Electricity is a valuable, necessary resource that provides myriad luxuries in our daily lives. However, despite its benefits, electricity is also dangerous, powerful and deadly. Most of us take our electrical power for granted, which is natural after being adapted to it and using it so prominently every day. But a lack of respect and care for this powerful force due to complacency could equate to disaster.
In an average year, home electrical hazards cause about 68,000 fires, nearly 500 deaths and property losses in excess of $865 million. Faulty wiring causes twice as many fires as appliances. Heed the following safety tips to avoid household hazards related to electricity in your home.

Electricity Basics

Most of us are well aware that electricity can be dangerous, but it?s important to learn some facts about this potential hazard and its behaviors. Electricity can cause pain, tissue damage, nerve damage, paralysis, breathing problems, convulsions, muscular contractions, heart attack and death. With its long list of dangers, it is a force to be respected.

Electricity is a flexible form of energy that always takes the path of least resistance, usually favoring highly conductive materials to travel through ? including people. It is also common knowledge that water and electricity do not mix, yet hundreds of deaths each year are attributed to the fatal combination. Only a small amount of electrical current is necessary to cause death, although burns and tissue damage are more likely at lower levels of amperage or voltage. Nevertheless, always take great care whenever dealing with electricity in any form, and always stay clear of electrical problems or live currents ? let a professional electrician handle them.

Protecting Your Family

Anyone with small children or infants should make safety in the home a top priority. This includes electrical safety and hazard prevention. Follow the tips below to ensure that your family is protected against deadly electrical hazards in the home:

*Install outlet plug covers on any unused electrical outlets
*Teach children about the dangers of electric shock and how to avoid hazards
*Ensure all wiring and cords are intact and well insulated*Not always a shock hazard, electrical cords can cause tripping and strangling hazard
*Ensure your child is keeping drinks and liquids away from anything electrical
*Don?t allow your kids to play with electric toys near the pool, in the rain or the bathroom
*Always keep infants and small children away from electrical sources, cords and appliances.
*If you live near power lines, keep kids at safe distances from the poles and lines
*Do some research online about more ways to protect your family from electrical hazards
*Electrocution from showering or using phones during storms is NOT a myth. Don?t do it.

Common Hazards

Regardless of age, height, weight, gender, color, status or IQ, you are susceptible to electrical hazards. Some hazards are simply more common than others when it comes to electricity. For example, you are probably much more likely to accidently shock yourself on a frayed cord than you are to be struck by lightning in your back yard. Because electricity is so pervasive in our lives and it is such a powerful force, we are bound to encounter common hazards. Everyone should know how to prevent accidents from occurring, and how to handle them if they do. Here is a list of common electricity hazards in the home:

*Faulty wiring in the walls and outlets

*Frayed, melted or otherwise damaged cords and plugs
*Overloaded outlets, ?piggybacked? and overloaded extension cords
*Damaged circuitry or wiring in outlets (buzzing sounds, sparks are telltale signs)
*Missing or damaged switch plate or outlet plate covers
*Electrical devices in use near water (typically in the kitchen and bathroom)
*Malfunctioning or damaged appliances
*Improper use of space heaters (see our Space Heater Safety Article)
*Problems with fuse box / circuit breakers or improper labeling of such fixtures
*Incompatible devices, light bulbs or adapters of the wrong wattage/voltage
*Tightly wound, wrapped, bound or covered cords can overheat quickly

Use a checklist and take some time to employ some preventative measures in your home and remedy any problems you might find. Remember to always call an electrician if you are unsure of handling something yourself and whenever there are problems with your circuit breaker, fuse box, meters or wiring. Never touch live electrical circuitry or damaged electrical components for any reason.

Hidden Dangers

While most of us have pretty sound knowledge regarding the common electrical hazards in the home, there are many hidden dangers with which we are largely unfamiliar. Do you know what an AFCI is? Are you using ?counterfeit electrical products? in your home? Are you aware of the hazards associated with ?old home wiring? and do you know whether you are at risk? Do you know what a Ground-Fault interrupter is or how you might use one? If you?ve answered ?no? to any of these questions, then there may be more hidden electrical dangers in your home than you might have realized. Here are a few of the more uncommon tidbits and tips that everyone should know:

Perhaps the most important electrical safety tool in your home should be a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). This life-saving device connects between your appliance and the outlet and immediately shuts off the current if it goes outside the circuit for any reason (such as if the appliance were dropped in water). GFCI?s have become a widely heralded safety device and a must-have in the home regardless of your electrical applications.

Another essential tool for electricity safety is the Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter. An electrical ?arc? occurs when faulty wiring or broken circuitry causes the electrical charge to ?jump? or ?arc? through the air from one conduit to the next. This dangerous hazard is the most common cause of electrical home fires. However, with an AFCI connected to your circuit breaker, the electricity is automatically shut off when it detects any arcs in your household wiring. Nearly 75% of electrical fires could be prevented if everyone used an AFCI.

Sometimes it simply isn?t enough to employ preventative tools in the home. In many cases, the wiring in the home is just too old or worn out. Old home wiring is always a cause for concern, and if you believe your home may fall into this category, it is imperative to have your home inspected by a professional electrician. Aluminum wiring is sometimes found in older homes, and presents a serious fire hazard. Poor quality wiring and time-worn wires and components can also represent evident dangers. Look for symptoms of old home wiring or faulty wiring. The most common evidence of these hazards include outlets that are hot to the touch, sparking or buzzing noises in the walls or near outlets, inconsistent power, flickering lights, frequent outages and frequent circuit breaker flips.

In addition to the concerns applied to your household wiring, you should also check out your appliances to ensure optimal safety in the home. There is growing concern over ?counterfeit? electrical devices which pose a huge (often hidden) threat to consumers. Poor-quality ?knock-offs? of everyday products have been a commonplace occurrence for some time. However it is only recently that such items have branched out to involve electrical components. The danger doesn?t stop at faulty Christmas lights or improperly wired clock radios.

These counterfeit devices include extension cords, outlet adapters, chargers, batteries and surge protectors and they pose significant hazards as such. This issue is so important and yet so scarcely known that we will feature an entire article solely on the subject of counterfeit electrical devices in our next posting. In the mean time, check all of your electrical devices and components to ensure they are not counterfeit, and stay tuned next time for our full expose? on this growing and dangerous trend.