As we move into 2017, it’s easy to see just how much we rely on electronics. Our computers, smartphones, even smart homes keep us connected 24 hours a day. This constant use of electricity, however, does contribute to electrical risk. Let’s take a look at a few ways we can help keep ourselves safe in today’s highly plugged-in world.
1. Electrical Safety and Counterfeit Products
When it comes to our home electronics and appliances, we shop around. We want the very best price, and online shopping has made comparing prices for what appear to be the same products easier than ever.
The truth is: cheaper products aren’t always better – and they can pose serious threats to your safety.
In the past 20 years, the number of counterfeit products has increased by 10,000 percent. Hundreds of thousands of these are smartphone batteries, phone chargers, and other consumer electronics that we use every day. What makes them counterfeit is that they are not tested and approved to meet agreed-upon standards for safety and performance. This can lead to overheating, poor wiring, inaccurate wattage labels, and more.
These counterfeit products are major sources of electrical fires and other life-threatening hazards. Make sure that your products have an internationally-recognized label on them such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL). If there isn't a label, it looks suspicious, or it’s a certification you’ve never heard of, check it out.
2. Use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs – Safely
Regular incandescent light bulbs create a lot of heat and use a lot of energy. We’ve all heard that compact fluorescent bulbs are great for saving energy, and it’s true! Not only do these bulbs require far fewer replacements (some lasting up to 10 years), but they use far less energy, and that’s good for both the environment and your electric bill.
One safety component people may not know about, however, is the interior makeup of these bulbs and what to do if one breaks. The glass tubes of these bulbs contain a small quantity of mercury, which means that if one breaks, clean-up is very important. Here are the Environmental Protection Agency’s instructionson cleaning up a broken CFL bulb:
- Clear the room of other people and pets for at least 15 minutes (ventilate for 1-2 hours after clean-up if possible).
- Carefully clean up the debris and place in a glass jar (with the lid on, or in a sealed plastic bag).
- Do not vacuum as this can spread mercury vapor. Collect shards instead using duct tape or a damp cloth. Discard all clean-up materials into a sealed container.
- For states that require CFL recycling, dispose of the broken bulb at a recycling center. Otherwise, place the sealed containers in a trash receptacle outdoors.
As with incandescent bulbs, you should also always make sure the light switch is turned off before replacing any light bulb. Never jam a bulb into a poor-fitting socket, and always check that the bulb is rated correctly for that socket.
3. Consider an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI)
Have you ever drilled into the wall? How about used a power strip to give yourself more room to plug in electronics? Chances are, you have. These behaviors, while common, can contribute to something called arc faults, which raise your risk for arc-induced fires. Arc faults account for 300,000 fires in the U.S. every year.
For a few hundred dollars, a home can be upgraded with an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter to protect from such fires. Most homes build after 2008 (depending on your state) already have AFCIs, but many of us live in homes much older than that. Consult with a local specialist to find out if this is something you should seriously consider.
4. If Necessary, Rewire Your Home to Meet Today’s Demands
Nobody likes to think about the investment of time and money that will go into upgrading the wiring in their home. However, depending on your electrical needs and current setup, it could be incredibly important to keep you and your family safe. If you find that you’re tripping your circuit breaker by using everyday modern appliances like the microwave and TV simultaneously, it’s time to look into upgrading. If you have an older home, it’s even possible that you have aluminum wiring, which is a big fire hazard.
Electrical hazards are a real concern, and in today’s modern world, we rely on electrical devices for nearly everything we do. To keep ourselves, our families, and our homes safe, it’s essential that we learn a bit about electrical safety, be discerning when purchasing new electronics (especially online), and configure our homes to handle the amount of electricity we use on a daily basis.