From Scott Carlberg

Kidding, just something for this time of year. Halloween, you know. Tricks. Treats.

Electricity provides a lot of treats – charging your phone, streaming your favorite programs, maybe even powering voice commands for grocery orders. Electricity can play tricks, too. Energy Consumers of the Carolinas wants our readers to avoid being caught by surprise, so we searched for tricks-in-waiting in electric systems at home. (Remember: Use an electric professional to check and fix a system. This column is for awareness only.)

Switches in circuit box

Advances in electric devices make a difference inside homes. Maybe more load on the system because of more appliances. Or, a home may have aging technology. In electric systems, various issues can arise. An electrical system can signal potential problems to a homeowner. If you notice warning signs, have an electrician inspect your system.

A circuit box is the heart of a home electric system. Circuit breakers trip when there is an overload, preventing the wiring from overheating. Older circuit breakers can trip more. Tripping circuits can be a sign of a problem. There is also a debate about the safety of some circuit panels built decades ago; some news reports say they are susceptible to fires.

Energy Consumers of the Carolinas asked State Farm Insurance about electric issues and here are some of its thoughts about what to watch:

  • Frequent blown fuses or tripped breakers
  • An over-amped or over-fused electrical panel
  • Dimming or flickering lights, indicating the circuit is overloaded or has a loose connection
  • Hot or discolored switch plates, cords, or plugs
  • Light bulbs that frequently burn out in a socket, signaling a fixture that can’t handle the bulb wattage
  • Buzzing or sizzling sounds
  • A burning smell
  • Arcs or sparks from an outlet when you plug or unplug a cord
  • Loose outlets
  • Cracked, cut, or broken insulation
  • Electrical shock when you plug in or touch a cord

One source noted the importance of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets, which monitor the amount of power going from the outlet. If even the slightest variation is detected, the power is cut, to prevent electrocution.

North Carolina Cooperatives provide these thoughts for electric safety inside the home:

  • Inspect electrical cords often for broken connectors or fraying. Throw away any worn cords to eliminate the possibility of shock, short circuit or fire
  • Don’t overload power outlets
  • The wattage of the bulbs you use in your home should match the wattage indicated on the light fixture. Overheated fixtures can lead to a fire
  • Use extension cords only for short-term purposes, and make sure the cord is adequately suited for the amount of electricity it will be transferring
  • Turn off and unplug all portable electrical appliances, like hairdryers, irons and shavers, when you’re finished using them
  • Be familiar with the location of your breaker box and make sure the switches are clearly labeled so you can shut off electricity quickly in the event of an emergency
  • Teach children never to put their fingers in electrical outlets and appliances
  • Keep appliances and cords away from children and use plug covers in outlets

Extension cords are temporary, not permanent.

One item we saw repeatedly was about extension cords. They are temporary, not permanent solutions. “Roughly 3,300 home fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring 270 more. Extension cords can overhead and cause fires when used improperly, so keep these important tips in mind to protect your home and workplace.” (source)

The safety hints on sites like State Farm, the coops, and at other utilities are much longer than this. There is a lot of information out there. It is important to be aware, and use a professional to identify and fix these problems. Don’t get tricked!

(Again, remember: Use an electric professional to check and fix a system. This column is for awareness only.)

Some electric safety pages in the Carolinas:

From SCE&G, an educational publication called Electrical Safety for You and Your Family 

NC Electric Cooperatives

Blue Ridge Electric Coop

Surrey Yadkin Electric Cooperative 

Duke Energy

Aiken Electric Cooperative