Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Electrical Home Inspection

I spent a good chunk of this weekend teaching merit badge classes to young Boy Scouts, because I'm an Eagle Scout and it's what I do. My usual merit badge is Electricity, because it's what I know. One of the requirements for the badge is to conduct a basic electrical inspection of your home. Since I asked my boys to do it, I took the opportunity to do a quick inspection of my home, and I encourage everyone to do the same.

The checklist I use is from usscouts.org. It's basic enough to be simple, but complete enough to actually find common and critical problems. While the whole list is available at the link, I'd like to cover some of the more common and more critical elements here.

Cords, Plugs, and Outlets
The vast majority of electrical issues are found in this area. Cords and plugs are exposed to an incredible amount of wear and tear, and outlets get overlooked a lot.
  • Any time you pick up a tool or appliance that has a cord, check the cord for damage. Look for cracked or frayed insulation, exposed wires, and damaged plugs. 
  • Ensure that any plug that had 3 prongs from the factory remains that way. 
  • When you plug in to an outlet, make sure the plug fits securely and doesn't hang loose. 
  • Check the cover plates on your outlets and switches. Live power connects right behind them, and they play a critical role in keeping children and pets from getting shocked. 
  • Avoid running cords across hallways or doors, and don't cover them with a carpet or rug. All of these things accelerate wear. 
  • Do not staple a cord to a baseboard or wall. Staples will wear through insulation and can cause dangerous short circuits.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters
GFCI plugs provide protection from shock in wet areas. They are required in areas like kitchens, bathrooms, outdoor areas, and others. They're commonly identified by two buttons in their face labeled Test and Reset.

These outlets should be tested regularly (I do mine monthly):
  1. Simply press the button labeled Test. 
  2. The Reset button should pop out with an audible click, and the outlet will lose power. 
  3. Press the reset button, and power will be restored. 
  4. If power doesn't restore, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
    • Inside all of your light fixtures should be a sticker or stamp giving a maximum bulb wattage. 
    • Stamped on each bulb is a rated wattage. 
    • Ensure that you don't use bulbs with a higher wattage rating than the fixture they're installed in. 
    • Excessively large bulbs can overload fixtures and cause a fire. 
    Space Heaters and Halogen Lamps
    These get grouped together because they both have the same major concern; they get hot. They also see a lot of use this time of year.
    • Keep them away from children, as they can cause severe burns quite easily. 
    • Make sure halogen lamps on poles cannot tip over. 
    • Keep all flammable materials clear, as these items can easily start a fire.

    Electricity is entirely safe, as long as you give it proper respect and concern. It's only when you approach it with a cavalier attitude that you get bitten.


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