9 ways to avoid electrical shocks, fires and hazards at home.


Your home’s electrical system is just like any other part of your home. With time, it will wear down and require maintenance. Knowing what to do and how to do it safely is an essential part of keeping your house running smoothly and avoiding electrical and fire hazards. 

Due to the complex nature of electricity and the experience needed to properly diagnose problems, the majority (if not all) of your electrical maintenance projects should be performed by an electrician

Here are several electrical safety tips for maintaining your home’s power supply.

1. If it’s damaged, replace it.

broken frayed electrical extension cordThis general rule of thumb goes double for electrical systems. Whether it’s extension cords, appliance wiring, power cords, outlets, light switches or any other type of electrical component, leaving it in its damaged state is asking for trouble.

For example, if you have frayed, stiff or cracked electrical cords, replace them. They could become an electrical and fire hazard.

Outlets have their tell-tale signs of failure as well. For example, if the cover plates over your electrical outlets are warm or hot, call an electrician, advises the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). This could mean you have unsafe wiring that needs to be inspected.

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2. Know when to get an electrical inspection.

electrical inspectionIf you’re experiencing electrical problems, contact an electrician to perform an inspection. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) also recommends getting an electrical inspection: 

  • If your home is 40 years old or older.
  • You purchased a previously-owned home.
  • You finished a major renovation. 
  • You installed major new appliances in the last 10 years.

Get cost estimates for an inspection from several electricians near you. 

3. Use extension cords as little as possible.

messy extension cords plugged into stripThere are several reasons extension cords should be minimized in your house. For one, they can be a tripping hazard. You could easily trip over extension cords that are lying across the floors or forming loops. And tripping over them can potentially yank the cord out of the wall and damage it, making it unsafe for future usage. 

Extension cords can also cause an electrical overload and deteriorate over time. When an extension cord deteriorates, it may create a dangerous electric shock or fire hazard, states the ESFI.

And remember this: A reliance on extension cords usually means you need more outlets. If you find yourself using extension cords frequently, hire an electrician to install more outlets throughout your home. Reach out to a few electricians near you to get cost estimates for outlet installation.

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4. Be careful when doing home projects and using appliances.

Removing wall light switch cover in order to mask the outlet in preparation for paintingOperating certain appliances, performing repairs and DIY-ing your home projects could put you at risk for electrical hazards. Here are some steps you should take (and tips to remember) to help you avoid electrical fires and shocks. For example:

  • Unplug small appliances when you’re not using them.
  • Unplug appliances that you are troubleshooting and repairing. In fact, consider shutting off the power and/or water supply completely when performing repairs on washers, dryers, etc.
  • Turn off the circuit breaker when removing outlet covers. If you're painting your interior walls or applying new wallpaper, you might want to remove an outlet's cover plate. Be careful when doing so, and shut off your power to avoid electrical shock.
  • Don't drill into electrical wires. If your home project requires you to drill into a wall, make sure you don't accidentally drill into wires. This could cause a fire.
  • Don’t use an extension cord to plug in major appliances, like refrigerators, washers and dryers. Instead, plug them directly into the wall. The same goes for small appliances.
  • Check your appliance cords often, and replace the damaged ones.

When repairing or replacing a major appliance, consider hiring a trained professional instead of attempting to DIY it.

5. Make sure your electrical system is child-proof.

child hands touching wall socket outlet with safety plugsWhether you have children or not, it’s a great idea to child-proof your outlets and electronic devices for added safety. 

A powerful aid in keeping kids safe from electric shock is a tamper-resistant receptacle. These receptacles have a built-in safety mechanism to “prevent electricity from energizing anything that is stuck into the receptacle that shouldn’t be,” reducing the risk of electrical shocks, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). You should also use outlet covers and outlet plates to help prevent electrocution, states the CPSC. 

If you have children in your household, spend time educating them about electrical safety. Teach kids that outlets and certain appliances are off-limits, and encourage them to ask you for help if they need to use an electrical device. 

Visit the ESFI’s website for more information about child safety.

Related: The baby and childproofing checklist every parent needs/

6. Recognize the signs of electrical fires.

melted electrical outletEvery electric circuit is designed to handle a certain amount of electricity. But if your circuit is overloaded, a residential fire may occur. 

The CPSC and ESFI outline several signs of a possible electrical or fire hazard. These include:

  • Power outages and frequently tripped circuit breakers that you have to reset
  • Flickering or dimming lights
  • Bright flashes or sparks near your electrical system
  • Warm wall and switch plates, cords, plugs or receptacle outlet covers
  • Loose or wobbling plugs
  • Cracking or buzzing noises coming from receptacles
  • Burning odors coming from receptacles, wires or wall switches
  • Any type of shock or tingle from appliances, receptacles or switches

Consult an electrician to help you diagnose the problem and fix it.

See which electricians are top-rated in your area.

7. Switch to GFCIs — especially in damp areas.

GFCI receptacle and wall plateTo prevent deadly shocks, replace traditional outlets with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in damp areas like bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements and even outdoors. In fact, the National Electrical Code requires that GFCIs are used in your kitchen, bathrooms, garage and outdoors, according to the ESFI. 

If these outlets aren’t already present, hire an electrician to install GFCIs in the required areas.

8. Hire a professional if trimming trees near power lines.

arborist cutting down or trimming trees near power lineIdeally, your trees should be far away from dangerous power lines. But if you notice your tree is too close to a power line, you may need to trim it. Instead of doing this yourself, hire a tree trimming service.

Be sure to tell them about your tree’s proximity to the overhead line, and ask them if they’re properly trained to handle this situation. To familiarize yourself with what a tree trimming company should know and prepare for, check out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s guide on electricity and tree care. These guidelines are for small business owners and front line supervisors who perform regular tree-trimming operations.

9. Inspect alarms, detectors and extinguishers.

changing batteries in home smoke detectors and alarmIn the event of a fire, you need to be warned and prepared. Make you have smoke alarms installed on every level in your home, outside sleeping areas and inside the bedrooms, recommends the CPSC. And replace the batteries annually or as soon as you notice they’re dead. 

The NFPA recommends inspecting your fire extinguisher. For example, ensure it’s in a location that makes it easy to retrieve quickly. And make sure the pressure gauge is in the correct position. 

Get free estimates from top-rated electricians.

Hire an electrician near you today.

It’s important to have your home regularly inspected for electrical safety. Find a top-rated electrician near you to tackle small projects, prevent disasters, and check wiring or devices for safe usage.

Simply enter your zip code on Thumbtack and begin narrowing down your selection by ratings, customer reviews and prices. Contact several electricians to get a quote and make your decision.

A note about project costs included or linked in this article: Figures represent national average cost estimates using data provided by Thumbtack pros and additional research. These figures are provided for educational purposes only and are subject to change at any time due to various factors. Details about your specific project and local rates can impact costs.

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