The electrical system in your home has many parts and components to be aware of to ensure a safe home all year long. Do you know what GFCI and AFCI outlets are? What is whole-house surge protection? As part of your spring cleaning, take some time to inspect your electrical system.
If you are like most people, you are probably aware of some basic electrical knowledge, such as knowing how to flip a breaker and that water and electricity don't mix, but there's also a lot you probably don't know.
Every year, there hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries, and billions of dollars worth of damage caused by a lack of electrical safety knowledge. Electrical outlets/receptacles alone account for 5,300 home fires and over 40 deaths and 100 injuries every single year (esfi.org).
Our home electrical safety checklist is meant to reduce these numbers and protect homeowners everywhere. In addition to doing your own DIY electrical safety check, make sure to schedule an electrical safety inspection with a professional. Your licensed electrician should inspect your home every year to make sure the electrical system meets the safety provisions provided in the National Electrical Code (NEC).
Your professional electrical safety inspection will include checking your electrical panel, outlets and switches, wiring and circuits, GFCIs and AFCIs, outdoor circuits and HVAC wiring, and your smoke and CO detectors.
It is recommended that you inspect your home's electrical system every 6 months, especially if your home is over 40 years old, you recently moved into a new home, or your home has undergone major renovations. Read on to know exactly what to inspect and where.
DIY Electrical Safety Checklist:
Outlets and Light Switches:
- Are your light switches and outlets working properly?
- Are switches/outlets warm to the touch?
- Are switches/outlets discolored?
- Are switches/outlets making sounds, such as buzzing or crackling?
- Do plugs fit snugly into all outlets?
- Do you have enough switches and outlets?
- Is your furniture arranged in such a way where you don't have to rely on extension cords?
- Is there an unusual smell around your outlets or switches? If you detect an odd smell such as burning plastic, fish, or a dead animal, you might have a problem with a burning outlet or electrical wire somewhere. This is very dangerous! Turn off power at the breaker box and call an expert electrician immediately.
- Have you used any extension cords for more than 30 days? Remember that extension cords should only be used as a temporary measure, and never for your space heaters or air conditioners.
- Are your extension cords are rated properly for indoor or outdoor use?
- Do your extension cords display wires, cracks, frays, or other damage?
- Are your extension cords rated by an independent testing laboratory, such as UL, CSA, or ETL?
- Do you have any cords that are running through walls, ceilings, windows, doors, or any other place where they can be pinched or tripped over?
- Are any extension cords stapled or nailed to the wall or ceiling?
- Do plugs fit snugly? Is any area of the prong exposed?
- Does your extension cord feel hot to the touch?
- Is the extension cords rated to meet or exceed the power demands of the electrical device or appliance being used?
GFCIs and AFCIs:
- Have you tested your GFCIs and AFCIs in the last 30 days?
- Do all of the outlets in and around your kitchen and bathroom have ground fault circuit protection (GFCIs)?
- Have you replaced all of your standard circuit breakers with safer arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs)? AFCIs are better able to detect dangerous electrical conditions.
- According to the NEC, GFCIs are required in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and garages; and AFCIs are required in many parts of the home and sometimes the entire home, depending on the state you live in. Check with your electrician to see if your home's electrical system is up-to-code.
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors:
- Are smoke detectors installed on every floor of the home, in every bedroom, and outside of every sleeping area?
- Have you tested your smoke alarms in the last 30 days?
- Do you have carbon monoxide (CO) detectors installed on every floor of the home and outside of every sleeping area?
- Have you tested your CO detectors in the last 30 days?
- Have you cleaned your oven, range, and exhaust hood in the last 6 months?
- Is the oven clear of any combustibles, such as plastics, papers, and towels?
- Is there enough air circulation around your dryer and refrigerator?
- Have you inspected the back of your refrigerator for debris and dust on the coils which reduces energy efficiency and can create a fire hazard? Click here for cleaning instructions.
- Are any kitchen appliances near the sink or any other water sources? Are they all plugged in to GFCI outlets?
- Have you tested your GFCI outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room?
- Are there any wires that are too close to heat-producing sources, such as the toaster, stovetop, or oven?
- Are any electrical cords frayed or otherwise damaged?
- Are cords being pinched anywhere or in a place where they can be tripped over?
- Does your dryer/washer move erratically or excessively when in use?
- Do you have proper ventilation for your HVAC system?
- Is your water heater set to 120 degrees Fahrenheit? Click here for more safety and energy-saving tips for your water heater.
- Do you clean out the lint trap in your dryer after every use?
- Do you have your appliances plugged in when not in use? Even when not actively using them, they are using energy, running up your utility bill. You can avoid "vampire energy" by unplugging these devices when not in use or by using power strip and toggling the on/off switch.
- Are you using extension cords for any of your appliances?
- Have you ever received a shock from one of your major appliances?
- Have you scheduled your annual HVAC maintenance appointment?
- Have you conducted your own DIY AC inspection?
- Do you have a label on your electrical panel box that indicates when it was last serviced?
- Do you have problems with your circuit breakers tripping, fuses blowing, or outlets/switches not working properly?
- Are your circuit breakers labeled properly? Do you know which breaker connects to which circuits/outlets/rooms in your home?
- Are they labeled with the proper amperage rating?
General Electrical and Fire Safety:
- Have you developed an evacuation plan with your household in the case of an emergency?
- Are you using the correct wattage light bulbs for your light fixtures?
- Have you installed tamper resistant receptacles in households with young children?
- Have you inspected all of your electrical cords, extension cords, plugs, and electrical devices for damage?
- Have you experienced flickering lights, electrical shocks, sizzling or buzzing sounds, or frequent tripped breakers? These are tell-tale signs of an electrical problem. Call you professional electrician immediately if you notice any of these things. If you are overloading your outlets, you may need to install a new circuit.
If you smell something fishy (literally), it could be a burning electrical outlet, switch, or other device. When the plastic components in your electrical device burn, they emit a rotten egg, dead animal, fish or urine smell.
Do not ignore this! If you smell something funky, take a look at your nearby outlets and electrical components. If anything looks discolored, burned, or melted, turn off the power at your breaker box and call a qualified electrician immediately. And call yourself lucky for avoiding an electrical fire.
Additionally, make sure that all combustibles are far away from all of your heat sources.
Monthly Electrical Maintenance:
Make sure you are doing these monthly electrical safety tasks to ensure a safe home for you and your family:
Push the TEST button. If the alarm chirps or beeps, you should replace the batteries. Typically, smoke and CO alarm batteries should be replaced once a year. Make sure to replace all smoke alarms in your home every 10 years.
Use this Home Safety Calendar from Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) to stay on track with all of your home safety maintenance chores throughout the year:
Tour ESFI’s Virtual Home for more information on electrical safety.
Our electrical safety maintenance checklist is meant to provide awareness of the many electrical hazards that could be present in your home. This is NOT a substitute for professional home electrical inspections.
Make sure you schedule a professional electrical inspection from a qualified electrician every year to ensure electrical safety for your home and family.
For more electrical safety information, including information on surge protectors, tamper resistant receptacles, and smoke/CO detectors, read the safety guides on esfi.org.