Safety Minute: Preventing House Fires 1 – Outlet Safety

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Electrical safety tips from Safety and Environmental Compliance Specialist David Young

House fires used to be a lot more common than they are today. There are three things a fire needs: fuel, air, and a heat source. Oil lamps and candles were the heat sources that caused most house fires, so buildings in WEC’s service area became much safer in 1939 onward, as they were wired for electric light. However, electricity can still cause fires when wires are misinstalled or when electrical connections are loose. You do not want your electric wiring to become a heat source.

In Vermont, individuals can wire their own home with no experience other than watching a Youtube tutorial. Home inspectors make sure everything is wired correctly–which is an important reason inspection is usually a condition of selling or buying a home. But even in a properly wired home, tune in to your outlets.

If you have outlets you use a lot, they loosen over time. Let’s say you have a crockpot on your counter that you regularly plug in to the same outlet. After ten or so years of high use, there won’t be much tension left in the outlet, and you’ll be able to tell when you can pull out the plug with no effort. A new outlet has quite a bit of grip on the prongs. That tight connection to the wire keeps the wire cooler. If there’s a lot of wiggle, heat can build up, which melts the insulation on the wire. An outlet is stapled to a stud or the wood in your wall, so you’ve got something getting really hot, the heat goes to the wood. Wood releases a gas, and gas is flammable.

If you want to check the tension in your outlets, there’s a tool that retails for about $80. Or, you could purchase a brand new outlet–they are inexpensive–and take it around your house comparing its tension with all your other outlets.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. If you go to unplug something and it feels warm, there may be an issue. The heat can be from heavy use, or it’s indication the outlet needs to be replaced. If it unplugs really easily, that’s an indication the outlet is the likely culprit.
  2. If you identify any loose outlets, hire a licensed electrician to replace them for you. This should not be a high-cost service.
  3. Keep space heaters away from walls and flammable items. If the cord feels warm, it’s an indication there may be an electrical issue.

Members can request safety presentations from David Young for their school, organization, or community group. Contact him at 802-224-2340 or