Overloaded electrical circuits present fire hazard

Courtesy photo People often believe adding extension cords and power strips changes the amount of power being received from an outlet. It doesn’t, according to Norland Ventura, of Nev Electric in Castaic. Instead, items plugged into the cord or strip draw all available capacity of a circuit breaker and can cause an overload.

A home is a safe haven for its residents. No matter what’s going on at school or the office, many people know they can relax in comfort and safety when they arrive home at the end of a day.

Safety at home is something that can be taken for granted, however, until it’s too late. The National Fire Protection Association notes that each year more than 47,000 home fires in the United States are caused by electrical failure or malfunction.

“One of the most important things is to hire a contractor who is licensed and insured so that you know they know what they’re doing and, if they make a mistake, that work is covered by an insurance company,“ said Norland Ventura, owner of Nev Electric in Castaic. “One of the most common causes of electrical fires is faulty wiring installed by someone who isn’t a licensed professional. Homeowners will try to cut costs by having a friend or a handyman work on their wiring, but it can end up costing more when they don’t do it correctly.”

Ventura said non-professionals often install wires that cannot withstand the amperage. Wires are rated for a certain amount of amperes, and installing a wire not properly gauged to handle the appropriate amount of electricity being used can overload the circuit. This can cause the wires to heat up and burn, especially during the hotter summer months, resulting in fires. If wiring work is done by an unlicensed and uninsured contractor, homeowners may find themselves without a way to cover the damage.

Overloaded electrical circuits, caused by excessive electrical current, are a frequent culprit in residential fires. Fortunately, overloaded circuits are preventable. According to Electrical Safety Foundation International, the following are some potential indicators that circuits are overloaded.

• Flickering, blinking or dimming lights.

• Frequently tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses.

• Warm or discolored wall plates.

• Cracking, sizzling or buzzing from receptacles.

• Burning odor coming from receptacles or wall switches.

• Mild shock or tingle from appliances, receptacles or switches.

Two of the biggest culprits of circuit overload, according to Ventura, are portable heaters and hair dryers. A single heater can often draw the full capacity of the circuit breaker that it is connected to, while using a hair dryer in tandem with other appliances can also cause overload.

“A lot of the time, the biggest problems that I see are people plugging in multiple heaters into the same circuit,” he said.

Learning to recognize the signs of overloaded circuits is an important step in making homes safe, as the NFPA notes that home fires contribute to hundreds of deaths and more than 1,500 injuries each year. Such fires also hit homeowners in their pocketbooks, causing an estimated $1.4 billion in property damage annually.

Prevention is another key component when safeguarding a home and its residents from fires sparked by electrical failures of malfunctions.

“One of the best ways to prevent overload and fires is to have a dedicated circuit for a heater, air conditioner or any appliance that draws a lot of power,” Ventura said. “A lot of the homes in Santa Clarita aren’t built to withstand a high current usage, but thankfully a lot of them are equipped with circuit breakers to prevent that overload and fires. It’s important to check the electrical panels and have them replaced if they’re over 30 years old, especially because, when they were built, the appliances and technology we use now didn’t exist.”

The ESFI offers the following tips to prevent electrical overloads.

• Never use extension cords or multi-outlet converters for appliances.

• All major appliances should be plugged directly into a wall receptacle outlet. Only one heat-producing appliance should be plugged into a receptacle outlet at any given time.

• Consider adding new outlets to your home. Heavy reliance on extension cords indicates that your home does not have enough outlets. Bring in a qualified electrician to inspect your home to determine if more outlets are necessary.

• Recognize that power strips only add additional outlets; they do not change the amount of power being received from the outlet.

Learn more at www.esfi.org.

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About the author

Matt Fernandez

Matt Fernandez

Matt Fernandez is a local news reporter for The Signal. He is a 2017 graduate of UCLA and his previous work experience includes the Daily Bruin newspaper and Variety magazine, where he focused on arts and entertainment news. Fernandez has lived in Santa Clarita since 1998.