Electric Safety After a Flood
Flooding forces homeowners to ask many difficult questions about water-damaged electrical equipment in their houses:
- Can I use appliances after they dry out?
- Are circuit breakers and fuses safe to use?
- Will I need to replace my electrical wiring?
Floodwater contaminants can create serious fire hazards if electrical wiring and equipment have been submerged in water. Even with professional cleaning and drying, sediments and toxins are difficult to remove.
As families begin to clean up after a flood, there may be hidden electrical hazards. This is not a do-it-yourself project! Before beginning, have a qualified electrician check the house wiring, assess other damages and proceed with repair work. Then, follow these important safety tips:
- If you smell natural gas or hear a blowing or hissing sound, quickly leave the home and call your natural gas provider. Be aware that propane tanks also pose a risk if they are punctured or damaged.
- Do not flip a switch or plug in an appliance until an electrician tells you it is safe.
- Do not touch a circuit breaker or replace a fuse with wet hands or while standing on a wet surface. Use a dry plastic- or rubber-insulated tool to reset breakers and use only one hand.
- Do not allow power cord connections to become wet.
- Do not remove or bypass the ground pin on a three-prong plug.
- Use portable ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protective devices on equipment and extension cords to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries.
- Discard electrical devices that have been submerged (i.e., circuit breakers, fuses, GFCIs, receptacles, plugs and switches).
- When using a wet-dry vacuum cleaner or a pressure washer, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions to avoid electric shock.
- Portable generators emit carbon monoxide (CO), a poisonous gas that is colorless and odorless. For this reason, portable generators should never be used indoors or outdoors near open doors, windows or vents.
- Do not turn on damaged electrical appliances. Electrical parts can pose an electric shock hazard or overheat and cause a fire.
Replace or Recondition?
Some items may be reconditioned, while others will need to be completely replaced to protect you and your family. It is recommended that you allow an electrician or electrical inspector to guide the restoration or replacement of any electrical wiring or equipment.
Corrosion and insulation damage can occur when water and silt get inside electrical devices and products. Water can also damage the motors in electrical appliances. Therefore, you may need to replace:
- Circuit breakers and fuses
- All electrical wiring systems
- Light switches, thermostats, outlets, light fixtures, electric heaters and ceiling fans
- Washing machines, dryers, furnaces, heat pumps, freezers, refrigerators, dehumidifiers, vacuums, power tools, exercise equipment and similar appliances. Internal electrical components of this equipment could also be damaged.
- Electronic equipment, including computers and home entertainment systems
Inspect your home for electrical safety
Longmont Power & Communications suggests these
quick checks you can make in your home today to help it make it more electrically safe.
Outlets and plugs
Check for outlets that have loose-fitting plugs, which can overheat and cause fire. Never remove the ground pin (the third prong) to make a three-prong plug fit a two-conductor outlet: this can cause electrical shock. Avoid overloading plugs with too many appliances. Check for hot or discolored wall plates that may indicate dangerous heat buildup at the connections. Install safety covers on all unused outlets that are accessible to children.
Power cords and extension cords
Make sure power cords and extension cords are not frayed or cracked. Never nail or staple cords to the wall, baseboard or another object. Do not place cords under carpets, rugs or furniture where they can overheat. Make sure cords and electrical products are approved by an independent testing lab, are properly rated for their intended use, and meet or exceed the power needs of the appliance or tool plugged into it.
Light fixtures and light bulbs
Never use incandescent light bulbs with higher wattage than recommended for lamps and fixtures by the manufacturer. Higher wattage bulbs can cause fixtures to overheat. Instead, use low wattage compact fluorescent bulbs that generate higher light output with about 70% less heat than standard bulbs. Make sure bulbs are screwed in tightly - loose bulbs may also cause overheating.
Halogen floor lamps operate at much higher temperatures than a standard incandescent light bulb. Never place a halogen lamp where it could come in contact with draperies, clothing or other combustible materials. Turn halogen lamps off whenever you leave the room for an extended period of time and never use halogen lamps in children's bedrooms or playrooms.
Keep space heaters at least three feet away from combustible materials such as bedding, clothing, draperies, furniture and rugs. Do not use space heaters in rooms where children are unsupervised. Always turn off and unplug space heaters when not in use. Plug space heaters directly into the outlet - do not use an extension cord - and use a circuit with as little else on it as possible.
Appliances, entertainment and computer equipment
Make sure appliances and equipment are all certified by an independent testing laboratory. Follow manufacturer's instructions carefully. Look for cracks or damage in wiring, plugs and connectors. Do not overload circuits with multiple pieces of equipment.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)
GFCIs can help prevent electrocution. They should be used in any area where water and electricity may come into contact. When a GFCI senses current leakage in an electrical circuit, it assumes a ground fault has occurred. It then interrupts power fast enough to help prevent serious injury from electrical shock. Test GFCIs regularly according to manufacturer instructions.
Electric power mowers and other tools should not be used in the rain or in wet conditions. Inspect power tools and mowers before each use for frayed cords, damaged plugs and cracked or broken housings. If damaged, repair or replace before using. Install GFCIs on all outdoor outlets. Always use an extension cord rated for outdoor use and for the power needs of your tools.
During an electrical storm, do not use appliances (i.e. hairdryers, toasters, radios, etc.) or telephones (except in an emergency). Do not take a bath or shower. Keep fresh batteries for flashlights and radios in case of a power outage. Use surge protectors on electronic equipment and appliances. Colorado has one of the highest lightning rates in the nation -- consider installing a surge arrestor for whole house protection.