Although electrical hazards threaten the public at large, older adults are burdened with the gravest risk. Adults over the age of 65 are more than twice as likely to die from a house fire as the general population, and this risk increases with age. Those 75 years of age and over are challenged with a risk that is 2.8 times higher, and adults over 85 are at a staggering risk that is 3.7 times higher. As baby boomers enter retirement age, it is predicted that the percentage of older Americans will increase significantly, thus making a corresponding increase in fire deaths and injuries among older adults probable.
Electrical failures are a leading cause of home fires every year, and electrical distribution and lighting equipment fires have been shown to increase in frequency with increasing dwelling age. Homes with aging electrical systems are at a heightened risk for electrical fires, posing a serious risk for older adults who have remained in the same home for an extended period of time. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, half of the homes in use in the United States were built before 1973, which is long before many of the electronics and appliances we use today were even invented. Unfortunately, our increased demands for energy can overburden an older home’s electrical system causing fires or electrocutions.
Many home electrical fires can be prevented by using more up-to-date technology and by recognizing warning signs your home may be showing. Share these critical safety tips with your older loved ones, while also making sure you follow them in your own home:
- Regularly check all cords, outlets, switches, and appliances for signs of damage or wear.
- Use extension cords only temporarily.
- Be sure that outlets that are not overloaded with too many devices. They can overheat and start a fire.
- Look and listen for warning signs of an electrical problem such as outlets and switches that are warm, or make crackling, sizzling or buzzing sounds.
- Always replace fuses or circuit breakers with the correct size and amperage. And make sure all circuits are labeled correctly.
- Consider having your breakers upgraded to state-of-the-art AFCI circuit breakers. Keep the electrical panel accessible so you can quickly shut off power in an emergency.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. Place alarms inside each bedroom and outside each sleeping area. Test them once a month, change the batteries at least once a year, and replace the alarm itself every ten years.
These safety tips are part of ESFI’s National Electrical Safety Month campaign, “Electrical Safety for All Ages.” For more information on National Electrical Safety Month and for ESFI’s complete “Home Fire Safety for Older Adults” program, visit www.esfi.org.