Where there's smoke...

Cords should never be plugged into outlets that aren't grounded.

Courtesy photo

Winter months are dark and cold, forcing us to use more lights and heaters. Because of that, winter months are most prone to electrical house fires. Lights and heating appliances carry some inherent dangers, so, until our days grow longer and warmer, it’s best to keep the following in mind.

Lighting precautions

One of the main causes of electrical fires is using a light bulb in a lamp or fixture that exceeds the recommended wattage. Energy-saving bulbs, LEDs and CFLs, are often the safest bet as the energy they draw is way below recommended wattages. But if you’re using incandescent or halogen bulbs, pay careful attention to those wattage restrictions.

Incandescent and halogen bulbs not only pull greater wattages, but they create heat, thereby increasing their risk of overheating and causing a fire. Incandescent and halogen bulbs inside enclosed fixtures, such as sconces or globe lights, are at greatest risk. In enclosed fixtures heat gets trapped and can melt the socket inside, eventually starting a fire. Some suggest, even with energy-saving bulbs, it’s best to choose fixtures that are open.

Finally, never place anything made of cloth or paper over the shade of a fixture or lamp. As this material is warmed by the bulb, it’s possible it will ignite and cause a fire.

Heating appliance precautions

Heating appliances are another major cause of home fires for a couple of reasons. First, they are often placed too close to flammable materials. Space heaters should never be placed by curtains, bedding, clothing, furniture or rugs.

Second, their cords are often neglected. Heating appliances should never be used if their cords are worn or frayed. Not only that, but the cord should never run underneath rugs, even if in good condition, and never be plugged into an outlet that isn’t grounded.

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If the wiring in your home is more than 20-years-old, it may not be equipped to handle the increased demands of today’s appliances, including space heaters. If your home’s wiring is dated, your space heater may be sharing a circuit with other appliances, such as computers, wide-screened televisions, gaming devices or microwaves. Older circuits are not only ill-equipped to handed today’s needs, but older breakers can have worn connectors, not tripping to protect overloaded circuits.

When selecting a space heater, it’s best to choose a radiator-style appliance as they diffuse heat over the surface of the entire unit, versus a coil-style appliance where only the coils heat. These coils can become so hot they can instantaneously ignite something too close.

Although electric fireplaces can also overload dated wiring in homes, they tend to be safer overall than space heaters. They are less likely to be forgotten and left on, and less likely to have flammables, such as a bag of clothes or a cardboard box, mistakenly placed too close.

Be mindful…

Always heed your home’s warnings. If breakers are tripping, or GFI outlets need constant resetting, those aren’t mere nuisances, but indicators that something could be dangerously wrong.