Winter is a nice time to settle indoors. But it’s also the time to be extra careful about home electrical hazards.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that, of the “46,700 home fires involving electrical failure or malfunction each year in 2015–2019…three in ten fires (30%)…occurred in the cold weather months from November through February.”
To help protect your home and loved ones from the increased chance of winter fires caused by home electrical problems, take a moment to familiarize yourself with these risks and make a plan to correct them before the coldest weather sets in.
Use Your Home Generator Safely
Home power generators can keep your house livable and safe during long power outages. But you need to operate them correctly.
Have your generator checked by a professional electrician before the harshest weather starts up, especially if it’s been a while since you used it.
Set up and run your generator in a dry, open space outdoors, preferably covered. Keep it at least three feet from other structures. Make sure it’s not in standing water or in a place where any can collect beneath it. Do not operate a generator in the rain.
Do not run a generator inside your house or in any other enclosed space, like a garage. Keep a running generator at least 20 feet away from open windows. Generators create dangerous fumes, including carbon monoxide, which can be deadly.
Use Space Heaters Correctly
Keep chilly places in your home warm with portable space heaters — but be sure you’re using them safely. Keep them on a hard, level surface at floor level. If you must use an extension cord, make sure it’s the only appliance plugged into it.
Keep them at least three feet away from furniture, walls, drapes, and beds. Keep pets and kids well away from them, too. Never operate a space heater near flammable materials, such as cans of paint.
Unplug the heater when you’re asleep or when you leave the room.
Test Your GFCI Outlets Every Month, Starting Now
Winter is a good time to get into the habit of checking your GFCI outlets.
These grounded outlets, which are required in particular spots around your home (near kitchen and bathroom sinks, outdoors, garages, etc.), are designed to prevent electrical injuries.
You need to test them once a month, but if you haven’t been doing it, winter is a great time to start.
To test, simply press the “test” button located on the front of every GFCI outlet. The companion “reset” button should pop out. If it doesn’t, have an electrician out to take a look at it.
Inspect Your Holiday Lights
If you’re putting up holiday lights on your home, in your yard, or on a Christmas tree, inspect them first. Over time, the wiring can dry out or crack, making it more likely that it will short out. If wires are damaged, throw out the whole string of lights and replace them.
If you leave holiday lights up all year, make it a habit to inspect them regularly so you can spot any damage and replace them.
Don’t overtax extension cords. Check the capacity of the extension cord or power strip you’re using and don’t plug in more power than it’s rated for. (LED lights can help you cut back on the number of extension cords you need since they use far less electricity.)
Enjoy Your (Safer) Home
Once you’ve mitigated these potential home electrical hazards, you can really get cozy, knowing that your home is safer for the winter.