Is My Wiring System Faulty?
Tips for keeping your home safe from electrical fires
I’m told that house fires are often caused by faulty wiring. Is there any practical way to check the entire wiring system of a house for potential problems? —Mike Phillips, Hamlin, PA
Scott Caron replies: There is no magic tool or technology that can determine whether the wiring in the walls is safe. But in my experience, 99 percent of electrical problems occur where the wires connect to a fixture, an outlet, or a switch. Those junctions are easy for electricians to inspect, and fix, if necessary.
Your best insurance against electrical fires is to equip each branch circuit with an arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI). AFCIs, which are now required by code for most rooms in the house, can detect electrical arcing anywhere along a circuit—including the wires in the walls—and will swiftly shut off the power to that circuit when arcing occurs. Because these devices prevent hot sparks from being thrown off by faulty circuits, they make a house far less vulnerable to one of the chief causes of residential fires in this country.
There’s one other sensor that’s also useful for detecting electrical problems: your nose. If you smell something melting or burning, don’t hesitate to shut off the main breaker until the problem is located and corrected.