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Electrical home safety: Potential hazards you must address!

Your home may be your castle, but even the coziest castles can harbor scary secrets — especially when it comes to your electrical system. Wires, circuit breakers, outlets, plugs … even as a longtime homeowner, can you be sure everything is safe and up to code?

“Certain hidden problems — sometimes found in older homes or ones with do-it-yourself renovations — could be putting you in harm’s way,” warns Dave Borowski, spokesperson for Direct Energy. Here’s a checklist of things in your home that might be major electrical dangers.

Wires not properly grounded: All home wiring should have a ground provided: i.e. your circuit breaker box has power supply wires and separate wires that run to a metal rod driven into the ground, so all grounded wiring eventually connects to this “ground” source. The idea? An electrical current always seeks the most efficient pathway to the ground (earth) and grounding provides an easy and safe access route in the event of a product failure. But if any circuit isn’tgrounded, an electrical current can stray away from this intended path, connect to your body instead, and cause serious injury.

Aluminum wiring: It’s been illegal in most applications since 1978, but aluminum wiring — cheaper than copper — was popular in the early ’70s. Cheaper, yes, but unlike copper, aluminum is soft and malleable; it pulses and becomes loose. “So aluminum wires can easily get overheated; they could burn right into the wall and catch the house on fire, or cause other damages,”Borowski says.

Older homes or homes with remodeled additions: If your home was remodeled anytime in its history, the work may have been done by a do-it-yourself person — or perhaps by a contractor who didn’t secure the right permits or follow proper codes. “Maybe someone wanted to enclose a garage, found a plug in the wall, and just stole power from that plug, which is also servicing the living room or bedroom,” says Borowski. If all these outlets are connected to one wire, that wire’s capacity may be exceeded, and it can overheat.

The wrong size circuit breakers: Circuit breakers are a safety device, designed to trip — or turn off the power to a particular item or outlet — if too much electricity is flowing through a particular wire. Danger can result if there’s a mismatch between the size of the circuit breaker and the size of any wire, says Borowski.

“Wires are sized by the amount of amperage (power) they can handle: a #12 wire can handle 15 amps, a #10 will handle 30 amps, and so on. If more than 30 amps go across a #10 wire, a good circuit breaker will trip.”

But sometimes a homeowner will see that a 30-amp circuit breaker keeps tripping, so they’ll buy a 50-amp breaker to replace it on the same wire. “With that 50-amp circuit breaker, you’re allowing too much current to pass through those wires before that breaker trips. As a result, the wire could burst into flames,” Borowski says. A tripping breaker is telling you something’s wrong, not that a bigger breaker is necessarily needed. It’s time to consult an experienced electrician.

Here are signs that you should call in a licensed electrician to inspect or fix things:

  • If you suspect your house might have aluminum wiring: “A professional, not the homeowner, would have to remove the electrical panel to find out,” says Borowski.
  • If your home has been remodeled in the past, and you don’t know the history of the renovation;
  • If a particular outlet is not functioning or intermittent;
  • ANYTIME any appliance or switch is giving you an electric shock;
  • If your lights dim when the AC or another appliance comes on — a sign something is drawing too much current;
  • If you ever get a burning smell, or seeing lights flickering, in your house; or
  • If you keep tripping circuit breakers.

Find out easy, cost-effective ways to give your family an extra measure of protection against electrical costs and possible calamities here, or call 855-235-1457.