The convenience of electricity comes with responsibility. It’s critical to maintain the usage, condition and safety of electrical systems with a bi-annual check-up. Safe Bee by UL (Underwriters Laboratories), provides a comprehensive list of the proper uses of electrical equipment and warning signs.

The warning signs

  • Malfunctioning switches and outlets. If switches or outlets don’t work, broken or prone to tripping the circuit breaker, something is wrong with the wiring.
  • Dimming or flickering lights. Light fixtures typically draw a small amount of power. Dimming or flickering are likely a problem with major appliances or space heaters that are wired to the same circuit and use a lot of energy.
  • Hot or smoking outlets, switch plates and circuit breaker box. A switch plate may be slightly warm, but if the outlet is hot, turn off what is plugged in and try it in another outlet. If the outlet grows hot without anything plugged in, it may be wired incorrectly. If an outlet or breaker box is smoking or extremely hot to the touch, call the fire department immediately.
  • Sparking. Go to the breaker box immediately and turn off all the breakers. Call an electrician to diagnose the issue.
  • Funny odors. Outlets, fuse boxes or breaker panels emitting odors should be turned off. Call an electrician right away.
  • Buzzing outlets. Loose prongs, outlets or fraying wire can cause the current to jump, causing a buzzing sound. If a sound is coming from an outlet, stop using it and call an electrician.

Proper Uses of Electronics and Wiring

  • Plug in one heat-producing appliance at a time. A coffee maker, space heater or microwave should be plugged directly into a wall outlet one at a time to prevent circuit overload.
  • Do not overload power strips or outlets. Instead of power strips, choose point-of-protection surge protectors with the UL Mark. These contain a special device that redirects a voltage surge. Use one for all major electronics and appliances, which will help protect your devices from power surges. Many are one time use for major surges. For total protection invest in a whole house surge protector.
  • Extension cord usage. Choose a UL Listed extension cord rated to handle the wattage. Use only outdoor-rated extension cords outside. Never use extension cords for a major appliance. Use extension cords sparingly and for short periods of time.
  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Water is a conductor of electricity. Kitchens and bathrooms require these special shock-resistant outlets. GFCIs reduce the likelihood of shock, because they shut off electricity if it detects an electric surge.
  • Install arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). These shut off electricity when a dangerous condition occurs, such as loose connections, preventing wires from overheating and causing a fire. Test once a month.
  • Unplug small appliances when not in use. Left unattended, plugged-in appliances may create an unnecessary fire risk.
  • Use recommended wattage light bulbs in lamps or fixtures. Using a bulb with too high of a wattage may overheat the light fixture or wiring, causing a fire.
  • Inspect all electrical cords. Replace cracked, damaged and loose electrical cords. Don’t try to repair them.
  • Avoid putting cords where they can be damaged or pinched. Cords placed under carpet, rugs, windows or doors can get pinched and cause the wires to become damaged, thus risking fire or electrocution. Fully unravel all appliance cords when in use.

Go through your house twice a year to ensure your home’s electrical system is in good and safe working condition. Install smoke alarms on every level of the home, and inside every bedroom and outside of each sleeping area. Test monthly. Don’t become a statistic.

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For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program, heard locally from 8 to 11 a.m. on KNST-AM (790) in Tucson and from 7 to 10 a.m. on KGVY-AM (1080) and -FM (100.7) in Green Valley. Call 888-767-4348.