What You Should Know About Electrical Arcing And Protecting Your Home And Family From Potential Fires

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Approximately one-third of residential electrical fires are due to a phenomenon known as arcing. This dangerous problem is also insidious, as its presence often isn't known until a fire has broken out. However, there are actions you can take as a homeowner to prevent electrical arcing and keep both your home and family members safe. Below is more information about arcing and what steps you should take:

An introduction to electrical arcing

Electrical arcing is the discharge of an electric current through an insulating material, such as plastic or even air. While arcing is purposefully used in certain applications, such as welding or electric furnaces, it is a hazard when arcing occurs inside residential wiring. Arcing causes the insulation of wiring to break down and increases the likelihood that electrical current will start conducting across and over non-conductive surfaces. As this occurs, the problem of arcing becomes worse and increases the flow of current as a result. Heat begins building inside the circuit and can ignite nearby flammable materials.

The types of electrical arcing

Electrical arcing happens in one of two ways:

  1. Parallel arcing - This form of arcing occurs when current arcs from one wire to another and happens due to a break in the insulation separating the wires.

  2. Series arcing - As opposed to arcing from wire to wire, arcing that occurs between a wire and a loose connector is series arcing.

Both types of arcing can cause fires, but parallel arcing typically is more dangerous due to higher temperature sparking. However, it is also more likely to trip a breaker than series arcing, so it is often detected sooner as a result.

Preventing electrical arcing

It is important to keep in mind that electrical arcing can occur as a result of seemingly insignificant causes. Below are some practices that you should adopt to prevent arcing and to catch situations that can lead to arcing:

Insulation can break down and separate whenever pinching occurs. As such, it is important to prevent wire pinching when routing cords from outlets or behind furniture. Avoid making sharp turns in cords; instead, use gradual curves whenever possible. In addition, be sure to keep appliance cords from twisting during use. Be especially careful when using devices such as curling irons, vacuum cleaners and other electrical items that are constantly in motion. If a cord becomes noticeably pinched or twisted and does not return to its form, it will need to be replaced.

Loose electrical connections such as those between light bulbs and sockets or outlets and plugs can encourage arcing. That is why you should replace or repair any outlet or plug that does not permit a firm, tight connection with other electrical components. In addition, if you perform your own electrical work, be sure to tighten wires around posts or terminals to prevent movement. Keep in mind that even lower voltage applications, such as those found in outdoor lighting, can be dangerous if arcing occurs, and tight connections are important in these circumstances, too.

If you live in an older home that may lack sufficient wiring, you should have your home inspected by an electrician for signs of trouble. They are able to use sophisticated tools such as infrared testing to search for signs of overheating and other hidden clues that something may be amiss. In addition, an electrician can also install arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) which respond to potential arc situations by shutting down the flow of current in a given area. These devices are not foolproof, but coupled with ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), your home will be considerably more well protected than before.


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