Back to School and College Electricity Safety Tips for Students

The return to school each year also marks a return to some dangers from electrocution or fires. Even hooking up computers, appliances, TVs, game consoles and other electronics should be done with care. Students and parents who know what electrical hazards to look for and how to address them will start the school year with peace of mind.

Protect yourself from injury and keep electronics running safely by taking the following precautions:

  • Use only approved electrical products with the mark of a recognized certification agency.
  • Choose power bars with a heavy-gauge cord that are approved by a recognized certification agency.
  • Replace frayed or damaged extension cords with new ones.
  • Keep extension cords out from under carpet, rugs or furniture as this could damage the cord and also present a fire hazard.
  • Keep flammable materials such as books, paper and clothing away from heaters, stoves and other heating sources.
  • Never leave cooking appliances unattended.
  • Plug portable heaters and air conditioners directly into the outlet. If an extension cord is needed, to prevent overheating and risk of fire, use only one that is rated for this purpose to ensure that the cord can handle the electrical current.
  • Never remove the third prong from an electrical product. The third prong is the grounding device and is a critical safety feature.
  • Avoid overloading outlets or circuits as this can cause overheating that may lead to fire.

Now, if you are a college student moving away from home to stay on or off campus, make sure you check for electrical hazards prior to moving in:

  • Exposed electrical wiring.
  • Loose or damaged plugs and switches, or outlets and switches with missing cover plates.
  • Dim, flickering or surging lights.
  • Fuses that blow or circuit breakers that frequently trip, or outlets that don’t work when fuses are replaced or breakers reset.
  • Fuses and switches that are warm or hot to the touch

Should you require any expert advice at home, make an appointment with the professionals at Mister Sparky today!

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.

Portable Generators

  • 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.

Space Heaters

  • 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!

Holiday lights and the safety risks they bring

Holiday lights can brighten the season but they also present potential risk for fire and shock hazards. Holiday lights and other decorative lighting contribute to an estimated 150 home structure fires per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in 64 percent of the fires.

Reduce the risk of fire and shock from holiday lights by taking these steps recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Use indoor and outdoor lights that conform with safety standards and that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Use only lights that have plugs containing fuses.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.
  • Ensure extension cords are rated for the intended use.
  • Forego electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Check labels before using lights outdoors to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
  • Stay away from power or feeder lines leading from utility poles.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples (not nails or tacks) to hold strings in place. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
  • Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Never pull or tug on lights – this could cause stress on the connections that could create a fire hazard.
  • Plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock. Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can also be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.

Follow these tips and make sure you have the brightest holiday season ever! For questions or concerns about your home and its electricity, call the experts at Mister Sparky or make an appointment here for a safety inspection.

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.

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.

Light fixtures

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.

Extension cords

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.

Old wiring

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.