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BE SMART around electricity inside your home

Many safety hazards are obvious and can been seen, smelled, or heard: that wrinkled rug you could trip on, spoiled food that could make you sick, icy pavement that could cause a nasty fall, or a weather siren announcing an impending tornado. Electrical hazards, however, are often undetectable. While some you can see, smell, or feel, for example outlets that are warm to the touch or lights that constantly flicker, many others you cannot.

Valley Rural Electric Cooperative and Safe Electricity remind you of these electrical safety tips to keep in mind around your home.

Don't share a bed with a charging electronic device.Cell phones make strange bedfellows.

Do not sleep or lounge in bed with a cell phone or other device that is charging. This can burn your skin, or it can ignite the soft bedding materials. This also goes for devices (such as notebook or tablet computers) that are warm to the touch but not plugged in.

Do not use cheap chargers.

Instead, use the original charging components that came with your cell phone or other electronics. When it comes time to replace them, spend a little extra to buy brand-specific chargers and cubes. Using cheaply-made generic chargers with your electronics can cause injury (shock/burns) or even start a fire since they may be defective.

Water and charging devices don't mix.

Do not use a plugged-in (charging) cell phone near water. Take a break from your phone while bathing. Deaths have occurred when a plugged-in cell phone has fallen into the bathtub. DO NOT use any plugged-in items near water.

Do not overload outlets or circuits.

It's tempting to plug several items in one outlet or on one circuit, but drawing too much power can damage your electronics and your home's wiring or cause more serious problems such as a fire. If too much current is drawn, usually a circuit breaker would trip or fuses would blow, but this is never guaranteed.

Use portable space heaters wisely.

Do not use them unattended or around small children or pets. Do not place flammable items on or near a space heater; keep them at least three feet away.

Ditch that old electric blanket.

Do not use an electric blanket that is 10 years old or older or one that has frayed or visible wires in the blanket itself. Do not use one that has a damaged electrical cord or plug.

Do not ignore odd electrical symptoms in your home.

If your lights flicker often, if your outlets are warm to the touch, or if you smell odors like something is overheating but can't determine where the odors are coming from, there may be problems with your home's electrical system. There might also be a problem if your circuit breakers trip frequently or your fuses need to be changed often. If you notice any of these symptoms or other unusual electrical oddities in your home, have a qualified electrician assess your home's electrical system.

Test your GFCI buttons once a month.

Ground fault circuit interrupter outlets need to be tested. Put a reminder in your phone, or mark it on your calendar each month. GFCIs help prevent ground faults that can shock or injure you, but they can't do their job if they are not working properly. If you don't have GFCI outlets in your home near areas with water (such as sinks, bathtubs, washing machines, pools, hot tubs, and outside outlets), have a qualified electrician install them.

Is your home AFCI-protected?

AFCI stands for arc fault circuit interrupter, and when there is an arc fault, it means that an electrical source in your home is malfunctioning. When that happens, an arc (intense heat or light) can be discharged. Because of that, AFCIs are required by National Electric Code since they help prevent home fires. Have a professional electrician assess your home to make sure AFCIs are installed, especially if your home is older. The electrician can also inspect your older home's wiring to make sure it can handle today's electrical demands.

If you have young children, babyproof and childproof your home, including electrical sources.

There are many everyday electrical dangers that toddlers and children can tamper with, such as exposed outlets, accessible power strips and surge protectors, and hanging or dangling cords. In addition, little ones like to imitate you, and there have been reports of toddlers trying to plug the wrong end of a phone charger into the outlet, which can cause severe shocks or burns. Be aware of potential electrical dangers throughout the home. Get down on the floor and see what would be at eye level or within reach of your child.

Tamper-resistant outlets became part of the National Electric Code in 2008, but many homes built before that year do not have them. Protective shutters covering the slots in the outlets prevent shocks from tampering but move aside when a plug is correctly certain. If your home does not have such outlets, make sure all of your outlets are covered (with a plastic plug, for example) so that small children cannot insert foreign objects into the slots.

Recognize the different outlets.

Types of outlets: GFCI on the left, AFCI in the middle, and tamper-resistant on the right

For more information about electrical safety, visit SafeElectricity.org .

Article and image of outlets courtesy of SafeElectricity.org with modifications by Valley Rural Electric Cooperative. Photo of teddy bear in bed with cell phone by John H. Bookwalter, Jr. and used with permission. Charging cord was not plugged into an outlet, and phone was turned off.

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