Shockingly easy electrical safety tips to practice

by Shae Ishimoto | Sept. 9, 2019

Within the last few months there have been an unsettling number of house fires. Electrical fires are one of the most prevalent causes of house fires in the U.S. Each year, electrical issues cause about 70,000 fires within the home and $868 million in property loss, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

This made me think about what I’ve heard on the news and a recent story that was shared with me.

One of my coworkers told me a story about his friend who decided to cook shabu shabu with buddies at their home. As soon as they turned on both shabu shabu pots for their gathering, the air conditioning shut off and a crackling noise came from the fuse box. At that point, no devices could be turned on. They overloaded the circuit breaker where a wall mount air conditioner was plugged into one socket and an extension cord with two shabu shabu pots was plugged into the other socket. That’s one way to spoil someone’s appetite!

The damaged circuit breaker after being overloaded by the A/C unit and shabu shabu pots.

In retrospect, the customer said that the A/C unit should have been the only appliance plugged into that outlet. That’s absolutely right!

Some of us forget that major appliances such as refrigerators, TVs, A/C units, even shabu shabu pots require a lot of energy and should be directly plugged into a wall receptable outlet. Never plug them into an extension cord or power strip. It’s better to walk a few extra feet to the next nearest outlet than it is to ruin a night of dinner and fun.

In April, an electrical fire was started at a Moiliili high-rise condominium. I recall Honolulu Fire Department investigators determined that the fire was accidentally started by an arc in a lighted display case inside the apartment. Hawaii News Now reported the damage was estimated at $524,000. It’s hard to imagine that a glitch in a display case could cause over half a million dollars in damages.

An electrical panel controls the power to various parts of a home.

To help prevent accidental arcs in your home, install arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). AFCIs are used in homes to detect a wide range of arcing electrical faults to help protect from electrical fires. AFCIs protect the entire circuit by shutting off electricity to the circuit, which includes the electrical panel, the downstream wires that run through the walls, outlets and switches, and anything plugged into those outlets and switches connected to the circuit.

An electrical safety tip that even I need to remind myself to do is unplug electrical appliances that conduct heat like irons, rice pots, hair curlers, and toaster ovens after using them. Oftentimes, people (myself included) leave these appliances plugged and walk away. Luckily for me, manufacturers have created auto shut-off features for folks like me. Older models however, can create enough heat that if left on for an extended amount of time, become a fire hazard. It may be wise to invest in a newer version of your rice pot or curling iron if you haven’t done so already. Unplugging these items altogether is the safer option and saves electricity at the same time.

As important as it is to prevent electrical hazards from the start, it’s just as important to know when there is one. You should periodically check if wires are outdated, damaged or poorly installed.

Do not try to fix the problem yourself if you notice any damage. Make sure to contact a professional electrician or your landlord to address the problem. And remember, the best way to fix a problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Shae Ishimoto is a social media coordinator at Hawaiian Electric Company.

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