you want to be able to take your home’s electrical
system for granted. It should power your lights and
appliances reliably, safely and invisibly.
it’s important to notice warning signs that an
experienced professional should examine a system. Our
researchers compiled these indicators, based on
interviews with highly rated electricians:
lights, a sizzling sound when lights are switched on or
off, plugs that spark, plugs that fit loosely in
receptacles or lights that dim when appliances start.
These may signal a loose wiring connection, which can be
a fire hazard.
in a wire, extension cord or fuse box. This may indicate
a faulty or unsafe wiring connection, which could cause
an overload and lead to fire.
breaker that repeatedly trips, indicating an overloaded
breaker that never trips, especially in an older home.
That may be a sign that your wiring system lacks
adequate electrical safeguards.
make sure you know what kind of wiring winds through
your home. Copper is the ideal material. Pre-1940s
knob-and-tube wiring and 1960s-era aluminum wiring are
associated with greater fire risk.
systems feature porcelain knobs that anchor wires to
studs and floor joists and insulated tubes that carry
wires through walls and other obstructions. Such systems
have separate hot and neutral wires that run parallel to
each other and dissipate heat into the air. They can
become a fire hazard if overburdened, improperly
retrofitted or come in contact with insulation.
with aluminum wire generally occur at connections, where
exposed aluminum wire may rust, resisting current flow
and generating heat. Aluminum also expands and contracts
in response to load and temperature changes differently
than copper or other materials, so connections between
aluminum and other metals can lead to problems that
you live in an older home and aren’t certain of its
wiring type or safety status, schedule an inspection by
a licensed, experienced electrician.
the case of knob-and-tube systems, you may be able to
upgrade one room at a time, especially during a
remodeling. With aluminum systems, an electrician may
recommend total replacement with copper, or may replace
connection points where aluminum wire is exposed to
other metal types or air.
matter what kind of wiring you have, experts recommend
these do-it-yourself safety steps:
GFCI receptacles monthly to be sure they’re working
properly. The initials stand for "Ground Fault
Circuit Interrupter." GFCI receptacles have
"test" and "reset" buttons. Press
the test button to turn the receptacle off. The reset
button turns it back on.
sure your home has enough smoke detectors. The U.S. Fire
Administration suggests installing one in each sleeping
area and on every level of the home, including the
basement. Test batteries regularly and replace once a
appliances and electronic equipment for old or broken
plugs and cords. Replace anything that’s frayed,
tattered, or worn.
repairs to an experienced electrician who is
appropriately licensed, bonded and insured. Ask also
about whether parts, labor or both are under warranty
and how long that warranty is effective.