Cleaning up the Industrial Industry

3 Electrical Dangers You Need To Know About

by Alfredo Harper

Electricity is so common a feature in our homes and workplaces that we tend to take it for granted, assuming that the "magic" will happen with its customary efficiency every time we flip a switch or plug in a cord. But this familiarity can breed its own form of contempt -- in the form of electrical failures, injuries, and possibly even deaths. That's why it pays to recognize potential electrical construction problems so you can address them before trouble strikes. Here are three electrical issues to watch out for.

1. Ungrounded or Improperly Grounded Outlets

Electricity always seeks a path to ground -- and without some grounding apparatus built into your electrical construction and appliances, that path to ground just might turn out to be you. Any modern electrical outlet should contain a third, rounded prong that makes contact with a ground wire. The ground wire plays a vital safety role in the event of a short circuit that prevents excess electricity from returning normally through the neutral wire in the outlet. If you own a "vintage" home employing old-fashioned electrical construction and layout methods, check to see whether it has a full complement of three-prong outlets.

Even an outlet that can accommodate the requisite trio of prongs may be wired incorrectly. This may leave you thinking the outlet is grounded when it really isn't, lulling you into a false sense of security until a short circuit reveals the problem all to suddenly. You can test an outlet yourself, using one of the home outlet testers available at home improvement shops. But if you get an abnormal reading on the tester, it's best to call in a professional electrician for the repair.

2. Incorrectly Terminated Wiring

Some of the electrical appliances in your home or facility, such as ceiling fans, were probably installed by carpenters or general handymen, not electrical construction experts. These folks aren't necessarily going to recognize an electrical hazard in the making, and they may take shortcuts that create such potential hazards as a result.

A common example is wiring that hasn't been capped, spliced, or otherwise terminated properly. A live wire that has has simply been snipped to expose a "hot" end could easily start a devastating fire. Touch it while it's powered, and you could electrocute yourself. Another possible fire hazard comes from spliced wires that are just hanging free or encased in a wooden electrical box instead of a proper, code-approved junction box.

3. Overhead Wire Problems

The electricity your use in your home is set at a much lower voltage that what goes to your house from the electric company's transformer. Those overhead power lines you see all over town may be carrying anything from several hundred volts all the up to 700,000 volts. The voltage is progressively stepped down as it reaches individual homes, but any overhead wire can deliver a lethal shock. Be on the lookout for the following potential dangers:

  • Overhead wires contacting trees - Don't let the trees on your property overgrow in the vicinity of an overhead wire. Trees may not be made or metal, but they can still conduct dangerous amounts of electricity from any power lines that rub against them. 
  • Damaged or fallen overhead wires - Strong storms or other natural disasters can occasionally pull an overhead wire down toward the ground. If you see anything like this happening on or near your property, keep everyone well away from the area and contact your electric company immediately.
  • Uninsulated connection points - Take a close look at the set of three wires that extend from the overhead wire to your home or building. If more than one of them (the neutral wire) appears to lack insulation, you've got a hazardous situation on your hands and you need to get the electric company to fix it.

Properly implemented and maintained electrical systems will allow you to keep enjoying the wondrous benefits of electricity safely and efficiently. If you have any doubts about your electrical construction, order a professional inspection to make sure it's in good shape.