GIMME SHELTER- Shocking story: How fire can start in your walls

Chris Williamson
Owner, Charlottesville Electric Solutions


Q: I have become increasingly concerned about electrical fires. How do they start, and how can I prevent them?

A: Electrical fires are very common although they're easily preventable. Why? Because many people neglect to have professional electricians do routine maintenance on their electrical system. With other household issues such as problems related to heating and plumbing, it's obvious when there's a problem because you feel cold, or the floor is wet. But when there's a problem with your electric system, you might not know until it's too late. It doesn't take much to maintain your system and keep your electrical wiring functioning properly, just one visit from an electrician every 25 years. 

Even with routine maintenance, problems can occur that can lead to an electrical fire. In one unfortunate situation, a family had too many things plugged into an outlet on top of which they piled blankets. They also had boxes stacked against it. To make things worse, they had changed the fuse on the fuse box from 15 amps to 30 amps. Once a fuse is changed from 15 or 20 amps to 30 amps or more, the consequences can be disastrous because outlets can't handle the heat that 30+ amps produce. With the jam-packed outlet, altered fuse, and the blankets and boxes acting as the fuel source, an electrical fire started and caused a huge amount of damage to the house. 

Another common household accident may seem minor but can have major repercussions. When moving furniture around, the tendency is to push the piece of furniture as close to the wall as possible. Heavy pieces of furniture such as dressers and desks can easily crack the outlet behind it and create a loose connection in the socket. The outlet may still be working fine, and you may not even know there's something wrong until you start smelling smoke coming from the broken plug. 

So remember, if you hear a cracking sound when moving furniture around, make sure it's not the outlet.