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Electrical Fires

Alternative Wiring Products

A Fine Mess

Electrical inspections typically aren't required when houses are sold, which means that worn-out wiring and "fixes" made by previous owners often aren't discovered until they cause problems.

During the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, many homebuilders substituted less-expensive aluminum wiring for copper wiring in branch circuits-the circuits that feed electricity from a house's main circuit panel to its rooms. While aluminum was believed to be a safe substitute, it didn't prove to be over time, as the wiring oxidized and loosened at connections, resulting in arcs and overheating.

Many home electrical systems have been upgraded to safer copper wiring, thanks to a public information campaign conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. However, experts believe that thousands of homes from this era have yet to be repaired and are still at risk.

Aluminum wiring is permitted, and is commonly used, for main incoming lines and any dedicated 220-volt loads such as stoves or ovens. Houses that have aluminum branch wiring can be made safer by replacing outlets and switches with aluminum-rated outlets and switches-a cheaper solution than rewiring with copper wire.

Signs of Problems

How do you know if your house's electrical wires are a potential fire risk? The following is a list of warning signs that you shouldn't ignore:

  • Flickering lights

  • Outlets that feel hot to the touch

  • Circuit breakers that repeatedly trip

If any of this is going on in your home, disconnect all appliances that are plugged into the overworked circuits and call a licensed electrician right away.

Other Causes of Electrical Fires

Animals like squirrels and other rodents are a leading cause of fires with unknown origins. Typically, it's their lifelong need to chew that causes the problems, but their nests can also be fire hazards.

Lightning strikes cause almost 20,000 fires every year. Most happen outside, but they can and do happen indoors, too, thanks to the natural attraction between the electrical currents in wiring and lightning bolts.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Common Household Disasters © 2005 by Paul Hayman and Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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