Protect your family

The United States Fire Administration reports there are an average of 28,300 residential electrical fires each year, ­causing 390 deaths, 1,000 injuries, and nearly $1 billion in direct losses. The National Fire Protection Association notes that 41% of those fires were related to home wiring, cords or lighting.

Safe Electricity wants con­sumers to be aware that the majority of electrical fires are ­preventable and offers some simple things to check for around the home:

• Make sure light bulbs are correctly rated for the fixture in which they are being used. Do not use light bulbs with wattage that is too high for the fixture. For example, using a 100-watt bulb in a 60-watt fixture creates the danger of over­heating and fire.

• Keep lamps, especially those with halogen light bulbs, away from flammable materials such as drapes, clothing or paper. Turn them off when you leave the home.

• Look for cracked or damaged cords and loose fitting plugs on extension cords as well as appliance cords. Replace or repair damaged cords and plugs.

• If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never remove the round grounding pin or force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.

• Replace any appliance or tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.

• Switch plates and outlet covers that are discolored or warm to the touch indicate a problem that should be checked out. Immediately shut off light switches that are hot to the touch and have them professionally replaced. Have an electrician check the wiring in your home if you find popping and sizzling sounds in walls, lights that dim when other appliances are turned on or ­frequently tripped circuits.

• Use extension cords only ­temporarily, not as permanent ­wiring. Don’t overload them.

• Do not place cords and wires in dangerous places such as under rugs, in high traffic areas where they can be trampled or in tight spaces where heat can build up.

• To prevent overheating, allow air space around heat-producing ­appliances such as TVs, plug-in radios, stereo sets, computers and high-wattage lamps.

• Do not exceed 1,500 watts of ­appliance load for each outlet or circuit.

• Know where your circuit ­breakers

and fuse boxes are and how to operate them. Make sure the panel door is securely closed.

• When buying electrical appliances, look for products evaluated by a nationally recog­nized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). When using appliances, follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions.

Finally, protect your family by checking the operation of your smoke detectors and have an escape plan for everyone in your family. Check detectors every month and replace the batteries twice a year. The National Fire Prevention Agency reports that roughly 60 percent of reported home fire deaths happened in homes with no smoke alarms or alarms that weren’t working. Also, develop and practice an escape plan twice a year in case of a fire. A good plan is known by all household members and includes an outside meeting location away from danger of the fire.

Molly Hall is Director of Safe Electricity. E-mail Safe Electricity is a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council.

If you must attempt to put out an electrical fire, use a Class B/C or Class C rated dry fire extinguisher. Never try to extinguish an electrical fire with water!

Safe Electricity urges everyone to understand how electrical hazards can contribute to fires and to take steps to keep your home and loved ones safe from electrical fires. Learn more at