NJM Blog

Don’t Get Burned by These Home Tech Hazards

Don't Get Burned by These Home Tech Hazards

How many items are plugged into outlets in your home right now? Think appliances, charging cables, entertainment systems, space heaters, lights…. Between all the rooms of your home - your office, your kitchen, your living room, your bedroom - there’s a good chance you have dozens of cords snaking behind desks, sofas, and other pieces of furniture.

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), an estimated 51,000 electrical fires occur each year, accounting for more than $1.3 billion in property damage. Prevent electrical fires in your home by inspecting your outlets, appliances, and fire safety habits.

Inspect All Outlets, Wires, and Plugs

Frayed or damaged cords and loose plugs account for thousands of home fires each year.

Make part of your cleaning routine an inspection of your outlets, wires, and plugs.

  • Check wires that run close to or under furniture for fraying.

  • If you have pets or suspect vermin, check for bite marks.

  • If you hang any electrical equipment, like tools or work lights, closely examine the wires for stretching and signs of damage.

  • If any wires are exposed through the protective casing, dispose of them.

When the protective casing on a power cord cracks, you can repair it for short periods of time with electrical tape. Don’t let this be a permanent solution, though. Replace any damaged wires as soon as possible. If you can see that the wires themselves are damaged, stop using the cord or appliance immediately.

Always unplug electrical equipment by pulling on the plug, not the wire. Pulling on the wire can pull off the protective covering or even snap the plug’s grounding prong.

Also remove any loose-fitting plugs, and don’t force plugs into outlets. If a plug has a grounding pin, don’t remove it to make the plug fit into a 2-conductor outlet.

Give Your Outlets a Break

Another common cause of electrical fires is overloaded outlets, extension cords, and surge protectors.

Spread out appliances as much as possible throughout your house, so that you don’t overload your outlets. Arrange rooms so that as many appliances as possible have their own outlets. If more than one high-wattage appliance, like your toaster and microwave, has to share an outlet, only use one at a time.

  • Surge Protectors

    Surge protectors should not show any signs of damage or wear.

    “Daisy chaining” power strips, or stringing multiple cords together, is a great way to overwhelm your outlets: Don’t do it.

    Remember that surge protectors protect your electrical equipment - not your outlets. Reserve surge protectors for low-power items, like charging cables and lamps. Plug kitchen appliances, vacuums, and other high-power items directly into the wall.

  • Extension Cords

    Extension cords longer than six feet should not be used for long stretches of time. Generally, each extra foot of an extension cord decreases its power.

    Don’t run extension cords under rugs or attach them with nails or staples to the wall.

Unplug electronics when they’re not in use.

Sometimes, outlets spark. This could be a problem if it happens frequently, lasts longer than a moment, is yellow (not blue), or comes with a burning smell. If any of these symptoms occur, stop using the outlet and call an electrician immediately.

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Watch the Wattage

Your outlets can only handle so much power at once. Most outlets and power strips can handle approximately 120 volts (1800 watts) at a time. Check your item’s wattage before you plug it in.

  • Don’t plug appliances into power strips. For example, a microwave oven is typically around 1600 watts, so you should plug that straight into the wall. Toasters and coffee makers have similarly high wattage.

  • Keep track of the voltage of everything that’s plugged into your power strips. An LCD TV generally uses around 180 watts, a cell phone uses between 2-6 watts, and a gaming system uses around 100 watts. Use these numbers to keep your power strip energy usage low.

  • Light bulbs and lamps each come with labels identifying their wattage. Make sure they match before you screw your lightbulbs in.

Give Space to Heaters

According to the Red Cross, heating equipment contributes to 1 in 6 home fires. Practice common-sense home heating safety.

  • Separate heating units and flammable materials by at least three feet.

  • Only plug one heating appliance at a time into a single outlet.

  • Extinguish or turn off fires, candles, or heating appliances when you leave the room or go to sleep.

  • Have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.

Heating pads and electric blankets can cause almost 500 fires a year, according to the ESFI.

  • Do not use heating pads and electric blankets concurrently.

  • Inspect the cord for cracking or fraying.

  • Replace old and worn heating pads and electric blankets.

  • Prevent electric blankets from overheating by keeping items off of them while they’re on. Do not fold or tuck in electric blankets when in use.

  • Turn off all heating appliances when you leave the room or go to sleep.

Handle Devices with Care

You might notice that your phone, tablet, or computer tends to get warm after extended periods of use or while charging. Warming of a device is normal if you’ve been gaming for a long time, streaming content, using the device in hot weather, or installing software updates. However, if your device gets so hot that it’s uncomfortable to touch, you should take precautions to prevent damage and a potential fire hazard.

According to AVG, you can diagnose the cause of heating. If the back of your device is warm, the heat is likely caused by your battery. A battery that regularly gets hot might be malfunctioning and in need of replacement. However, if the bottom of your phone gets hot while charging, the cause is likely your charger. If this happens, you should replace your charger.

To prevent device fires, don’t charge your electronics on soft surfaces, like your bed or couch. Just like other electrical equipment in your house needs room to cool down, so does your phone. Charge your devices on flat surfaces like desks, dressers, and countertops.

To cool your device when it’s not charging:

  • Remove the case.

  • Turn on airplane mode.

  • Use less power: Turn off the game or the video.

  • Dim the brightness.

  • Clean out extra files, photos, and apps.

  • Restart the device.

Protect Your Home from Fire Hazards

Last but not least, make sure you replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at least once a year.

The biggest hazard of electronics is when you “set and forget” them. Set aside time to assess your home’s tech safety. With a bit of diligence, you can prevent unexpected damage by your smart devices, appliances, heating equipment, and other electronic goods and their power sources.