Electrical Safety in Winter: A 20-point Home Checklist

It’s winter season once again, which means it’s also prime risk season for home electrical fires. According to the US Fire Administration, residential electrical fire incidents occur most often during the winter months, between December to January. 

Winter storms, holiday decorations, and increased light and heating usage all combine to heighten the risk of short circuits and electric fires. 

 

Home Electrical Fires by the Numbers

  • The primary object failure behind residential electrical fires are wire and cable insulation faults (31%), followed by structural member or framing (18%).
  • The three leading causes of home electrical fires are:

Electrical failure or malfunction – 43%

Unspecified short circuit arcs – 23%

Short circuits caused by defective or worn insulation – 11%

  • Most incidents occur in the bedroom (15%), and attics or crawl spaces (13%)
  • While most fires start in the bedroom, the biggest fatalities occur when fires happen in the living room or den.
  • Only 17% of electrical fires cases see the fire damage limited to the object at fault. This means the vast majority of incidents have a very high chance of spreading beyond the faulty item and around the house.

 

Warning Signs to Watch Out For

Fire experts recommend being on the lookout for these warning signs around the home:

  • Discolored switches, outlets, or electrical devices
  • Unusual burning smell, even if it doesn’t trip the smoke detector
  • A loose, floppy or buzzing switch
  • Flickering lights
  • Startling sounds like crackling or consistent buzzing in the background
  • Sparks
  • A tripped circuit breaker, especially ones that won’t reset

 

20-Point Electrical Safety Checklist

Before plugging in those lights and cranking up the electric fireplace, be sure your home can handle the load by going through this safety checklist.

Outlets

1. Avoid overloading outlets. Always check the total wattage of all devices plugged into a single outlet to see if it can handle it.

2. Outlets near wet areas such the kitchen, bathrooms or laundry room should have ground-fault circuit interrupters, which automatically cuts off the power in case of electrocution.

3. For homes with young children or pets, consider using outlet protectors. Better yet, replace regular outlets with tamper-resistant receptacles, which are now required in newer houses built since 2008.

4. Extension cords should only be used as a temporary solution and never as a permanent outlet for home appliances, especially when it comes to power-hungry devices.

 

Plugs

5. Never take off the third prong on a plug. This is the ground plug, and its purpose is to create an emergency path for electricity to course through in the event of a short circuit or fault. This is why major appliances like TVs, air conditioners and desktop computers have a third prong. 

6. For electrical devices in close proximity with each other, use a wall mount or cable organizer to keep the plugs separated instead of leaving them on the floor.

7. Replace all plugs that wobble, fit loosely, or don’t fit at all in the socket. This is especially true for Christmas lights and seasonal decorations, whose plugs may have bent or deformed in storage. Never wiggle the plug or force it into a socket.

 

Wires

8. Regularly check the wires of frequently used appliances and devices. For seasonal items like lights and Christmas decor, make sure the cable is sound before plugging it in.

Last month, one of the worst home fire disasters in New York City was caused by a frayed wire. The cord on an electric space heater short-circuited, killing 19 people in the Bronx, of whom 9 were children. 

9. Keep all wires and cords away from heat sources like space heaters and radiators. 

10. Make sure all cords and extensions used outside are labeled for outdoor use.  

 

Circuits

11. Check that all circuits are properly grounded, and that your ground wiring is intact. After all, this carries the load for all ground wires in your home.

12. Check the fuse box well before the winter season, and replace blown fuses or tripped breakers immediately.

13. Never connect a generator directly into the house’s electrical system. This can damage appliances or cause unnecessary risk. Get an electrician to do the job.

14. Consider using a whole-home surge protector, which can be wired to your main electrical panel and protect the whole house rather than just limited appliances.

15. Make sure all family members know the location of the circuit panel, and that it can be accessed easily and without obstructions in case of emergency.

16. If your house is over 20 years old, the wiring may not have the capacity to handle today’s power-hungry appliances like flatscreen TVs, consoles, and desktop PCs. Consult an electrician before making those major Black Friday purchases.

 

Specific Items

17. Lights – Check the wattage of lights and bulbs first to see if the fixture our outlet can handle them safely.

18. Space heaters – Keep them a safety distance away from combustible items like clothing, upholstery, curtains and carpets or rugs. This is especially important for coil heaters.

19. Humidifiers – Humidifiers see a lot of use in the cold season to balance the humidity in the dry air inside. Make sure your humidifier has enough water in the tank, and avoid prolonged unattended use.

20. Electric fireplaces – Keep furniture and appliances a safe distance away. Also watch out for random household objects that may be left near the surface, like blankets, plush pillows, or books.

 

Why You Should Use a Humidifier in Winter

Winter time is prime season for a host of respiratory ailments. As more people tend to stay indoors, viruses like the common cold and flu tend to circulate in enclosed areas. The indoor isolation brought about by the coronavirus pandemic can only make things worse.

Apart from airborne diseases, other cold-related complaints include dry skin, nose bleeds, and shock from static electricity, which can be severely annoying when moving about at home. 

But there is one useful device that can greatly mitigate these seasonal complaints: humidifiers.

 

What are Humidifiers?

As the name suggests, humidifiers are devices that increase humidity, which is the amount of moisture in the air. The moisture is generated in the form of water vapors or steam to counteract the dry air brought about by the cold season.

 

The Ideal Humidity Level

Humidity varies depending on the home’s location, season and regional climate. According to the CDC, the ideal humidity level should be between 30% to 60%. In general, the summer season sees higher levels of humidity, while it tends to decrease in the winter.

This is where humidifiers come in to ensure that humidity levels don’t fall below unsafe levels during the cold months.

 

What are the Negative Effects of Low Humidity?

Negative effects of low humidity

 X Cold and flu symptoms

The dry air can lead to signs of respiratory ailments, which can be troubling in the time of Covid-19.

 X  Dry sinuses and itchy throats

Even if you don’t develop an illness, it can still be uncomfortable for your respiratory system.

 X  Nosebleeds

Epistaxis or nosebleeds can happen when the delicate tissue in the nose called the nasal membrane dries out and gets cracked due to the heated dry air indoors.

 X Dry skin

Lack of moisture can cause skin to excessively become dry, manifesting in itchiness, blotches, or peeling.

 X Chapped lips

Apart from the respiratory system, our lips are one of the most susceptible parts of the body to moisture loss. This can result in chapping, cracking or peeling.

 X Allergy and asthma flare-ups

Pre-existing conditions can worsen as a result of the dry stale air indoors.

 X Electric shock

Moisture in the air is a natural conductor, earthing any potential static charges. Conversely, static electricity tends to build up in dry conditions, which can lead to electrostatic discharges. In layman’s terms, that nasty shock we get in winter.

 X Wood cracking

Wood becomes more vulnerable to damage, since the dry air can suck out moisture trapped in the wood, causing it to crack or split. This applies to anything made of wood, from objects and furniture to panels, walls, hardwood flooring, and even structural components made of wood. If you experience a problem closing wooden doors or notice chairs or tables becoming wobbly, there’s a good chance it was caused by overly dry air.

 

What are the Different Types of Humidifiers?

Now that we’ve outlined the importance of maintaining proper humidity, let’s explore the different kinds of humidifiers that regulate your home’s moisture levels.

Types of Humidifiers

1. Steam humidifiers

The most common and least expensive type, these portable units simply boil water to produce steam and increase humidity. But their low cost also means they are the least energy efficient. They can also cause burns or scalding if left unchecked.

2. Evaporators

These generate humidity by blowing air through a moistened filter. They are inexpensive, but they can only service one room at a time. In addition, the fan can also be noisy.

3. Impeller humidifiers

These use a fast-rotating disk or diffuser to cool the air, transforming stored water into a mist, hence leading to their other name “mist humidifiers”. They produce less noise than evaporative humidifiers, however the water must be changed regularly.

4. Ultrasonic

A recent development in humidifier technology, these use ultrasonic vibrations to produce mist. A diaphragm inside the unit vibrates using high-frequency sound that is not audible to the human ear. The vibration excites the stored water, turning it into fine droplets that are then blown out by a fan.

Unlike other humidifier types, ultrasonic models can switch between warm and cool mist to match the season. Others also feature antibacterial filters.

5. Central humidifiers

Central or whole house humidifiers are built directly into the house HVAC, and thus service the entire home. They are the most expensive kind, but are also the most efficient.

 

Humidifier Types Compared

Type Size Pros Cons
Steam Tabletop Least expensive Least efficient

Can cause burns

Evaporative Tabletop to console Inexpensive Can be noisy
Impeller Tabletop to console Less noise

Child-friendly

Water must be 

changed regularly

Requires distilled or purified water to avoid white dust

Ultrasonic Console Antibacterial filter

Warm or cool mist function

More expensive

Requires distilled or purified water to avoid white dust

Central Integrated with HVAC Most efficient

Professional installation

Highest cost

 

Our Recommended Whole Home Humidifiers for 2022

 

Entry level: 

Aprilaire 500M Whole House Humidifier with Manual Control

Aprilaire 500M Whole House Humidifier with Manual Control

This central humidifier can accommodate homes from 750 to 3,000 sq. ft., depending on the tightness. It has an evaporative rate of 0.50gph and comes with a wall-mounted manual control system for convenient changing. It only requires simple maintenance annually, by using the built-in drain to flush out accumulated minerals.

Aprilaire 500M Whole House Humidifier with Manual Control
Aprilaire 500M Whole House Humidifier with Manual Control

Dry air in the home not only makes you uncomfortable with itchy skin, nose bleeds, and static electricity, but low humidity in the home can make you...

$205

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Midlevel:

Aprilaire 800 Whole House Steam Humidifier with Digital Control

Aprilaire 800 Whole House Steam Humidifier with Digital Control

For applications where evaporative humidifiers are less practical, this central steam humidifier can do the job. It’s ideal for enclosed areas like attics, closets and crawl spaces; homes with non-forced air heating; and homes with milder winter climates.

This unit can service larger homes up to 6,200 sq. ft. and is designed to run independently from the HVAC system. Depending on electrical draw, it can adjust its capacity from as low to 11.5 gallons per day all the way up to 34.6 gallons. It can also use hard, soft or softened water.

The biggest draw is its digital control system, which accurately determines the relative humidity of the home and adjusts its settings accordingly regardless of the temperature.

Aprilaire 800 Whole House Steam Humidifier with Digital Control
Aprilaire 800 Whole House Steam Humidifier with Digital Control

For applications when evaporative units are less practical, such as attics, crawl spaces, closets, areas with milder winter climates, and non-forced...

$809.99

Buy Now

Complete package:

Aprilaire 865 Ductless Steam Humidification Package with Digital Control

Aprilaire 865 Ductless Steam Humidification Package with Digital Control

This package consists of the Aprilaire 800 Humidifier system, along with a Model 65 digital humidistat, Model 4028 Drain Trap, and Fan pack for a ductless humidification system. Maintenance is incredibly easy: you just need to replace the canister when the smart digital control determines it’s time for a replacement!

Aprilaire 865 Ductless Steam Humidification Package with Digital Control
Aprilaire 865 Ductless Steam Humidification Package with Digital Control

This ductless humidification system includes the Model 800 Humidifier, Fan Pack, Model 65 digital humidistat and Model 4028 Drain Trap. For applic...

$1149

Buy Now