Saturday night in Christchurch. It’s dark outside, you’re curled up on the couch with your dog and a nice cup of tea. You’ve just watched an episode of Riverdale, the latest series about the mysterious murder of Jason Blossom on Netflix.
Suddenly, there’s a loud bang! The lights flicker for a second then go out completely. Your heart starts racing as you realize that it must be one of those electrical hazards that we see in NZ homes all too often – but what is it?
How do you prevent it from happening again? Let’s explore 5 dangerous electrical hazards in NZ homes, how to prevent them, and when it might be time to call your trusted electrician.
1) Faulty Switches or Outlets
Christchurch has many homes that are very old and have electrical wiring that is quite dated. It’s not a bad idea to check that it is safe. This includes checking for loose or improper connections with the wiring, switches, or outlets.
Fortunately, there are a few tell-tale signs that you can look out for to prevent potential risks.
One of the most common signs is tripping of the circuit breakers or fuses. In addition, there may be intermittent or regular flickering of appliances and lights. You may also hear odd buzzing or humming sounds coming from the power outlets.
If you notice a burning or acrid smell near your outlet, it’s time to call an electrician for help!
Older wiring will not automatically cause a fire, but it can be an indication that there are other problems with your wiring which could lead to unsafe conditions in your home. You can check whether you are at risk of this by having a registered electrician come out and inspect the house.
2) Overloaded Electrical Outlet
This is a very common hazard in NZ homes. While it may not be dangerous, you should always avoid overloading outlets with too many plugs or appliances as it can potentially cause damage to them and pose a fire risk.
If circuit breakers in your home are tripping frequently, it could be down to circuit overload. Prevent this by:
- Never daisy-chain power boards.
- Remove devices that aren’t in use (for example, phone chargers still draw power even when not connected).
- Spread your electrical needs around. Don’t overburden a single circuit.
- Be mindful of how you connect devices around the home – what’s in use, and what is unnecessary.
3) Cracked Electrical Cords
Cords, plugs, multi-boxes, and associated safety equipment like residual current devices (RCDs) all need to be in good condition to prevent fires and electric shocks.
This is one of the most dangerous electrical hazards in NZ homes, as it can cause fire. You should immediately unplug any cords that look damaged and get them replaced by an electrician before using them again.
Extension cords are designed for temporary use of appliances remote from a wall socket. If they are used in a more permanent capacity a wall socket should be installed. When in use the lead should be completely unwound, this is due to heat build-up when leads are tightly wound or still in a coil.
- Always ensure the cable is unplugged before checking for damage.
- Make sure cords are in good condition. Frayed, cracked or damaged cords are dangerous and may result in fire or cause an electric shock.
- Make sure the outer sheath is not damages by cuts, cracking or fraying.
- Check there are no internal wires which are exposed or twisted, and there are no signs of overheating or burning on plugs (and on sockets of an extension cord).
- Any cables which have been ‘repaired’ using tape should not be used. Check the cable entry and anchor points into plugs, sockets, or equipment are secure and no internal coloured insulation of the wires is exposed.
- Extension cords are intended for temporary use only. If a permanent power source is required where an extension lead is in use, ask a licenced electrician to install a power socket.
- If an extension lead is being used outside, always use an RCD or isolating transformer to protect you from a fatal electric shock if the cord becomes damaged while you are using it.
- Always unplug cords when not in use. It is a good idea to connect the plug and socket of extension cords together when they are not being used to prevent the pins from getting damaged.
4) Faulty Bulbs
This is another common electrical hazard that every homeowner should be aware of.
A lot of homes in Christchurch have very old light fittings.
Check all lights – both old and new – for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. If you are unsure about their safety, have them checked by a licensed electrical worker.
An overheated light bulb can easily cause a fire in your home, so you need to pay close attention anytime you are changing them. Although it may not always happen quickly, the temperature inside the lamp will increase over time and eventually crack – so try to avoid touching the bulb if you see this happening or wait a few minutes for it to cool down before changing.
If your light bulbs are giving off an unusual smell, immediately turn them off and replace with new ones!
5) Electrical Surges
In addition to all of these electrical hazards in NZ homes, there’s always one other way that they can get dangerous – power surges. Electrical surges can be caused by anything from lightning strikes, damage to power lines, faulty appliances and bad electrical wiring in the house.
If you’re not careful, these can ruin appliances and electronics in your home that are sensitive to power fluctuations. While an actual surge only lasts a microsecond, frequent surges can damage the electrical components connected to your home, degrading their life expectancy significantly.
Go through you house and remove any cheaply made devices or power boards from the outlet to see if this prevents the surges.
Otherwise, it might be time to consult a Christchurch electrician.