directly associated with winter heating equipment, and over 30% of electrical fires occur within the coldest months of the year.

While the risk of seasonal hazards can feel frustrating, you can take steps to protect your family. Our look at the top winter electrical safety hazards provides a blueprint for safeguarding your home.

Repair Frayed or Outdated Electrical Wiring

According to the NFPA, over 13% of all electrical fires result from wiring problems. Frayed or worn electrical wires can result from several causes. For example, normal aging wears down the outer layer of wiring over time. Excess moisture can also degrade wiring, while dampness attracts rodents that gnaw through wires and eventually destroy connections. Overloaded circuits can melt and deteriorate the insulation over electrical wiring. If you notice frayed cables or signs of overheating, contact a home services company to repair or upgrade these components.

Replace Outdated Electric Outlets

Safety hazards can arise if household occupants attempt to use broken or outdated electrical outlets. If you notice rust, sparks, or unusual noises from your power socket, stop using it immediately and contact an electrician to avoid household fires or electric shock. You should also never overload power outlets during the winter. Typical outlets are not meant to supply more than 120-125 volts of electricity. To remain safe, use only one high-wattage appliance per home outlet. You can also invest in outlet covers and other child-proofing to lower the risk of accidental injuries.

Keep Flammable Items Away From Heat Sources

Keep all flammable items at least three feet away from any heating source. Flammable items include fabrics, upholstery, mattresses, wooden furniture, houseplants, or paperwork. Indoor heat sources include fireplaces, stoves, furnaces, or space heaters. According to the National Safety Council (NSA), space heaters cause over 1,000 home structure fires yearly. If you must use a space heater, look for one with tip-over protection and automatic shut-off settings. Put the space heater on non-flammable surfaces like ceramic tile instead of a carpet or area rug. Never leave your space heater unattended; avoid overloading circuits or using multiple space heaters simultaneously.

Keep a Fire Extinguisher Handy

Experts advise that all homeowners invest in a fire extinguisher with a C rating. This allows the handheld device to extinguish electrical fires safely. Never attempt to extinguish a fire using water. Due to its molecular composition, water contains free ions, making it an excellent conductor of electricity. This creates an electric shock hazard and can result in severe injury or death.

Practice Proper Electrical Cord Safety

All household occupants should practice electrical cord safety. Never hold appliances or unplug devices by the cord. Secure appliances near walls to prevent them from tipping over, and ensure that power cords do not become pinched between furniture or beneath rugs. This creates excess pressure that can deteriorate the cord insulation, expose the conductor wiring, and increase the home fire risk. Avoid nailing cords down during use, and do not roll cords tightly for storage. This can result in premature fraying and ruin the cord.

Be Mindful of Electric Blankets and Heating Pads

Winter is a popular season for electric blankets or heating pads. However, it would be best if you never used an outdated blanket or pad. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), these accessories cause nearly 500 fires yearly, most resulting from blankets or pads over ten years old. Even if you have a newer model, never pile other accessories on top of blankets or pads to avoid the risk of overheating or fire.

Practice Generator Safety

Many homeowners use backup generators to prevent power disruption from winter outages. However, misusing a generator can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock, electrocution, or fires. Never attempt to use a portable generator indoors. If you need to connect to a generator for electricity, contact an electrician before using the device for the first time to ensure proper setup. Homeowners who wish to invest in a permanent backup generator should allow a trained electrician to install a power transfer switch. A qualified electrician can ensure your home complies with all national, state, and municipal electrical codes.

Use UL Lights, GFCI Outlets, and AFCI Breakers

Learning important electrical acronyms promotes home safety. For example, winter lights should always have the standard UL safety certification. This label means that the lights comply with regulations from Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent governing body that oversees testing and provides product safety data. You should also contact an electrician to install ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. These devices automatically shut down circuits if they detect water or excessive electrical current. This helps prevent hazards like sparks or electric shock. Finally, an electrician can install arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). These specialized circuit breakers identify slow electrical leaks. Also known as arc faults, electrical leaks indicate faulty wiring but are not wholly shorted. This steady power supply can create a fire inside the walls of your home. According to the NFPA, arc faults caused more than 60% of home fires related to electrical wiring. AFCIs shut off inadequate circuits, thereby protecting the home.

Steer Clear of Fallen Electric Power Lines

Winter storms can increase the likelihood of fallen power lines. Experts advise staying at least 30 feet away from downed power lines and waiting for the electrical company to make repairs. Touching a fallen power line or attempting to move items around it can cause electrocution. Vehicles, tree limbs, kites, remote-controlled planes, and drones can conduct electricity through contact with power lines. Instead of trying to retrieve or move these items, contact the utility company.

Install and Test Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

According to the NFPA, three out of five deaths from home fires occur in residential buildings without smoke alarms. Trained electricians can test smoke alarms, identify defects, and replace batteries. Likewise, carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are essential since CO gas is undetectable to the human senses. Winter heightens the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the increased use of stoves, fireplaces, and furnaces. By allowing a professional to test your CO detector, you can protect your family from potentially fatal exposure.

Schedule a Professional Electrical Inspection

The most crucial step for ensuring winter safety is to schedule a professional electrical inspection. During a maintenance inspection, an electrician will assess and clean essential components within the home. The electrician may also test major testing appliances, circuits, or outlets to identify any problems or risks. Most safety inspections include a comprehensive report that details the status of your electrical system and provides solutions for any hazards found. This inspection can help you keep your system in excellent working order.

Contact Us Today

Safety protocols can help shield your family from hardship during the coldest period of the year. Because many steps require professional intervention, you should never hesitate to contact the experts. Golden Rule provides electrical services for homes throughout the metro and surrounding areas. We inspect electrical panels and can complete rewiring and repairs. Our electricians can also install generators and whole-home surge protectors. We also offer specialized services like geothermal heating or home EV-charging stations. No matter what you need, our electricians will cover it for you. Contact Golden Rule today for all electrical needs.

The importance of residential electrical inspections.,
Hey there, Central Iowa homeowners! Have you ever wondered if your home’s electrical panel is pulling its weight? Picture this: you’re cozied up on your couch, enjoying... Read More
Hey there, homeowners! Have you ever peeked into your home’s electrical panel and wondered what all those switches and fuses are for? Well, fear not! Golden Rule... Read More
Preparing your electrical system for spring
Spring, with its longer daylight hours and warmer temperatures, often spur people to start spring cleaning and complete routine home maintenance. Unfortunately, one of the most critical... Read More