When the cold weather of winter finally hits in this region, utility bills start to steadily climb. Even people who primarily heat their homes with something other than electrical energy (like heating oil, propane, or natural gas) find that electric bill going up. This time of year, we power many additional things in the home, from holiday lights to new appliances. The added strain on your home electrical system could be a recipe for several winter electrical problems. Here’s how to prevent some of the more common ones.
During the winter, we have so many appliances going that it can overburden you electrical system. If your lights flicker or you regularly throw a breaker, these are signs of an overburdened system. One reason for an overburdened system is a history of DIY electrical fixes without a full system upgrade. Plan to have an electrical inspection done by a professional and ask about the possibility of a heavy-up to upgrade the system and increase the amperage available. In the meantime, evaluate your usage and plan to upgrade any major appliances that are over ten years old (since they use a lot of energy even when they are off).
There are several electrical fire risks during the winter. The most recognizable of these is the tree. Live trees need to be watered every day and put out as soon as they are dry. Trees also need to be kept at a far enough distance from heat sources, even artificial trees. Damaged holiday lights are another risk factor in electrical fires. When you unpack your lights, check for signs of damage. Another fire risk in winter comes from static shocks, which are more common in the dry heated indoor air during the winter. Running a humidifier can combat this. Finally, extension cords are a danger for fires because they often don’t allow the circuit breaker to trip. They keep the circuit breaker from recognizing that an appliance is overheating and turning off. The cord can melt and be damaged and start a fire as a result.
Winter is usually the time to haul out old space heaters and electric blankets. These are great tools, but if they’re old, you need to thoroughly check them for wear, fraying, and damage. Generally speaking, these types of items should be replaced every five years. To use these safely and prevent electrical problems, make sure that you aren’t using extension cords with them, that you turn them off and unplug them when you leave the room, and that they have automatic emergency shutoff features.
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