Electrical wiring is everywhere, tucked behind the walls of your home and within your HD television, DVD player, laptop computer, printer, smartphone, security systems and other equipment. It only takes one electrical accident to deliver a lethal jolt to a human body, or burn a home to the ground. Copper Development Association (CDA) offers 5 tips to keep you and your property safe.
Reduce excessive attic temperatures
When you’re up in an attic on a sunny summer day, you know the meaning of hot. If the wires are buried in attic insulation, pass over light fixtures or, worst of all, are arranged in tight bundles, they become even hotter than if they’re out in the open. The heat doesn’t affect the copper conductors in the wiring; it’s the plastic insulation and jacketing that surrounds the wires that are the problem. These are usually rated to withstand up to 194 degrees. The cumulative effect of ambient heat and current on attic wiring can result in temperatures that come close to or exceed the limit. To help reduce excessive temperatures that could possibly lead to fires, use larger diameter wires than minimum requirements because they offer less resistance to electrical current, and they permit more current flow while staying cooler.
Replace old wiring
Along with spring cleaning, it’s a great time to update your electrical wiring. If your home is more than 25 years old, and you’ve never upgraded your electrical service, you may be living with an inadequate and possibly hazardous wiring system. Homes more than 40 years old are especially susceptible to bare or frayed wires, crumbling insulation or faulty switches. Passing too much current through a wire, or overloading, can melt or burn the wire’s insulation and start a fire. If your home is wired with aluminium branch circuit wiring – largely used 50 or more years ago – consider replacing the wiring with modern copper branch circuits. Have a qualified electrician inspect your wiring for dangerous conditions.
Avoid overloaded or damaged extension cords
Outdoors, electrical extension cords power everything from hedge trimmers to power saws to drink mixers. Indoors, they’re used for temporary power needs from the basement to attic. Because electrical tools and appliances have different power ratings, these rugged, weather-resistant portable cords are designed to accommodate a variety of temporary power requirements, but not all extension cords are created equal, varying in gauge (wire diameter) and thus capacity.
An improperly sized extension cord can cause a tool or appliance motor to burn out if allowed to run for too long. It can also cause a dangerous situation if it overheats. It is important to know how much electrical current (typically rated in amperes, or amps) each electric tool requires.
High-powered tools like saws and mowers use considerably more amperage, so extension cords rated to handle greater electrical loads should be used with them. Tool and appliance manuals usually specify extension cord requirements for proper operation of the equipment.
Amperage ratings are also marked on the equipment itself. Given the relatively low cost of extension cords, compared to the expense of replacing a damaged tool or appliance, consumers are urged to check the numbers and buy up. You may have one application in mind when shopping for a cord, but end up using it for more demanding applications. The wire can never be too big, but it can be too small.
Stay away from wet locations
It’s not safe to go near the water with electrical equipment. Wet locations such as kitchens, baths and utility rooms – as well as grounded areas like your basement or garage – require outlets protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, or GFCIs. If GFCIs have already been installed near sinks and dishwashers, test their reset buttons to be sure they are working properly. Have an electrician inspect your outlets to make sure you have GFCI outlets where required.
Install a lightning protection system
Severe thunder and lightning may occur only during the spring and summer months, but when a storm does pass through, the number of strikes it produces can be alarming. Lightning protection systems do not attract lightning to structures, nor do they repel it. Rather, these systems intercept the lightning and channel the energy onto a low-resistance path, thus safely discharging, or ‘grounding,’ the electrical current to the earth. Copper and its alloys are the most common materials used in lightning protection because of superior corrosion resistance and tight connections, although manufacturers offer the same products made of either copper or aluminium.
The best way to safeguard against electrical hazards is to have a professional electrician install, inspect and – if necessary – upgrade your wiring. It’s not worth the risk to rely on non-copper wiring materials that can corrode, loosen or fail under pressure. If you have any doubts about the wiring in your home, call a licensed electrician, who knows the code and will make sure your wiring is done right.