Home more than 20 years old? Here’s why you need an electrical system checkup

Modern homes are jam-packed with devices and equipment that run all or most of the day – and that means your home’s electrical system is constantly working hard. If your home’s more than 20-years-old, a simple checkup on your electrical system is worth it to help you rest assured your power needs can be met safely and effectively.

Older homes can be underpowered

The first step is to make sure your panel can provide enough power, which is measured in amperes, or “amps.” The age of your home can be an important clue. The older your home, the more likely it is to have a smaller panel with less capacity to power your stuff.

  • Houses built in the ‘40s and ‘50s had 60-amp service, which would be very low by today’s standards.
  • In the ‘60s and ‘70s, 100-amp service became more common – better than earlier service, but still low by modern standards.
  • In the ‘80’s, 200-amp became more common to accommodate the growing electrical demand of the various equipment in the home.
  • Nowadays, homes are being built with 400- and even 600-amp service to accommodate the equipment and systems for everyday living.

More stuff increases demand

Home appliances and large equipment like air conditioners are typically the biggest power users in a house, which is why we recommend upgrading these systems if possible and maintaining them vigilantly.

While appliances have become more energy efficient, the electrical demand and the number of connected devices in our homes have exploded over the last generation.

Computers, mobile devices, smartphones, connected home technology, large televisions – all of these new technologies change the electrical dynamics of your home. And of course, let’s not forget blow dryers, curling irons and other things we plug in each day.

Fire safety is a top priority

Every year, fire departments across the country respond to nearly 48,000 residential fires involving electricity, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Reduce the potential for an electrical fire in your home by addressing what the U.S. Fire Administration says are the most common causes of home electrical fires.

1.  Examine your switches and outlets

Improperly working outlets and switches can be a potential fire hazard. Contact a licensed electrician immediately if you find outlets or switches that are:

  • Warm to the touch
  • Discolored
  • Buzzing or crackling
  • Loose-fitting

2.  Inspect your cords

Damaged cords can have exposed wires that are both a fire and shock hazard, and should be replaced immediately. Other electrical cord safety tips:

  • Don’t run cords under carpet or rugs – it restricts natural air cooling
  • Never remove the grounding plug for an appliance cord – appliances require the extra electrical load a three pronged outlet is designed to handle
  • Never attach cords with nails or staples as they can pinch, cut or damage wire strands

3.  Limit extensions to temporary use

Extension cords are designed for temporary use. Using them for permanent power may damage the cord and create a fire or shock hazard. If a plug’s too far, have a licensed electrician install new outlets or move the equipment closer to an existing, appropriate power source. Also: Don’t wrap up cords while they’re in use – it can increase overheating and fire potential.

4.  Check your bulbs and fixtures

Light fixtures, lamps and light bulbs are another common cause of electrical fires. Install bulbs that are the correct wattage – otherwise, the bulb could overheat and create a fire hazard. If you’re unsure of the wattage, use bulbs of 60 watts or less. Be careful with lamps, too: Never place anything over lampshades because they can heat up and cause a fire.

5.  Have a pro look at your wiring 

Outdated wiring can result in electrical fire. Older homes may not have the wiring capacity to handle the increased demand from modern appliances, equipment and devices. Have the breaker box checked out too: Outdated breaker boxes could have worn connectors that do not work properly and that could cause the system to overload and start an electrical fire.

6.  Keep track of tripped breakers

Breakers and fuses are safety devices that help prevent overloading your home’s electrical system and prevent fires. Frequently tripped breakers or blown fuses can indicate a serious condition that should be checked by a licensed electrician immediately.

7.  Upgrade to arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs)

AFCIs are advanced circuit breakers that provide improved fire protection. Consider having a licensed electrician replace standard circuit breakers with AFCIs. If you already have them installed, verify they’re working by using the “TEST” button once a month. AFCIs can stop working without showing signs of failure, so regular testing is necessary.

Protect your family and property and reduce your risk of a fire by taking steps to protect your homes electrical system.

 

© 2016 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only. All recommendations are general guidelines and are not intended to be exhaustive or complete, nor are they designed to replace information or instructions from the manufacturer of your equipment. Contact your equipment service representative or manufacturer with specific questions.

Ernest Freeman

Vice President of Engineering in Hartford Steam Boiler's Loss Control Engineering Group, with over 37 years of experience in equipment operation and maintenance. He is a member of The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) and is a Certified Energy Auditor (CEA).

4 comments

  • All the Items are good for an Electrical Inspection any time for a home.The only thing I could add after 20 years or upon purchase of a home is to have a qualified Electrician check out the service equipment incoming power connections, from the service drop through the meter and to the distribution panel. Inspect for looseness of connections and evidence of connection heating. Another Item that rarely gets checked is the panel or meter base connection to the ground rod. Make certin this connection is tight and the connecting hardware is sound and in good condition.(Make certin when handeling the ground wire or rod the service power is dis- connected) this should only be done by a qualified Electrician or a Power Utility Company.

  • It would be smart to hire a professional to come and check up on all of your electrics. That way, you don’t run the risk of harming yourself if you try doing it by yourself. They are pro’s for a reason, so it would be smart to let them do the work!

  • Fantastic article for the homeowner to check up on their electrical work before it could turn into a big problem. Checking cords, switches and outlets is essential to a family’s safety.

  • I am from a smaller town that has a lot of history behind it with numerous older buildings. The downtown area has beautiful old homes and buildings that are still lived in and have businesses run in them too. Unfortunately this hits home a little bit because two of the buildings have both had fires cause by some sort of electrical issue. Definitely makes sense to have a checkup. I think it passes most peoples minds to have something like this done but just proves to be right seeing what has happened to the older businesses in my town. Nice article!

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