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10 Most Common Causes of an Electrical Fire

10 Most Common Causes of an Electrical Fire

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue suggest that electrical fires account for about two thirds of all accidental house fires, with appliances being one of the most common causes. Given the significant financial, physical, and emotional toll associated with such a distressing experience, it’s crucial to take precautions to adequately protect your property and prevent the development of a fire.

Untested and unregulated electrical appliances, alongside faulty wiring and overloaded circuits are some of the most common causes of electrical fires. Regardless of whether or not it’s in a commercial, industrial or residential setting, it is important to be aware of the hazards you electrical systems and belongings may pose.

When assessing your property for electrical fire hazards, you may want to consider:

  1. Faulty electrical sockets
  2. Too many extension leads
  3. Faulty electric heaters
  4. Faulty light features
  5. Faulty electric blankets
  6. Overloaded circuits
  7. Old or faulty wiring
  8. Inadequate/non-existent electrical conduits
  9. Other old or faulty appliances
  10. Poor maintenance

We’ve delved into each of these potential hazards to help you understand why they pose a risk.

1: Faulty Electrical Sockets

Electrical fires are commonly caused by faulty electrical outlets, where the wiring behind the sockets and within the outlets can degrade over time, leading to improper grounding. Using these sockets can lead to a loose and dangerous connection which can then result in a fire.

To avoid this, ensure you review your electrical sockets regularly to spot any necessary repairs before a fire occurs.

2: Too Many Extension Leads

Having a large amount of appliances plugged into one extension lead may result in an excessive power load through a single socket, pushing the outlet beyond its capacity. This issue may also occur when multiple extension leads are connected to a singular socket.

Extension leads should ideally be used as a temporary solution rather than a permanent socket. Wherever possible, it is best to stick to appliances being used within singular sockets.

If an extension lead must be used, you should consider the power load of each appliance and whether the socket in your property can handle the level of power required.

3: Faulty Electric Heaters

In the colder months, many will opt for an electric heater that can be moved around a building to stay warm. However, when these types of heaters are used for an extended period of time, the risk they pose to your property increases. Electrical heaters can often overheat and they may also be at risk of causing an electrical fire if they’re placed too close to combustible surfaces like curtains, beds, clothing, chairs, sofas and carpets.

Use these heaters in short bursts to avoid an electrical fire or opt for a radiator-type heater that diffuses heat over the entire surface of the appliance. Ensure they placed well away from anything flammable.

Electric heater.

4: Faulty Light Features

Faulty light features are another common cause of electrical fires, often seen with lamps, lightbulbs and light fittings. For example, if a bulb with a high wattage is used for a significant period of time, an electrical fire can start. They can also start an electrical fire if combustible materials are placed over a bulb such as cloth or paper.

Keep all bulbs free of excessive material and ensure their electrical input is appropriate.

5: Faulty Electric Blankets

If you have an old, low-quality or broken electric blanket, you are at risk of causing an electrical fire. While most electric blankets have safety features built in to avoid overheating, the blanket may still malfunction by overheating and catching fire.

To avoid this, ensure your electric blanket is up to current safety standards, and that there is no wear-and-tear to any of the electrical components. Thoroughly read the manual before using it to make sure you are following any required preventive measures.

6: Overloaded Circuits

Another common cause of electrical fires includes overloaded circuits. Similarly to the use of too many extension leads, if a circuit is exceeding the rated load for the circuit, the wiring will trip the breaker and then close down the entire circuit.

If there is no breaker to close the circuit, the insulation could then melt from the overheated circuit and cause an electrical fire.

Overloaded extension lead.

7: Old or Faulty Wiring

Older or faulty wiring can lead to an electrical fire if you’re not careful. By plugging in more modern electrical appliances and larger numbers of appliances in general, the socket can quickly overload and break. This can then cause the system to overheat, melting the surrounding plastic and often resulting in a fire.

Melting wire.

8: Inadequate/Non-Existent Electrical Conduits

One of the most common causes of many electrical fires, an inadequate or lack of electrical conduit can quickly cause a serious issue within a building. Skipping a conduit can lead to insufficient sheathing of the wires, which without, the wires can overheat and cause a fire or be wrongly wired in the first place and result in dangerous fires.

9: Other Old or Faulty Appliances

Similar to old or faulty wiring, plugging in and using an old or outdated appliance can result in an electrical fire. The older an appliance is, the less likely it is going to be up to standard regarding the wattage usage, the quality of the materials they’re made of and the safety regulations they were originally made to.

Toaster on fire.

Worn cords and loose connections are key signs you may need to update or quality check your appliance. For more information which specific appliances are more likely to cause a fire, read our blog ‘Which white goods can be a fire risk’.

10: Poor Maintenance

Poor maintenance of sockets, wiring, appliances and general electrical items can often result in electrical fires. This is due to the breakdown of insulation, and the loose connections that can cause sparking and wattage requirements being missed. Ensure that anything electrical in your property is well maintained and monitored to avoid fires.

FAQs About Electrical Fires:

Are There Warning Signs Before An Electrical Fire?

Most warning signs of electrical fires are invisible and odourless and include discoloured or charred outlets and switches, a tripping circuit breaker and a persistent burning plastic smell.

What Does An Electrical Fire Smell Like?

Electrical fires are known for smelling like burning plastic and have a very acrid smell. If you smell something burning that seems like an electrical fire, you are likely nearby a serious issue regarding an electrical socket or appliance.

Can An Electrical Fire Start If Nothing Is Plugged In?

Yes. If an electrical socket is not wired correctly, well-maintained or has had an issue in the past that wasn’t correctly resolved, it can catch fire without being plugged in.

What Are The Most Likely Causes of Electrical Fires In The Workplace?

Overall, faulty electrical equipment is one of the most common causes of electrical fires in the workplace. This can easily be prevented by conducting the appropriate PAT testing when needed and general health and safety advice and precautions being provided to employees using any electrical appliance.

Need Extra Support? Call Rainbow Restoration Today

Electrical fires are a scary reality that many face, and they can cause serious and expensive damage. If you’ve recently been the victim of an electrical fire and you need a team of understanding specialists to restore your property back to its former glory, get in touch with us today on our 24 hour national helpline: 01623 422488.

We specialise in electrical fire damage restoration services and have been serving the UK for over 30 years. We will endeavour to ensure your property is safe and ready for your return.

For further tips and guidance on the topic of fire safety, please refer to our Property Hub campaign ‘Be Fire Ready‘.

Published: 29 Mar 2024