Tips to Protect Your Family and Home during a Winter Storm
With the severe weather of winter comes the threat of electrical hazards caused by downed power lines, power outages, and possible flooding and can cause injuries and deaths even after a snow or ice storm has ended. Further, danger can also arise from the use of supplemental heating sources such as space heaters.
Here are a few electrical safety precautions that you can take during winter storm:
Downed Power Lines
- Always assume fallen power lines are energized. Stay at least 10 feet away from a downed power line and any nearby objects it may be touching, such as a fence or a tree limb.
- Contact your utility company immediately to report downed power lines outside your home.
- Never touch a person or object that is in direct or indirect contact with a downed power line. Instead, call 911 immediately.
- Never attempt to move a downed power line – leave it to the professionals.
- Do not operate a portable generator in your home, basement, or garage. Generators can very quickly produce high levels of carbon monoxide, which can be deadly.
- Be sure that the generator is used with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries.
- Do not connect generators directly to the household wiring without an appropriate transfer switch installed. Power from generators connected directly to household wiring can backfeed along power lines and electrocute anyone coming in contact with them, including utility lineworkers making repairs.
- Make sure that there is at least one working carbon monoxide detector in your home. Test the batteries at least twice a year, at the same time smoke detector batteries are tested.
- Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.
- Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.
- Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater.
- Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep, and don’t let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
- Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
- Proper placement of space heaters is critical. Heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.
- Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a tripping hazard.
- Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
- Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
- Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use.
Of course, should you have any questions or need assistance with electrical issues in your home, you can always count on the experts at Mister Sparky. Call us today or make an appointment for a home safety inspection. It just might save a life!
Space Heater Safety Tips for Residents of Harford County and surrounding areas
With the colder weather upon us, many will turn to the convenience of space heaters to reach those rooms that may be drafty due to poor ventilation or insulation. If you do use a space heater, here are some helpful tips that may just save your life.
Look for safety certifications
Portable space heaters that are listed by Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs) have been tested, proven, and certified to meet specific safety standards. The manufacturers of these heaters are also required to provide important information about the safe usage and care of their products.
Look for a testing laboratory certification such as UL (Underwriters Laboratories); when you see this you can be confident it’s safe to use at home according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Look for space heaters with tip-over and overheat protection
Today’s portable heater models include a variety of safety features that help take a lot of the worry out of using them. A heater equipped with a tip-over protection switch will automatically shut off if it’s tipped over for any reason, and a cool-touch housing prevents accidental burns when touched, which also protects children and pets.
Room heaters with overheat protection switches function in nearly the same manner. These use a temperature sensor, detecting when internal components become too hot. When an unsafe temperature is detected, the switch automatically shuts off the unit to prevent overheating. Additionally, ceramic heaters provide an extra layer of safety, as the ceramic unit self regulates its temperature, reducing the temperature as resistance increases.
Set up in the right place
Give your single-room space heater the clearances they need. It’s generally suggested that space heaters be placed at least three feet away from furniture, window treatments, bedding, clothing, rugs, and other combustibles. These items can cause a risk of fire if they come in contact with a unit’s electric heating element or an overly warm surface. Never sit or drape anything on top of a portable heater. In addition, be sure that the heater is placed on a hard, level surface.
Always plug directly into an outlet
As a rule of thumb, plug a portable electric heater directly into an outlet with sufficient power capacity. Attaching an extension cord to the unit increases the chance of overheating, fires, and electrical shock injuries. If an extension cord must be attached, use one that is properly rated and sized for the portable heater appliance.
Regularly inspect and maintain it
You should occasionally inspect your space heater, particularly when you first purchase it. Frequently clean and maintain it to ensure it’s working safely by wiping it down when cool; this will also help reduce the amount of dust and allergens that may be dispersed around your space. Of course, never use a defective heater.
Turn off and unplug when not using
Upon leaving an area, turn off the portable space heater and unplug it. Many models feature programmable timers that can be used to program automatic on and off times for when you sleep or head to work.
Of course, if you are not sure if your outlets or wiring is up to code or if you experience flickering lights, call your Mister Sparky electrician. We’ll be happy to help ensure the safety of you and your entire family.
And, if you do experience cold, drafty rooms, also consider calling a heating and cooling expert, such as the professionals at One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning. They’ll have you more comfortable in no time.
Home Safety Checklist for Fire Safety Month
Does your home have smoke alarms on every level, as well as inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and also in the basement?
Does your home have carbon monoxide alarms on every level—minimum protection? For maximum protection, do you have CO alarms inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and in the basement?
Are batteries working in all your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms?
Are all alarms tested and cleaned monthly? The only calibrated test method for the alarm is to press the test button. Vacuum the outside of the alarms. Do not spray cleaning chemicals on or around the alarms. Do not use “canned air” to clean combination alarms. It actually contains a gas that will damage the carbon monoxide sensor.
Did you change your clock, and change your alarm batteries at the same time? Batteries should be replaced at least once year, or immediately if the low battery chirps sounds.
Download the complete Fire Safety Checklist here:
October is Fire Safety Month
Your family is at risk
Fire is the single biggest threat to your home and your family’s safety. During Fire Safety Month we bring you helpful tips to prevent catastrophe from striking your home and your family.
Here are the types of fires that can take literally make your entire life go up in smoke:
- Fast Flaming Fire: Sources of these fires may include paper burning in a wastebasket, or a kitchen grease fire.
- Slow Smoldering Fire: These fires burn for hours before bursting into flame. Sources of these fires may include cigarettes burning in couches or bedding or even a lightning strike to the roof of your home.
Make a no-risk appointment to have a Mister Sparky professional inspect your home and to learn more about the best ways to prevent these types of fires.
Storm Season is Approaching: Tips for Dealing with a Power Outage
Although it may be somewhat unusual for us in Maryland to have to deal with the effects of a hurricane, it can and certainly does happen. But regardless of whether Mother Nature deals us a thunderstorm or hurricane, it’s important to be ready and know what to do before and after a power outage, especially during storm season.
Here are a few helpful tips and reminders:
Before the storm:
- Check flashlights and portable radios to ensure that they are working.
- A radio is an important source of weather and emergency information during a storm.
- Flashlights are safest for lighting, unlike candles which can be a fire hazard.
- Fully charge your cell phone, laptop, and any other devices before the storm.
- Ensure that you have extra batteries as part of your family’s emergency kit.
- If you own a car, purchase a car phone charger so that you can charge your phone if you lose power at your home.
- Consider purchasing a generator to provide power during an outage. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines when using a generator.
- Always use outdoors, away from windows and doors. Carbon Monoxide fumes are odorless and can quickly accumulate indoors.
- Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator directly into household wiring, a practice known as “backfeeding.” This is extremely dangerous and presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
- Consider the benefits of a wholehouse generator; they will turn automatically even if you are not home.
- Don’t get overheated. If the power goes out when it is hot outside, stay in the lowest level of your home where it will be coolest, put on light-weight, light-colored clothing, and drink lots of water. Remember to give your pets and/or service animals fresh, cool water; and if you need it, see if your community has “cooling centers” or shelters open.
- Do not call 9-1-1 to report your power outage or to ask for information; use 9-1-1 only for emergencies. Contact your utility company to report the outage and get restoration information.
- Check in on friends, family, and neighbors, particularly those most susceptible to extreme temperatures and power outages such as seniors and those with access and functional needs.
After the storm:
- In order to protect against possible voltage irregularities that can occur when power is restored, you should unplug all sensitive electronic equipment, including TVs, stereos, microwave ovens, computers, cordless telephones, answering machines and garage door openers.
- Leave one light on so that you will know when your power returns.
- Be extra cautious if you go outside to inspect for damage after a storm. Downed or hanging electrical wires can be hidden by trees or debris. Never attempt to touch or moved downed lines. Keep children and pets away from them.
- Call your utility company to report any outage-related problem such as downed wires.
- Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40° F (4° C) for two or more hours or if it has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
The best way to be prepared… have a safety inspection conducted by the professionals at Mister Sparky. They can help ensure you are ready to handle whatever comes your way. Make an appointment now and remember, you can SAVE $50 on any electric repair.
Could your electrical outlet start a fire?
We all take our electric outlets around the home, office, or anywhere else for granted. But are they putting our home, our possessions, and even our families, at risk? The answer is, possibly. But that’s not all.
Here are some of the primary causes of electrical fires:
Faulty outlets and appliances
Many home fires are caused by faulty electrical outlets or old appliances. Sometimes these fires start due to tears or splits in appliance cords, or in wiring in receptacles and switches. If an appliance has an old frayed cord, it’s time to replace it. The heat generated can escape the cord and start a fire when it comes into contact with combustible surfaces such as floors, curtains, and rugs.
We also count on the light given off by lamps and other light fixtures. But these very lamps and light bulbs are another common reason for electrical fires in our homes. In fact, if you install a light bulb that has a wattage that is too high for the lamps and light fixtures, you are putting your home at risk of a fire. You should always check the maximum recommended bulb wattage on any lighting fixture or lamp and never go over that recommended amount.
The trouble with many extension cords is how long people rely on them. They really should be used only as a temporary solution to extending reach to an outlet. Ideally, appliances should be plugged directly into an outlet and not plugged into an extension cord for any great length of time.
If you live in an older home, it is possible that it may not have the wiring capacity to handle the draw demanded by many appliances we rely on today. This includes things like computers, microwaves, washer and dryer, air conditioners and those big-screen TVs. One way you can determine your risk is by having circuit breakers installed since they are designed to trip when they get overloaded by too much electricity flowing through them. It’s always a good idea to have your breakers checked as well to make sure they are not worn out and in proper working order.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with your Mister Sparky professional to ensure that you and your family are safe and sound in your home.
Those smart devices for your home may pose a potential electric hazard
From Electrical Contractor Magazine:
“Organizations like the Electrical Safety Foundation International [ESFi] and the National Fire Protection Association [NFPA] have extensive campaigns about electrical safety, not only during the proclaimed electrical safety month, but all the time,” said Michael Johnston, executive director of standards and safety at the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). “NECA has a strong relationship with these organizations and also runs similar support campaigns during Electrical Safety Month.”
Here is a high-level look at a few modern technologies that can pose electrical hazards and how consumers can minimize the associated risks through proper installation and use. Your electric professionals can also be a good resource for information about safely installing and use of new smart technologies and equipment.
Mobile device chargers
From smartphones to tablets to laptops, consumers today have more electronic devices at home than ever before. Often each of these devices have a different charging cable, which has an alternating current (AC) side and a direct current (DC) side. The AC side of these power supplies and chargers can present a fire hazard if cords become worn and frayed. Electrical contractors should advise their customers to replace charging cables as soon as possible after they notice damage to them.
Damaged supply charge cables can affect the normal charging process for many smart devices and can create a fire hazard.
“While the DC side of these chargers is essentially safe, damaged charge output cables should be replaced,” Johnston said.
Fake or counterfeit charge cables are often missing protective electronics (micro-chips) in the charge connectors. Without this protection that can be a fire threat.
Even if only the outside layer is damaged, this is a sign the inner layers could be broken or may soon become damaged. In such an instance, Johnston said it is best to take it out of service and replace it.
“Electricity does not give too many chances and can take a life—quickly,” he said.
Once the electrical insulation on any cord becomes compromised, there is nothing between the consumer and the electric current. Shock hazards are high. It’s advisable to replace a cable before this occurs.
Some may be tempted to use electrical tape as a temporary solution; however, Johnston said it is never advisable to make home-made repairs using electrical tape and call it good. In the event one of these cables or chargers becomes damaged, it is best for a homeowner to remove the it from use and replace it.
Another risk comes from off-brand chargers, which in some cases might even be counterfeit products. Often, one can find replacement cables for a cheaper price from off brands other than the device’s manufacturer. There is often a question as to any guarantee these devices meet all proper specs and minimum product safety standards, even if the company claims they will work with any device. Large electronic producers such as Apple take critical steps to warn its customers to be wary of third-party replacement and new parts, which it says could be counterfeit.
In the interest of safety, many fire departments are warning residents not to leave devices unattended while charging and not to charge them overnight.
How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in My Home?
Winter can be a prime time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages.
The National Safety Council recommends you install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home near the bedrooms. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. The CDC offers these additional tips:
- Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year
- Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors
- Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes
- Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished
- Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly
- Never use a gas oven for heating your home
- Never let a car idle in the garage
- Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
Steps to Take When Carbon Monoxide Alarm Sounds
The CPSC says never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm, and do not try to find the source of the gas. Instead, follow these steps:
- Immediately move outside to fresh air
- Call emergency services, fire department or 911
- Do a head count to check that all persons are accounted for
- Do not reenter the premises until emergency responders have given you permission to do so
Call the experts at Mister Sparky and let us help you make your home as safe and comfortable place for you and your family.
Source: National Safety Council
Halloween Safety Tips
Here are some helpful tips to keep you and your little trick or treaters safe this Halloween:
- Cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks.
- Look left, right and left again when crossing and keep looking as you cross.
- Put electronic devices down and keep heads up and walk, don’t run, across the street.
- Teach children to make eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them.
- Always walk on sidewalks or paths. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to
the left as possible. Children should walk on direct routes with the fewest street crossings.
- Watch for cars that are turning or backing up. Teach children to never dart out into the street or cross between parked cars.
Trick or Treat with an Adult
- Children under the age of 12 should not be alone at night without adult supervision. If kids are mature enough to be out without supervision, they should stick to familiar areas that are well lit and trick-or-treat in groups.
Keep Costumes Both Creative and Safe
- Decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape or stickers and, if possible, choose light colors.
- Choose face paint and makeup whenever possible instead of masks, which can obstruct a child’s vision.
- Have kids carry glow sticks or flashlights to help them see and be seen by drivers.
- When selecting a costume, make sure it is the right size to prevent trips and falls.
Drive Extra Safely on Halloween
- Slow down and be especially alert in residential neighborhoods. Children are excited on Halloween and may move in unpredictable ways.
- Take extra time to look for kids at intersections, on medians and on curbs.
- Enter and exit driveways and alleys slowly and carefully.
- Eliminate any distractions inside your car so you can concentrate on the road and your surroundings.
- Drive slowly, anticipate heavy pedestrian traffic and turn your headlights on earlier in the day to spot children from greater distances.
- Popular trick-or-treating hours are 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. so be especially alert for kids during those hours.
Why your outdoor GFCI keeps tripping
Why your outdoor GFCI keeps tripping and ruining your Halloween display.
Nothing is more frustrating than when you go to the trouble of setting up the best Halloween display on the block… then you turn on the lights and your GFCI trips. It’s a downright spooky feeling!
A GFCI is one of the most common residential, commercial, and industrial safety devices. The most common types are single-phase electrical outlets used in households near water sources, such as in kitchens, bathrooms, and outdoor receptacles. They are there for your safety, so when one keeps tripping, it’s time to get it checked out.
Most likely, your outdoor GFCI outlet is tripping due to one of these problems:
- There’s a ground fault somewhere in the circuit.
- Moisture invaded the receptacle box.
- The GFCI outlet is faulty.
So, how do you know which one is your problem? Don’t worry. We’ll show you how to determine what’s tripping your outdoor GFCI outlet and what you can do to fix it.
Just call the experts at Mister Sparky and let us take the scare out of your Halloween display frustration. Make an appointment or call 410-457-7297.