What Causes Electrical Fires: Avoid These things

The data is shocking. Over 350,000 American homes are destroyed by fire every year; 14,000 people are helped with fire-related problems. 20% (67,800) of all home fires and are caused by electrical home fires. Let’s take a look at some common causes.


Electrical fires are most often started because 

  1. Plugs And Switches are faulty.
  2. Old Appliances cause fires.
  3. Damaged appliance leads.
  4. Installing Aluminium Wiring before 1973.
  5. Too much current is consumed.
  6. Extension cords are misused.
  7. Flammable material is left next to an electrical heat source.
  8. Water leaks can start fires as well. Fixing leaks asap is essential.

The problem with an electrical fire is that it can quickly start when there is no one at home, and therefore it spreads very quickly. A lot of homes have gas lines for heating and this can lead to explosions if things are not taken care of in time. Most home fires never needed to start because a few simple precautions would have prevented them.

Electrical fires can spread fast. Make sure to get your home checked by an inspector to avoid problems.

The 5 Common Causes Of Electrical Fires

Electrical fires are very frightening, not only in terms of the damage and devastation they can cause but also in the spontaneous way they start. It is a great idea to let an electrician or home inspector check your installation to make sure that there are no problems with it. These people know the local code and requirements and can suggest how to fix things in your home.

Damaged Or Faulty Electrical Outlets Cause Electrical Fires

The most common causes of electrical fires come from damaged, faulty, or poorly wired electrical outlets or their appliances.

Plugs And Switches Are A Cause Of Electrical Fires

As plugs and switches age, the wiring connecting them to the system can become worn.

If appliances draw too much current, the wiring may be overloaded, compromising the insulation around the wire. If this situation happens regularly, the insulation may degrade, and the conducting material (copper or aluminum) has become exposed.

This creates a very high risk of fire as the cables can touch and create sparks.

Old Appliances Are A Cause Of Electrical Fires

The same applies to the condition of old appliances, where the wiring problem happens inside the device and is difficult to spot before it becomes a problem.

Aged, Damaged, Or Worn Electrical Leads Cause Electrical Fires

Appliance Electrical leads can become frayed with age and regular use. These also present a very high risk of starting a fire.

Inadequate Wiring In Old Houses May Cause Fires

Older homes often have inadequate, damaged, modified electrical system components which are obsolete and unsafe. 

Aluminium Wiring Caused Electrical Fires

Homes built before 1973 with aluminum wiring that has not been rewired present a very high fire risk.

Wiring made from aluminum between 1965 and 1973 included an alloy that caused the material to be very brittle. The wire would then break off and cause a short circuit resulting in a fire.

Houses wired with this material had a 550 times greater chance of fire than houses wired with a copper core. Since 1973 the “recipe” for aluminum wiring has changed, which is no longer a problem.

Houses With Inadequate Capacity Can Cause Electrical Fires

Houses built in the following eras had different electrical services installed.

  1. Houses built in the 1940s to the 1950s had a 60-amp service installed.
  2. Houses built between 1960 and 1970s generally had a 100-amp service installed.
  3. In the 1980s, builders started to install 200-amp services in homes.
  4. With the constantly increasing use of current hungry systems, modern houses are installed with up to 600-amp services.

Houses built with 60-amp and 100-amp services are particularly at risk of an electrical fire. 

In homes with high consumption appliances, such as 240V air conditioners or wall-mounted electric vehicle charging systems, the current consumed may be higher than the ability of the home’s electrical system to handle it.

It will cause the wiring to overheat,  and the dangers described above may occur.

You can check in the cabinet behind the meter your power utility uses to read your consumption. It will display the amps your home’s electrical system is designed to consume.

If it is less than 200 amps, serious consideration should be given to rewiring your home.

Signs that your home’s electrical wiring has a problem may include.

  1. Circuit breakers are regularly tripping.
  2. Lights are flickering or dimming erratically.
  3. Burn marks on the electrical outlets.
  4. Electrical outlets regularly shock users.
  5. Unexplained Burning smells.
  6. The wiring emits a mysterious buzzing sound.
  7. Excessive heat emanating from electrical devices or appliances.

Extension Cord Misuse Can Cause Electrical Fires

Too few electrical outlets are installed in older houses. The solution many homeowners resorted to was to lay many snaking extension cords around the house. With multi plugs, up to 10 electrical appliances can be plugged into one circuit.

If the total consumption of these devices exceeds the circuit capacity, there is an increased chance of an electrical fire starting. What makes it worse is that the older houses being loaded up like this may have inadequate circuit breakers. It is a recipe for disaster and what every emergency worker knows is that fires don’t need to be asked twice before they start.

Ungrounded Appliances Can Cause Electrical Fires

Appliances that only come equipped with a two-pronged plug have more significant potential to start a fire.

Never cut the ground wire off to allow a two-pronged plug to be attached. If the appliance’s plug has a third prong, it is because the current it consumes needs the extra protection that the middle prong provides.

Placing Flammable Materials Next To Heat Sources

All electrical appliances generate heat. If you leave a flammable material next to a hot electrical device, there is a high chance that an electrical fire will start.

An example of some electrical devices which generate heat includes. 

  1. Electrical lights, even if there is a light shade or similar protection device.
  2. Space heaters.
  3. Hairdryers have been left running.
  4. Electrical hot plates in the kitchen.
  5. Soldering irons.

It may seem innocuous to leave a clothing item, piece of paper, towel, or even a soft toy by a lightbulb, but it is a similar risk to placing those items next to an open flame.

What Happens If An Electrical Fire Starts?

Electrical fires are classed as category C fires. You cannot extinguish these fires by throwing water on them; doing this risks the thrower being electrocuted.

There are two possible ways of extinguishing an electrical fire, which includes.

  1. Using a handheld powder fire extinguisher. 
  2. Installing an automatic fire suppression system.

Although both methods will work, they also have problems. It is often best to let professionals extinguish the fire for you. Geth the proper training, safety equipment and read the manuals of the products that you use.

Using A Handheld Powder Fire Extinguisher

This equipment works very effectively, but the problem is you must be present when the fire starts. 

As electrical fires often only start from a build-up of heat, the fire could quickly begin when there is no one at the house.

Using A Fire Suppression System

These offer the most significant level of protection,  but the downside is they are expensive to acquire and install.


House fires start because there is a defect in the circuitry, or the circuitry is not designed for the electrical current consumed by the appliances connected to the home’s supply.

Although older houses are more at risk of an electrical fire starting, if the circuitry in any home is overloaded, there is a chance an electrical fire will start.