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Handling Electrical Quirks in Older Homes



Electrical hazards can be present in any home, but older houses are more likely to present problems that can lead to dangerous outcomes. Whether you live in an older home or know someone who does, it's important to know the common quirks that come with the territory. Read on for David Gray's advice.

1. Lack of Outlets

Older homes often suffer from a lack of adequate electrical outlets - which makes sense since past generations did not rely nearly as heavily on electronic devices as we do today. However, less outlets mean heavier use of extension cords and power strips. Both of these should be used carefully to minimize the risk of electrical hazards like sparking.

Make it a point to only purchase heavy-duty extension cords (14-gauge or thicker), as thinner cords are more prone to overheat. For power strips, pay close attention to the wattage that the strip can safely handle and make a point to learn how much wattage your devices are using so as not to overload the strip. It's also important to only purchase power strips that include surge protection to minimize the risk of an electrical fire.

However, the best solution to too few outlets is simply to add more. A certified electrician can examine your home, cut holes in walls and ceilings as necessary and snake the wires to new outlets. This will relieve the "pressure" from overloaded outlets and provide a long-term solution throughout your house.

2. Overlamping

Overlamping is when a light fixture has a bulb with a higher wattage than the fixture is designed for. This is more common in older homes, where dated fixtures may not have a listed wattage limit, or any dates may have faded away over time. This means homeowners are more likely to screw in any bulb that fits and assume the wattage is correct based on socket size.

This not only presents a code violation, but it can also be a high-danger hazard. When a bulb's wattage is too high for its fixture, the bulb will heat up to intense levels, increasing the risk of arcing. Arcing - electrical sparking that "jumps" from wire to wire - is one of the main causes of electrical fires. Plus, damage from overlamping will permanently affect the socket and wires on an electrical fixture.

If you are unsure of the wattage limit on your light fixtures, call an electrician to inspect and potentially replace the fixture. In the meantime, play it safe by using only 60-watt bulbs or smaller, and check on the fixture often.

3. Missing GFCIs

A ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40 of a second. Many older homes either don't have GFCIs, have ones that are outdated or not working, or have ones that are not placed to current electrical code. Codes today require GFCIs within four feet of any sink and on all garage, basement and outdoor outlets.

Without proper GFCIs, appliances and other electronics have a higher risk of electrocution in wet areas, such as baths and kitchens. Luckily, replacing old receptables with GFCIs is both simple and inexpensive. Your electrician can also install GFCI breakers on your main electrical panel.

If you need help upgrading an older home to meet today's electrical code - or you just need someone to ensure your home's electrical system is safe and functioning properly - call David Gray Electrical. Our licensed electricians can examine your home and ensure optimal performance. To learn more, call (904) 605-8190.