Real Estate Talk Boston

Is Your Electrical System Safe?

By: Wayne Czybora/Licensed Home Inspector


You flip a switch and the light goes on. You open the refrigerator door and your food is cold. You press the TV remote button and you get to watch your favorite show. All is well with your electrical system, right? Don’t count on it. There could be an electrical fire just waiting to happen.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), approximately 46,500 home fires occurred in 2010, resulting in $1.5 billion in property damage, 420 deaths and 1,520 injuries.
Faulty wiring is the leading cause of residential fires and the older your house is, the greater the chances that the wiring might be unsafe.

Here is a list of some of the warning signs that homeowners should pay attention to:

-Breakers that trip or fuses that blow repeatedly
-Flickering or dimming lights
-Deteriorated wire insulation
-Sizzling or buzzing sounds emanating from the electrical system
-A tingling sensation when you touch an appliance-
-Warm, discolored or sparking outlets
-Sparks observed in the electrical system
-A persistent burning smell from a room or appliance
-No ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets at the required rooms

If your house has old knob and tube wiring, which dates back to the early 1900’s, it is not uncommon to replace it with modern wiring. At the very least, it should be inspected annually by an electrician to ensure its safety. This type of wiring can become brittle in some areas due to its age and can heat up and cause a fire. It is also very possible that there are exposed wires in some areas that will result in a shock, if touched.

If you do have modern wiring, make sure you have the proper over-current devices (breakers or fuses) in the electrical panel. A breaker or fuse that is too large for the corresponding wire that leads to it can allow the wire to overheat and cause a fire.

Houses built in the 1960’s and 1970’s may have aluminum wiring instead of copper wiring. The reason for this is because aluminum was cheaper than copper during that time period. There is a greater chance of thermal expansion with aluminum wiring which can cause loose wire connections at the panel, switches, outlets and junction boxes. This can result in a fire, as well.
One recommended approach to aluminum wiring is to replace it. Although it is possible to live safely with aluminum wiring but it needs to be inspected by an electrician to ensure the proper steps have been taken to eliminate the possibility of a fire.

Do not overload your circuits with too many power strips or extension cords. If this type of situation exists, there is a good chance you need to upgrade your electrical system.

Replace your outlets with Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) if you have not already done so. These safety devices will shut the power off to the outlet, should arcing occur.

Do not try to force 3-pronged plugs into 2-slotted outlets. You will end up with ungrounded equipment/appliances.

Till next time….stay safe !

For more information you can contact Wayne directly at

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