There are several areas in your home that can easily be checked to greatly eliminate risk of electrical hazards. Wall outlets should be checked for loose-fitting plugs, which can overheat and lead to fire. Never force a plug into an outlet. If the plug does not fit into the outlet, it should not be plugged in. Along those same lines, never remove a ground prong from a three-prong plug so that it can fit into a two-prong outlet, as this can cause electrical shock. Do not overload plugs or circuits with too many items. Make sure all switch plate covers are secure and take care to cover wall outlets when children are around. If you notice any discolored or hot outlet plates, take action immediately, as this may indicate a dangerous heat build up and possible fire threat.
Power cords and extension cords are also a potential safety concern. Make sure you are only using cords in good condition, with no frayed or cracked housing. Never nail or staple an extension cord to the wall or baseboard and do not place cords in high-traffic areas, or under items such as rugs, carpets, or furniture. Keep in mind that extension cords are not permanent wiring and should not be used for prolonged periods of time. Additionally, use power cords approved by Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) or another independent testing facility. Make sure the cord has been rated for the type of application you need it for.
Check your light fixtures and light bulbs. Does the wattage of the light bulb exceed the recommendation on the fixture? If so, replace it immediately with a light bulb that does not have higher wattage than what has been recommended by the manufacturer. Make sure the bulb is screwed in tightly, as loose light bulbs may overheat and can be a potential safety hazard.
Ensure that all appliances, from kitchen to bathroom, are certified by an independent testing laboratory, such as UL, CSA, or MET Labs, and follow the manufactures instructions carefully.
When it comes to circuit breakers in your home, get familiar with them. Create a map to outline all outlets, rooms, fixtures, and appliances and where they are on your circuit breaker. Circuit breakers and fuses should be the correct size and rating for their circuit. Never replace a fuse with a different size from the one you are removing.
Required in homes since the early 1970's, consider a GFCI, or ground fault circuit interrupter, on all general-purpose circuits in your home. A GFCI can prevent accidental shock and electrocution by shutting off a circuit when a "leak" of electric current is detected off the circuit. GFCIs should be tested monthly and after every major electrical storm.
AFCIs, or arc fault circuit interrupters, help prevent fires resulting from outlets, switches, and frayed or cracked power cords. The AFCI senses the particular signature of an arc and acts to immediately shut off the circuit. AFCIs are required in all new home construction in bedroom circuits, but should be considered as a safety measure in all homes and on general-purpose circuits.
In summary, there are many simple steps you can take to ensure safe electrical habits are used in your home. If you have questions about avoiding electrical hazards or how to further protect your home, consult a trusted electrician who can ensure your home is up to code and safe for you and your family.
1 See Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and the Electrical Safety Foundation International's safety tips at: http://na.iiaa.org/ESSafetyTips_FINAL.pdf.