Every year, electrical products are associated with injuries, deaths, and fires in homes. Use this checklist to spot possible safety problems before they occur. This checklist is a room-by- room guide and allows you to identify and follow up on safety concerns. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission staff recommends inspecting electrical products in your home every six months.
Each time you move into a home or change your clocks is the perfect time to check your smoke alarms and perform this checklist!
In ALL Rooms
- Check each light in the room, including lamps and ceiling fixtures. Is each bulb the appropriate wattage for its fixture?
- If not, replace the bulb with the correct wattage bulb. If you aren’t sure, use a bulb 60 watts or less. For unmarked ceiling fixtures with miniature bulbs, use 25 watt bulbs.
- A bulb that is a higher wattage than recommended may overheat the light fixture , wiring or nearby combustible materials, leading to a fire.
Check Portable Electric Heating Equipment
- Does the heater have a seal of a nationally-recognized testing laboratory (NRTL), such as UL, ETL, or CSA? If not, replace heater. Keep heaters far away from all combustibles and avoid touching them while plugged in and hot. Avoid using an uncertified heater. There is less assurance that safety features are adequate for heaters not tested by a nationally- recognized lab.
- Is the heater placed at least 3 feet from combustibles, such as drapes and newspapers? If not, move heater at least 3 feet away from combustibles and check that nothing could fall or lean onto the heater. Some heaters can produce enough heat to ignite nearby combustible materials.
- Is the heater stable and placed where it will not tip over? If not, place heater on a stable surface and ensure it is out of traffic. A fire hazard can result if a heater is tipped over. Children, animals, or even blowing drapes can knock a heater over. Although some heaters have tip-over switches, it is better to be sure the heater is stable.
- Is the heater in good working order? (no odd smells, sparks or smoke when operating). If not, have the heater repaired or buy a replacement that has a seal (from a NRTL) on it. Operating problems often indicate an unsafe electrical condition that could cause a fire or electrical shock.
Check 3-Prong Adapters
- Are properly grounded 3-prong adapters used to attach power cords with 3-prong plugs to older 2-prong outlets? You should always connect the grounding wire or metal tab on the adaptor to the center screw on the outlet cover. The grounding feature provided by a 3-prong adapter for a 2-prong outlet is a safety feature designed to lessen the risk of fire or shock in case of an appliance fault. NEVER defeat the adapter’s grounding feature or break the ground pin from a 3-prong plug.
- Check Electrical Cords (including those on lamps and extension cords) and Entertainment Equipment (TVs, DVD players, computers, etc.)
- Is any cord frayed, cracked, or otherwise damaged? If so, replace all damaged cords or replace equipment. Damaged cords may have exposed live wires that can be shock and fire hazards.
- Is any cord placed where it might be stepped on? Move them away from foot traffic. Cords placed in the path of traffic are tripping hazards. Cords can be damaged when stepped on, creating a fire or shock hazard.
- Is any piece of furniture or rug resting on an electrical cord? Heavy weights or traffic can damage cords, crushing insulation or breaking wire strands, creating a fire or shock hazard. Move these cords.
- Is any cord tightly wrapped around any object? Wrapped cords trap heat that normally escapes loose cords, which can lead to melting or weakening of insulation. Unwrap those cords.
- Are cords attached to anything (wall, baseboard, etc) with nails or wire staples? Nails and staples can tear or crush the insulation or cut the wires inside, presenting a fire or shock hazard. Remove any nails and/or staples and replace damaged cords.
- Are all extensions cords equipped with safety covers on the unused outlets? If not, use safety covers that fill the slots of every unused outlet. Children can be shocked or seriously burned when they play with uncovered outlets.
- Check the electrical rating on appliances and extension cords. Is any extension cord carrying more that its proper load? Too much current will cause the wires to get hot. If the cord, plug, or outlet feels warm, it may be overloaded, and can be a fire hazard. Replace any overloaded cord with a higher capacity cord (16 AWG handles 1375 W, use 14 or 12 AWG for heavier loads).
- Is any extension cord being used on a permanent basis? Extension cords are not as safe as permanent house wiring. Installed wiring can carry more current and is protected from accidental damage that could cause shock or fire. Have new outlets installed where needed, or move appliance closer to an outlet.
- Is all the entertainment equipment placed so that air can freely circulate around it? Blocking air flow to equipment can cause overheating and a possible fire hazard. (Refer to the owner’s manual for guidance.) Move equipment so it has room to “breathe.” Avoid enclosing equipment in a cabinet without proper openings and do not store papers around equipment.
- Is all the equipment in a dry location, free of any source of water, including rain, leaks, and spills? Mixing electricity and water can result in a serious shock or fire hazard. Relocate equipment away from any water source such as plants and aquariums.
Check Electrical Outlets and Switches
- Are all outlets and switches working properly? Improperly operating outlets or switches may indicate that an unsafe wiring condition exists. A loose screw holding a wire or a worn out switch can lead to electrical arcing, overheating, or a fire. Have an electrician check the outlets and switches.
- Are all outlets and switches cool to the touch? Unusually warm outlets or switches may indicate an unsafe wiring condition exists, such as a loose electrical connection that can start a fire. (Some dimmer switches may become warm during normal use.) Make sure appliances are not overloading the outlet. Stop using them until an electrician checks the problem.
- Do all electrical plugs fit snugly into all outlets? Loose-fitting plugs can cause overheating and fires. A loose connection cannot carry much current without getting hot. Replace loose outlets.
- Do all outlets have faceplates covering all wiring? Exposed wiring is a shock hazard. Children may stick objects into an electrical outlet that is not covered with a plate.
Check Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) Protected Outlets
Make sure you have GFCI outlets installed in your:
- Unfinished Basement
- Around your laundry/ utility tub or wet bar sink
Test every GFCI once a month according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
GFCIs can prevent electrocutions so make sure they’re working. The risk of electric shock is higher in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas around water.
In the kitchen
- Are all counter top appliances unplugged when not in use? Unattended, plugged-in appliances may create an unnecessary risk of fire.
- Are all appliance cords placed so they will not come in contact with a hot surface (e.g., oven, range burner, toaster)? Cords can melt or burn from excess heat. This can expose wires, which could lead to an electrical shock or fire. Relocate away from heat sources.
- Are all appliances located away from the sink? Mixing electricity and water can result in an electric shock or fire hazard. Counter top appliances can be accidentally knocked into the sink or sprayed with water. Using a GFCI reduces the chance of a serious shock or electrocution. Relocate away from the sink area. If you can’t relocate them, make sure the appliances are plugged into GFCI-protected outlets.
- Have you ever received even a slight shock (other than one from static electricity) from any appliance? A shock indicates an extremely hazardous wiring condition. There may be an internal electrical short or ground fault that could seriously injure someone who simply touches the appliance. If you have received even a minor shock, do not touch the appliance until it has been checked by an electrician. Turn the power off to the appliance at the circuit breaker.
- Is the top of and area above the cooking range free of combustibles (e.g., potholders, paper, plastic utensils)? Using the range area for storage of combustibles may result in fires or burns. Remove all possible combustibles.
In the bathrooms
- Are all appliances unplugged when not in use? Even when turned off, plugged-in electrical appliances may cause a shock hazard if they fall into water. Sometimes a worn switch may turn on with no one touching it. Unplug all small appliances when not in use.
- Are all appliances in good condition? That is, are they working the same with no signs of damaged wiring or parts? (smoke, sparks, and noises, etc.) Irregular operation is a sign of damage to electrical parts. Damaged appliances can become a shock or fire hazard.
- Are portable heaters ever used in the bathroom? Portable heaters can be an electrocution hazard when used in bathrooms. The many grounded surfaces and water contribute to this hazard. A GFCI can help to reduce the risk of serious injury or electrocution.
In the bedrooms
- Are all electric blankets in good condition? Look for cracks or breaks in wiring, plugs, and connectors. Also look for dark, charred, or frayed spots on either side of the blanket. Any of these conditions indicate damage and a potential fire hazard. Discard these blankets.
In basement, garage and workshop
- Are fuses the correct size for the circuit? The wrong size fuse can allow too much current to flow and cause the wiring to overheat, creating a fire hazard. Install the correct size. If correct size is unknown, have an electrician identify and label the size to be used.
- Do you periodically turn circuit breakers off and on? Circuit breakers must be exercised periodically to make sure they have not become stuck and to keep them in good working order. Appliances with compressor motors can be damaged by repeated power interruptions if you don’t turn them off. Turn off the freezer, refrigerator, and air conditioner. Flip each circuit breaker off and on three times. Do this at least once a year.
- If Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) are installed, are they tested periodically? Test AFCIs monthly.
- Are all cord connected power tools equipped with 3-prong plugs or marked to indicate they are double insulated? These safety features reduce the risk of electric shock and electrocution. Metal-cased electrical tools without proper grounding become more dangerous as old internal insulation wears and cracks. Portable GFCIs are as effective as installed GFCIs. Consider replacing older tools lacking these safety features. At the very least, make sure to plug them into a working GFCI outlet when using them.
- Does each outlet have its own weatherproof cover? Moisture can get into outside outlets and cause a malfunction, which can pose a possible shock or fire hazard. Most covers don’t keep water out when a cord is plugged into them, because the water drips between the plug and outlet. Have weatherproof covers installed and keep them closed on unused outlets. If outlets must be used in wet weather, install a “weatherproof while in use” cover.
- Are extension cords marked specifically for outdoor use? Cords made for indoor use will not withstand the temperature, humidity, and mechanical stresses of outdoor use. Indoor cords are more easily damaged and could become fire or shock hazards when used outdoors. Replace with extension cords marked for outdoor use.
- Is any electrical equipment used outdoors or around a swimming pool, spa or hot tub? Electrical products, even those in plastic or “double insulated” cases, can leak electrical current if they become wet from rain or splashing or have fallen into water. If they are wet, they are a serious shock or electrocution hazard. Make sure all electrical equipment stays dry. Plug power cords only into working GFCI outlets. Unplug the equipment if it gets wet or immersed in the water before you try to “rescue” it.
Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: www.cpsc.gov