10 Dangerous Things Your Electrician Wants You to Stop Doing ASAP

published Sep 12, 2019
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Electrical fires are the third leading cause of home structure fires, according to The Electrical Safety Foundation International. Fortunately, there are a variety of preventative measures you can take to help make sure that one doesn’t happen to you.

In addition to having your place’s electrical system thoroughly inspected by a qualified electrician to verify that all electrical work meets safety regulations, electricians say that switching up certain daily habits can help. We asked the pros for some of the most dangerous things you could be doing in terms of your house’s electrics.

1. Using adapters on two-prong outlets

“Three-prong outlets didn’t become standard in North American homes until the late 1960s, so while modern homes should be in good shape, there are plenty of homes out there with old two-prong outlets,” says Mark Dawson, chief operating officer at Mister Sparky. Because many new appliances—computers, blenders, and more—use three prongs, you might be tempted to nab adapters. Don’t do it, says Dawson: “Instead, you should consider upgrading the outlet if you need to regularly use three-prong plugs.”

2. Plugging in to loose electrical outlets

Loose electrical outlets aren’t safe for kids or pets, and can potentially even lead to fires, says Josh McCormick, vice president of operations for Mr. Electric, a Neighborly company. “If the cord falls out easily, this means that the blades inside the outlet have become loose and can now generate a lot of heat,” he explains.

3. Not getting old wiring checked out

“Electrical wiring is meant to last 30 to 40 years,” says McCormick. “If you move into an old home, old wiring can be a potential danger.” If you think your home may have some, McCormick suggests having an electrician survey the wiring to recommend next steps. Rewiring your home can be an unexpected expense, but it will ensure that your house is safer and up to current codes.

4. Not using the correct outlets in the bathroom and kitchen

Dawson says all outlets in these two rooms should be equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters, which shut down power when they sense water, potentially saving a person holding something like a hair dryer from a nasty shock.

5. Ignoring exposed or frayed wiring in the bathroom

Speaking of the bathroom, you should repair any exposed or frayed wiring in there faster than fast. Water conducts electricity really well. If you come into contact with an electrical current when you’re wet or standing in water, you could receive a severe shock that can cause a whole host of serious issues, including burns, heart arrhythmia, and nervous system damage, Dawson says.

6. Not paying attention to flickering lights

“While the most likely explanations are harmless and easy to fix, a flickering light could also be an early warning sign of dangerous wiring problems,” Dawson says. Start by troubleshooting the bulb: Screw it back in to check the connection and, if that doesn’t work, replace the bulb. If the flickering continues, you may have an unknown power surge or faulty wiring, Dawson says.

7. Overloading your circuit

Blinking, dimming, or flickering lights, frequently tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses, warm or discolored outlet covers, and cracking and buzzing sounds from outlets or receptacles—while it’s possible that some of these signs, like flickering lights, could indicate an isolated issue with one light, as noted above, they could also mean you have an overloaded circuit, McCormick says. If you’ve ruled out a singular issue and suspect that the latter is the case, contact a licensed, qualified electrician to ask about upgrading your panel.

8. Using malfunctioning appliances

One impaired appliance can also spell trouble for the rest of your appliances, according to Dawson. “A faulty appliance can send surges of electricity into your home’s electrical system, and the resulting damage can range from a tiny bit of wear and tear on other appliances to a destructive electrical fire,” he says.

9. Plugging in the wrong extension cords outside

“If an extension cord is not rated for outdoor use, it’s at risk of overheating and potentially causing a fire,” Dawson says. On new extension cords, check packaging for outdoor use ratings; on extension cords you may already own, check the cord itself for the letters “W” or “S.” A “W” means it’s suitable for the outdoors, while an “S” means the cord is rated for general use inside the home.

10. Taking on complex DIY projects

Though you may have no problem with an IKEA hack, certain electrical projects can be complicated and require special safety considerations. “Some repairs and installations can be done yourself if you have taken time to research and understand your electrical system,” says McCormick. “Low voltage projects—projects under 50 volts—are less likely to cause structure or bodily harm and tend to be safer for DIYers.”