Recently we met a Richmond family who, thankfully, had only lost their home from a house fire. Our hearts in our throat’s as we listened to their story of almost losing their son due to faulty wiring in the kitchen, we couldn’t help but admire their focus on what was most important – that they all survived.  

Sadly, according to the National Fire Protection Association (Link), on average, seven (7) people die in a home fire every day, with nineteen percent (19%) of those deaths resulting from electrical distribution and lighting.  The report also analyzed the origination of the fires, estimating that sixteen percent (16%) of fires between 2012-2016 started in the kitchen (Full Report Link).

While my husband (the home inspector), automatically recognizes visible warning signs in the homes he inspects, it made me wonder what were some things that I, as a homeowner, should recognize as potential issues.  Here are some of his and others suggestions:

  1. Water + Electricity = Danger – While you definitely want to have a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet or line with a GFCI Circuit breaker used for areas close to water, it’s also a good idea to have these same protective measures on lines that will have heavy usage. Follow this LINK to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s GFCI Fact Sheet to learn more.
  2. Frequently blown fuses or tripped breakers – when we first moved into our house, my daughter and I could never use our hair dryers at the same time without tripping one of the breakers. While I found it tedious to have to go down to the basement to flip the switch back on, Tom recognized it as something that needed to be fixed living with two females.  He warns that had the fuse blown by only one of us using our hair dryer at a time, that he would have prevented us from using that outlet, concerned that the circuit was being overloaded.  If this happens to you, contact a professional to see if either an upgrade to the circuit is needed or adding a new line might be the best solution.
  3. The Nose Knows!!! – If you’re smelling fishy smells, rotten egg / sulfur, urine-like, or burnt plastic smells near outlets, switches or walls, you need to immediately turn off the power and contact an electrician. While the rotten egg / sulfur and urine-like smells could be indicative of sewer leaks or a dead animal in the walls, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  4. Spooky Flickering Lights – If your lights are dimming or flickering, and their NOT those specialty lights designed to do so, this could be a sign that there’s a power drain on that line as light fixtures typically draw a small amount of power. This is another example of needing to possibly reroute switches or have a new line installed – so get that electrician on the phone.
  5. Buzzing? – We don’t typically associate sound with our household wiring – that’s because typically the electricity is smoothly and quietly flowing between connections.  Current jumping causes a buzzing sound and could indicate that there are loose prongs, outlets, or faulty wiring. 
  6. Heat & Sparks – While sparks might be an obvious red flag for improper wiring, we don’t always go around touching our outlets or switch plates for heat.

One thing we do suggest when hiring an Electrical Contractor is to check the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation’s License Database (LINK).