Out of more than 75 million American homeowners, one out of four never checks for electrical hazards and thus is vulnerable to electrical home-structure fires and other incidents that can cause significant personal and financial losses, a new survey commissioned by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) has found.
The survey, conducted by Media, Pennsylvania-based International Communications Research, reveals that 18.2 million homeowners, or more than 24 percent, never check their homes for electrical hazards such as frayed or overheated cords, overloaded outlets and circuits, and light bulbs that are the wrong wattage. However, the study also found that 30 percent of homeowners check for electrical hazards at least monthly while 33 percent check their homes at least once or twice a year.
IIABA surveyed consumers to determine attitudes toward electrical safety and to identify areas where consumers may need additional education on how to protect their loved ones and property.
“While it is encouraging that the majority of home-owners are checking their homes for electrical hazards, it still is extremely troubling that more than 18 million homeowners do not realize the importance of practicing electrical safety when it comes to protecting their homes and loved ones,” says Madelyn Flannagan, IIABA vice president of education and research.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates there is an annual average of 165,380 electrical-related home structure fires, taking an average of more than 900 lives, injuring nearly 7,000 people and causing nearly $1.7 billion in property damage.
“No other hazard we face in daily life is as insidious and/or unforgiving as electricity,” says Michael G. Clendenin, executive director of Electrical Safety Foundation International. “With proper checks and maintenance of our appliances and safety devices, the risk of electrical fires and other incidents can be greatly reduced.”
In the unfortunate event of a fire, smoke alarms are vital in alerting individuals and saving lives. However, the IIABA survey results show that homeowners are putting themselves at risk by not changing their smoke alarm batteries more frequently. Only slightly more than a quarter of homeowners change their batteries at the recommended frequency of twice a year, while more than 36 percent change their batteries less frequently by doing so only once a year. An alarming 8 percent never change their smoke alarm batteries. While nearly 5 percent of homes don’t have smoke alarms, that number increases to 5.8 percent in homes that are more than 30 years old. ESFI and several safety organizations recommend changing smoke alarm batteries twice a year, usually during the changes in daylight savings time. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends getting a new smoke alarm every 10 years.
“There is no question that smoke alarms save lives,” says Clendenin. “However, the alarms don’t have a chance to work if they are not properly maintained.”
NFPA says that while 95 percent of U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, more than half of home fire deaths result from fires in the 5 percent of homes without smoke alarms. Additionally, in one-quarter of the reported fires in homes with fire alarms, the devices did not work.
Homeowners Insurance and Electrical Inspections
In addition to maintaining smoke alarms and checking for obvious electrical hazards, ESFI recommends that homeowners have electrical inspections performed in their homes. Unlike home inspections, which are surface-level inspections of the structure, plumbing, electrical systems and other aspects of a house, an electrical inspection comprehensively covers the electrical systems of the home. ESFI recommends electrical inspections for any house more than 40 years old, any house more than 10 years old that has had any major renovation or major appliance added, and for any home at the time of resale by the new owner, says Clendenin.
When asked about electrical inspections, the overwhelming majority of homeowners did not follow these recommendations. More than 91 percent of homeowners do not think their homes need electrical inspections. Of that number, nearly 90 percent live in homes that are more than 30 years old. Additionally, more than 24 percent of homeowners completed a major renovation and added major appliances. Nearly 32 percent of these homeowners live in homes that are more than 30 years old.
By not conducting electrical inspections and taking electrical safety seriously, homeowners also run the risk of becoming less insurable. For instance, at some point the insurance company that issued the original homeowners policy may ask for a re-inspection. Insurance companies usually will ask for a re-inspection to ensure the condition of the “risk,” or home, has not changed. Independent insurance agents and brokers can help homeowners by offering to pre-inspect homes to correct problems before full inspections by insurance companies. Additionally, independent agents and brokers can advise homeowners on any upgrades they may need to make to their policies to ensure that they have the necessary insurance coverages.
“The big issue today in the tight homeowner and resident property insurance marketplace is the need for property owners to be proactive in the upgrading of their old electrical systems to bring their properties into code compliance,” says Chuck Worcester, an independent insurance agent with Hometown Insurance Agency in Milford, N.H. “We find time and time again we are unable to place what appears to be a well-maintained home or property in the standard marketplace because of outdated electrical systems in the property. If consumers want to take advantage of the best price and best choice for their future insurance needs, they need to do their part in minimizing the manageable hazards to their properties.”
Flannagan adds, “It is critical that homeowners understand that the rates and availability of homeowners insurance coverages are dependent upon homes being well-maintained. Preventative upkeep could make your home a much more acceptable risk to most insurance carriers.”
To protect loved ones, property and insurance status, IIABA and ESFI recommend that home owners take the following safety precautions:
- Check for outlets that have loose-fitting plugs, which can overheat and lead to fire.
- Never force a plug into an outlet if it doesn’t fit. Plugs should fit securely into outlets.
- Avoid overloading outlets with too many appliances.
- Ensure there are safety covers on all unused outlets that are accessible to children.
- Ensure all power cords and extension cords are in good condition, not frayed or cracked.
- Do not place cords in high traffic areas or under carpets, rugs or furniture.
- Check the wattage of all bulbs in lamps and light fixtures to ensure they are the correct wattage for the lamps or fixtures.
- Circuit breakers and fuses should be the correct sizes and ratings for their circuits.
- Always replace a fuse with the same size fuse.
To receive a summary of the survey results and a detailed list of electrical safety tips, please contact Jemarion Jones at (703) 706-5445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The survey was conducted by Media, Pa.-based International Communications Research from April 2-6, 2004, to provide national estimates of 75,200,000 U.S. households. The average margin of error is +/- 3.7 percent. For more information on ICR, please visit www.icrsurvey.com.