In New Zealand, electrical fires are one of the leading causes of house fires. What’s truly unfortunate is that many of these fires could have been avoided if the proper safety measures had been taken.

Let’s review some common causes of electrical fires and what you can do to prevent them.

Old wiring

Cables aren’t meant to last forever, which might sound like an obvious statement, but since old wiring is one of the major causes of electrical fires, it needs to be said.

Wiring wears out over time. It starts to crumble, gets damaged, or it simply isn’t the most up-to-date anymore. However, when a cable starts to near the end of its life, it doesn’t simply just stop working – it becomes dangerous.

Take switchboards, for example. Older switchboards aren’t usually fitted with protective Residual Circuit Breakers (RCDs), specifically designed to prevent electrical fires and shocks. This means that an older switchboard will not protect you against a shock or fire if an electrical wire is disturbed.

In our ever increasing digital world, we are relying more and more on plugging in. Older wiring, like old extension cords, are just not built to take on a computer, iPad, iPhone charger, and TV all at once. This could cause an overload which would lead to a fire.

What to do:

Get an expert in to assess your switchboard and wiring. By performing a switchboard upgrade, your electrician might be able to identify some potential risky faults that would not otherwise be obvious (until it was too late!)

They can also conduct a safety audit of your home’s electrical wiring and identify any other faults.


Circuit overload

Even though old wiring cannot support the weight of all the new technology, that doesn’t mean newer extension cords don’t have their limits.

Extension cords can overload, even modern ones, if there are too many electronics plugged in at once. Sockets are designed to handle a certain amount, and when that amount is exceeded, it can combust.

The longer the extension cord, the lower the current-carrying capacity gets. Be aware of how long your cord is, and consider how many devices and appliances you are plugging in.


What to do:

Don’t buy cheap when you get an extension cord! For a few extra dollars, get the better quality ones as they are likely to be safer.

Make sure the cord is placed away from flammable things like rugs and keep it out of the way, so no one is tripping over it. If you find you are constantly using your extension cord or are worried you are overloading it, get an electrician to come in and install more outlets to accommodate your appliances.


Light fixtures

Lights, light fixtures, and lamps are also common electrical fire culprits. It’s important to remember that light bulbs aren’t one-size-fits-all and aren’t interchangeable.

Similar to extension cords, lamps have their limits, and not all bulbs will work for every light. Bulbs with higher wattages than a lamp’s or light fixture’s capacity can result in a fire.

You should also be careful not to hang clothes on lamps or place them too close to cloth materials as these can act as kindling.

What to do:

Always check the maximum wattage, ensure that the bulb and the lamp are compatible, and keep all lights away from flammable materials like curtains.

If you notice flickering lights even after you’ve replaced the bulb, get an electrician in to check the switches.


Portable Heaters

Everyone likes to be snuggled up and warm in the winter. But the cost of heating your home can be more than just your heating bill.

Portable heaters are a cheap and convenient way of getting your home warm in the colder season. However, they are also a common cause of electrical fires.

If you decide to use a portable heater, you should always plug it directly into the wall and never into an extension cord. You should also never leave one running while you’re sleeping or when you leave the house.

Like old switchboards, older portable heaters probably won’t have the most up-to-date safety features, so it’s always best to go with a newer model.


What to do:

Keep in mind where you place your heater. Don’t use an extension cord – plug directly into an outlet

The safest option is to get a heat pump installed, as these don’t pose as much of a fire risk.

Our trusted team of electricians at This Is Electric takes safety very seriously, and we want to ensure that your home is in the best condition it can be.

Get in contact with us today to see how we can ensure the safety of your home.