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Electrical Fire Safety

Electrical Fires Leading Cause of Fire Deaths

From 2009-2013, Massachusetts fire departments reported 2,694 home fires caused by electrical problems. These fires caused 35 civilian deaths, one fire service death, 138 civilian injuries, 311 fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $122.6 million. The average loss per fire was $45,503. Electrical fires were the leading cause of fire deaths in 2011 and they were tied for the number two cause in both 2012 and 2013. For seniors (people over 65), electrical and cooking fires tied for the number one cause of fire deaths in 2013.

Potential Warning Signs and Hazards
Keep an eye out for these warning signs.

Call the fire department immediately if you have any of these warning signs:

  • Arcs, sparks or short circuits;
  • Sizzling or buzzing sound inside the walls;
  • Odors, vague smell of something burning.

Firefighters can use thermal imaging technology to see excessive heat inside the walls.

Arcing Outlet

Call the landlord or a professional electrician soon if you have any of these warning signs:

  • Frequently blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers;
  • Dim or flickering lights, bulbs that wear out too fast;
  • Overheated plugs, cords or switches;
  • Shock or mild tingle – more than normal static electricity;
  • Loose plugs; or
  • Unusually warm or faulty outlets or switches.



Look around for these electrical hazards in your home and correct them:

  • Overloaded outlets – more than one appliance cord plugged into one wall outlet.
  • Cords pinched behind furniture like couches or bureaus.
  • Overloaded power strips. They should only be used with a few low current devices such as electronics.
  • Lamps or fixtures with light bulbs higher than the recommended wattage. Most lamps recommend 60 watts. Be careful where you use higher wattage light bulbs.
  • Electrical cords underneath rugs, carpets or furniture. Move them to reduce the risk of fire from overheating due to worn insulation.
  • Cords with frayed wires or cracked insulation. Replace them with new ones having a certification label from an independent testing laboratory.
  • An extension cord that is not properly rated for the appliance it powers. Typical “lamp cord” extension cords cannot carry the electrical current needed for appliances such as space heaters or air conditioners.
  • Cords or wires that are nailed into place. This can cause electrical shorts and arcing.
  • Indoor appliances and cords being used outdoors.

Electrical Safety Tips

frayed electrical cord
  • Avoid overloading outlets. Plug only one high-wattage appliance into each receptacle outlet at a time.
  • Replace or repair loose or frayed cords on all electrical devices.
  • In homes with small children, unused wall sockets and extension-cord receptacles should have plastic safety covers.
  • If outlets or switches feel warm, shut off the circuit and have them checked by an electrician.
  • Always unplug an electrical cord by pulling on the plug and not the cord.

Extension Cords

  • Extension cords should be for temporary use only. They are not intended to replace permanent household wiring. Avoid using them when possible.
  • Cords should be used according to their ratings (indoor or outdoor use) and according to the power needs of the appliance that is being plugged in.
  • If the cord is hot to the touch then it should be replaced with a cord that has a higher wattage capacity.


  • Make sure that all appliances have been tested by an independent research laboratory.
  • Appliances that generate heat, such as space heaters, toasters and coffeemakers, should be plugged directly into an outlet, not a power strip or extension cord.
  • One Outlet One Plug! Don't overload electric outlets with several plugs. If multiple appliances must share one outlet, be sure to use only one appliance at a time.

Preventing Electrocutions and Shocks
Safety Tips:

  • Read and follow instructions and safety tips provided with electrical appliances and equipment.
  • Install plastic safety covers in unused electrical outlets to protect children from shock hazards.
  • When unplugging a cord or appliance from an outlet, pull the plug not the cord. Pulling by the cord can cause damage to the wiring at the connection.
  • Do not modify polarized plugs (one prong larger than the other) or the third or ground prong.
  • Keep electrical appliances and cords away from water. Keep yourself alive by keeping water and electricity separate. 

Electrical wiring, like all other systems, needs maintenance. Have home electrical systems examined by a licensed electrician every 10 years. Small upgrades and simple safety checks like making sure outdoor grounds and connections are secure can prevent larger problems.

All electrical work should be done by a licensed electrician who obtains a permit when required. The permit process protects homeowners by requiring that an inspector check that the work is done correctly.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI)
An arc fault circuit interrupter is a new device designed to actually reduce the likelihood of fires. It responds to arcing and sparking within a circuit before the circuit breaker or fuse trips. The AFCI breaker trips to help prevent the fire from occurring in the first place.

The AFCI is installed at the electrical panel and doesn’t look much different than a regular circuit breaker.

Don’t confuse the AFCI with GFCI. Both devices serve different functions.

AFCIs are mostly found in newly built homes, but can easily be installed in older homes equipped with circuit breakers. 

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

photo of electrical outlet

Installing Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) receptacles can reduce deaths from electrical shock in and around the home by two-thirds. GFCIs should be installed by a qualified electrician in places near water such as kitchen counters, bathrooms and other areas subject to moisture, including the outdoors.

Starting a New Outdoor Project?
Call Dig-Safe at 1-888-344-7233 before any digging or excavation work to prevent any electrical danger. 

Electrical Safety Resources for Kids, Teachers and Parents and Older Adults!