Dangers Found in Home's Electicity

  The use of electricity is probably the most beneficial and also the most dangerous component in our homes.  We take electricity for granted, knowing very little about it and therein lies the potential for hazards.   With the discovery of electricity and how to harness it for the benefit of others, thousands of pleasures, benefits and unfortunately dangers exist and are developed every day.

OSHA reports that a person is killed every day just from opening an electrical panel.  It's not just strong electrical shock, they are actually cremated.  The lucky ones just have a hand burned off.  It happens instantly and without warning.  The electrical panel and subpanels must be in good working order and the wiring and circuit breakers not changed by Harvey Homeowner.  Some older electrical panels, like Zinsco, have been recalled because they are so dangerous.  Old Knob and tube wiring does not support electronics and large appliances.


This last one actually conforms to the code requirement for neatness, but don't plug in your toaster!!!!

Electrical Panels

Electricity enters the home through a control panel and a main switch where one can shut off all the power in an emergency. These panels are usually located in the basement. Control panels use either fuses or circuit breakers. Install the correct fuses for the panel. Never use a higher-numbered fuse or a metallic item, such as a penny. If fuses are used and there is a stoppage in power, look for the broken metal strip in the top of a blown fuse. Replace the fuse with a new one marked with the correct amperage. Reset circuit breakers from "off" to "on." Be sure to investigate why the fuse or circuit blew. Possible causes include frayed wires, overloaded outlets, or defective appliances. Never overload a circuit with high-wattage appliances. Check the wattage on appliance labels. If there is frayed insulation or a broken wire, a dangerous short circuit may result and cause a fire. If power stoppages continue or if a frayed or broken wire is found, contact an electrician.

Outlets and Extension Cords

Make sure all electrical receptacles or outlets are three-hole, grounded outlets. If there is water in the area, there should be a GFCI or ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet. All outdoor outlets should be GFCIs. There should be ample electrical capacity to run equipment without tripping circuit breakers or blowing fuses. Minimize extension cord use. Never place them under rugs. Use extension cords sparingly and check them periodically. Use the proper electrical cord for the job, and put safety plugs in unused outlets.

Electrical Appliances

Appliances need to be treated with respect and care. They need room to breathe. Avoid enclosing them in a cabinet without proper openings, and do not store papers around them. Level appliances so they do not tip. Washers and dryers should be checked often. Their movement can put undue stress on electrical connections. If any appliance or device gives off a tingling shock, turn it off, unplug it, and have a qualified person correct the problem. Shocks can be fatal. Never insert metal objects into appliances without unplugging them. Check appliances periodically to spot worn or cracked insulation, loose terminals, corroded wires, defective parts and any other components that might not work correctly. Replace these appliances or have them repaired by a person qualified to do so.

Electrical Heating Equipment

Portable electrical heating equipment may be used in the home as a supplement to the home heating system. Caution must be taken when using these heating supplements. Keep them away from combustibles, and make sure they cannot be tipped over. Keep electrical heating equipment in good working condition. Do not use them in bathrooms because of the risk of contact with water and electrocution. Many people use electric blankets in their homes. They will work well if they are kept in good condition. Look for cracks and breaks in the wiring, plugs and connectors. Look for charred spots on both sides. Many things can cause electric blankets to overheat. They include other bedding placed on top of them, pets sleeping on top of them, and putting things on top of the blanket when it is in use. Folding the blankets can also bend the coils and cause overheating.


Electricity is important to the workings of the home, but can be dangerous, especially to children. Electrical safety needs to be taught to children early on. Safety plugs should be inserted in unused outlets when toddlers are in the home. Make sure all outlets in the home have face plates. Teach children not to put things into electrical outlets and not to chew on electrical cords. Keep electrical wiring boxes locked. Do not allow children to come in contact with power lines outside. Never allow them to climb trees near power lines, utility poles or high tension towers.

Electricity and Water

A body can act like a lightning rod and carry the current to the ground. People are good conductors of electricity, particularly when standing in water or on a damp floor. Never use any electrical appliance in the tub or shower. Never touch an electric cord or appliance with wet hands. Do not use electrical appliances in damp areas or while standing on damp floors. In areas where water is present, use outlets with GFCIs. Shocks can be fatal.

Animal Hazards

Mice and other rodents can chew on electrical wires and damage them. If rodents are suspected or known to be in the home, be aware of the damage they may cause, and take measures to get rid of them.

Outside Hazards

There are several electrical hazards outside the home. Be aware of overhead and underground power lines. People have been electrocuted when an object they are moving has come in contact with the overhead power lines. Keep ladders, antennae, kites and poles away from power lines leading to the house and other buildings. Do not plant trees, shrubs or bushes under power lines or near underground power lines. Never build a swimming pool or other structure under the power line leading to your house. Before digging, learn the location of underground power lines.

Do not climb power poles or transmission towers. Never let anyone shoot or throw stones at insulators. If you have an animal trapped in a tree or on the roof near electric lines, phone your utility company. Do not take a chance of electrocuting yourself. Be aware of weather conditions when installing and working with electrical appliances. Never use electrical power tools or appliances with rain overhead or water underfoot. Use only outdoor lights, fixtures and extension cords. Plug into outlets with a GFCI. Downed power lines are extremely dangerous. If you see a downed power line, call the electric company, and warn others to stay away. If a power line hits your car while you are in it, stay inside unless the car catches fire. If the car catches fire, jump clear without touching metal and the ground at the same time.

Hundreds of thousands of lives are saved every year because  systems, instruments and devices which provide surgeries, life supports and expedited assistance are made possible by the proper use of electricity.  Unfortunately thousands of lives are altered even ended when a tragic fire or electrocution occur.  With rare exception these unfortunate events take place because electricial components are used incorrectly, miswired or abused.  In far too many instances these occur in or around homes.  You may wonder how that can be.  That is the purpose of this article, to inform you what can happen and why it happens.  While it is true that squirrels, rats and other chewing animals including your dog or cat can and sometimes do cause wiring to short, arc and cause a fire, the vast majority of these accidents are caused by unskilled individuals, usually home owners or their well meaning friends and family who decide to alter, add or rewire something in the home or garage.

Poorly or improperly attached wires, wires joined together outside of a junction box, insulation removed from wires that then make contact with an item that causes overheating or sparking are some of the common situations.  Overloaded wiring or circuits are very common.  Most individuals do not know anything about the proper gauge of the wire to use or the maximum amperage of the circuit breaker which those wires can be attached to.  They also are unaware of how many switches or duplex receptacles can be attached to a given gauge of wire or the length of the wire run.  The mistakes in these areas can and do cause overheating, eventual charring of the insulation or damage to the circuit breakers, and the end result can be a fire that burns down a home, perhaps in the night while everyone is asleep.


These types of fires are more common in cold climates during winter months.  Electrical space heaters are turned on in the bedroom for warmth, an elctric blanket is turned on, perhaps a night light or two and one or more TVs are at least on standby power perhaps even stay on as you fall asleep.  The DVD or VCR may be in operation as well as the home computer and printer.  Now multiply that by three or more bedrooms and add several extension cords with multiple items plugged into each one of them and you now have the electric meter spinning.  Should all of  these be on one circuit as they often are and if it is the original 14 gauge wire with a replaced higher amperage circuit breaker in the sub panel, trouble is looming. 

Why would a circuit breaker be replaced by a breaker with higher capacity?  Quite simply because the uneducated homeowner goes to the local hardware store or lumber company and buys a larger capacity circuit breaker; after all he is tired of jumping out of bed in his pajamas, hunting for a flashlight in the dark then going outside and tripping the circuit breaker back on night after night when all of the electricity suddenly goes out  as the space heater kicks in.  Further the homeowner may not properly connect the now loose wire into the new oversized circuit breaker which may cause the wire to arc.  I've even seen on a home inspection the situation of the wrong type of breaker being jerry rigged into the panel by cutting the metal cover.  Another method I've seen is to connect the wiring to another already in use circuit breaker because there was no more space to put in an additional circuit breaker for the added lines in the backyard or garage.  This is called double lugging, sometimes the wiring colors are even reversed and now we have a reverse polarity issue.

Years ago before circuit breakers they bought higher amperage fuses and when those blew they put a penny in the socket before they screwed in the fuse, that is if they didn't kill themselves getting the penny in the socket. The situation can and often does get worse, the homeowner loses or sells the house, you decide to buy it and do so without a home inspection or choose the cheapest inspector you can find instead of a professional and knowledgable home inspector to advise you.  You've just inherited a potentially deadly situation that could have been corrected had you made the right choice.  Is this a dramatic  story?  Yes but it happens thousands of times every year.  Properly educated it won't be you.

A skilled and knowledgable home inspector who is trained in electrical panels can be a life saver.  The use of a sophisticated expensive circuit tester is plugged into every available outlet to determine loads, ground, polarity and other conditions.  The electrical panels are opened with the circuit breakers being examined for dmage, checked for excessive heat and charred wiring.  The gauge of the wires in relation to the amperage of the circuit breakers is observed, proper grounding and bonding is checked.  Infiltration by rodents, tree frogs and wasp nests are a few of the potential hazards sometimes observed. 

For your own peace of mind, call Housecheck Inspections for a professional home inspector who has long history in inspecting and is qualified to find the safety issues in the house you are purchasing.