Electricity is one of the mixed blessings of our modern world. It’s difficult to live without it, but when something goes wrong, it can have serious and even fatal results. Understanding how to handle electrical problems if they arise and being sure homes comply with the latest building codes can help give homeowners peace of mind.
Q: When I plugged in my vacuum cleaner, the outlet sparked and quit working. What should I do?
A: Do not attempt to remove the vacuum cleaner cord from the outlet. Check to see if the vacuum cleaner is already in the ON position and if so, turn it OFF and unplug it. Hopefully, that will be all there is to it.
If it was in the OFF position, do not unplug it because the problem is in the outlet. If you know which breaker corresponds with that plug, go to the electrical panel and turn off the appropriate breaker. If you are handy, you can go to the hardware store, buy a new outlet and replace it. If not, call a professional, licensed electrical contractor to do it for you.
Q: I keep safety plugs in all my outlets but I fear that one day my toddler is going to figure out how to pry one out and stick something into an outlet. What would I do if that ever happened.?
A: Just sticking something in an outlet may not do anything, but if conditions are such that he becomes part of the electrical circuit and he is effectively being electrocuted, you need to act fast.
Immediately separate him by using a non-conductive object such as a wooden broom handle,
plastic bat or dry towel. DO NOT touch him with your bare hands or you will become part of the circuit yourself. If he is unconscious, call 911 and then check him for breathing. If he is not breathing, perform CPR until help arrives. If he is breathing, elevate his feet and keep him warm. If he is conscious, call 911 immediately.
If the child has stuck something in the outlet but has not become part of the circuit, attempt to remove the object with insulated needle-nosed or regular pliers. If not possible, turn off the appropriate breaker at the electrical panel, replace the outlet yourself as outlined above, or call a professional, licensed electrical contractor to assist you.
Q: What should I do if a switch or outlet starts to smoke and catch on fire?
A: If it actually catches on fire, call 911 immediately and request fire department assistance. Then turn off main power to the whole house. If it is simply smoking, first go turn off the main power. Then turn off all the individual breakers and turn the main power back on. Try each breaker one at a time until you can identify the affected breaker. Leave that one off and turn all the rest back on.
DO NOT attempt to fix this yourself because there could be several reasons an outlet or switch would smoke. Call a professional, licensed electrical contractor to diagnose the problem and solution.