Home Safety Advisory: Know the Warning Signs of Electrical Overloading

Prevent electrical overloading at home

Here’s an unpleasant fact that plagues our country and affects you. On average more than twice a day, every day of the year in your state, a house fire occurs because of electrical failure or circuit breaker malfunction.

As the infographic below points out, that’s over 47,000 house fires nationwide each year, killing 418, injuring more than 1,500 and creating $1.4 billion in property damage. Yes that’s a b as in billion. Will you be a victim of a house fire? You may think it’s unlikely. But it happens. By being aware now, you may help yourself avoid devastation in the future.

Overloaded circuits are a major contributor to home electrical fires. And the signs are all around:

  • Lights that flicker, dim or blink. No it’s not a poltergeist, but it may be bad or loose wiring.
  • Warm or discolored wall plates. This can be poor contacts or overloading.
  • A burning odor emanating from switches or outlets. That may well be melting wire coverings, and that deserves immediate attention.
  • Circuit breakers tripping often or regularly blown fuses. Often clear signs of overloading. Best to unplug what you can from any outlets and have a qualified electrician inspect.
  • Receptacles that crackle, sizzle or buzz. Like the odor issue, get professional help.
  • Any mild shock or even a tingle from appliances, receptacles or switches. If you can, turn off the power to that area or unplug until you can have an electrician examine.

Prevention is the best action

Knowing what to do around your house can help prevent a possible mishap. So don’t wait another moment. Sweep through your home and look for these simple examples of over stressing your electrical system and circuit breakers:

  • Say no to multi-outlet converters for appliances. Each heat producing appliance should have a dedicated wall receptacle outlet and that should be wired to a dedicated circuit on your main panel. These are usually reserves for large-draw household appliances like your furnace, range, built-in microwave and garbage disposal.
  • Don’t depend on extension cords. This means you most likely need more electrical outlets.
  • Remember power strips* just spread one outlet’s power around. Only use them for lower voltage items and if you must use a power strip never plug in more than 1 or 2 power cords to it.
  • When replacing light bulbs, use the appropriate watt bulb. Always align the bulb with the requirements of the lamp or fixture.

A better circuit breaker ?

While conventional circuit breakers respond to overloads and short circuits, they do not protect against arcing conditions that produce erratic, and often reduced current. An Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) is a more advanced circuit breaker that breaks the circuit when it detects dangerous electric arcing, which can cause house fires.

Since 2014, U.S. code has required AFCI breakers for outlets in most rooms in houses. The AFCI circuitry continuously monitors and can discriminate between normal and unwanted arcing conditions. Once an unwanted arcing condition is detected the AFCI breaks the circuit and turns off the power flowing to the outlet(s). This reduces the potential for a fire. is a great resource for information on home electrical safety. You can also visit their National Electric Safety Month 2016 page.

For more information about electric safety, visit Xcel Energy’s website at

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*Energy efficiency tips
Remember that when replacing incandescent bulbs with CFL (compact fluorescent) or LED (light emitting diode) bulbs, the equivalent amount of light will be lower wattage.

To help reduce vampire power waste, newer computers, televisions and monitors may be plugged into power strips to allow total shut-off when not in use.