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Your Home’s Outlets Aren’t All-Powerful

Overloading can cause fires and outages and damage appliances

Are your electrical outlets overstuffed with power strips, extension cords and outlet splitters? That’s not just an unsightly tripping hazard; it’s a fire hazard.

Plugging more appliances, lights and electronics into a single outlet than its circuit is meant to handle causes the receptacle or cords to overheat and can potentially start an electrical fire. The Consumer Product Safety Commission attributes 3,500 fires each year to outlet issues.

Apart from the fire risk, overloading an electrical outlet can also damage appliances and cause power outages.

How do you know if you’re pushing your outlet to the brink? Check for these common indicators of electrical hazards.

Hot outlets. If you can’t touch a cord, plug or faceplate for more than five seconds without pulling your hand away, the outlet is overloaded.

Discolored wall plates. These can be a sign of excess heat in the wall.

Burning odor. If you notice a burning odor emanating from switches or outlets, call 911 and turn off the main breaker.

Shocks. Small shocks from touching appliances or outlets could point to danger.

Tripped breakers and blown fuses. If breakers repeatedly trip or fuses continue to blow after you replace them, the wiring cannot handle the outlet’s load.

Flickering lights. Flickering, blinking or dimming lights could indicate an overloaded circuit.

Wavering screens. Similarly, if your computer or TV screen wavers when a large appliance is plugged in, it could mean the outlet is overstressed.

High-wattage appliances. Never connect a high-wattage appliance, such as a refrigerator, dryer or space heater, to an extension cord.

Any of these signs could mean your home’s wiring can’t keep up with the energy demands of your large appliances and electronics. If you suspect electrical outlet overload in the house, call an electrical contractor immediately to inspect and fix the issue. The contractor can also install additional outlets and suggest ways to prevent them from overloading in the future.

Here are some crucial steps homeowners should take to avoid overloading an outlet:

  • Avoid plugging too many appliances into a single outlet.
  • Limit the use of extension cords.
  • Upgrade the home’s electrical system and add more outlets.
  • Know the correct amperage of the system’s fuses and circuit breakers.