Electrical Emergencies

Home Inspector with Gregory Allen Home Inspector NC 2239

Electrical emergencies such as an appliance malfunction, a power failure in your home or

a neighborhood power outage can occur at any time. Review the information below so

you will know what to do if an electrical emergency strikes.

You should know how to turn off the electrical power to your home and turn off and reset

individual circuit breakers.

If you have the skill to make electrical repairs, turn off the electrical power before

making any repairs. Never work on a live circuit, fixture, receptacle or switch. Shut off

the power first and test the circuit carefully with a circuit tester to be sure the power is

turned off.

Instruction on electrical repairs is beyond the scope of this blog. If you do not have the

skill and experience to make electrical repairs, call a professional electrician for service.

Main Disconnect

Turn off the electrical power to your house by shutting off the main disconnect. The main

disconnect is one or more main fuses or circuit breakers located on the circuit panel.

If the circuit panel is located in a laundry room or some other place where there could be

water on the floor, use rubber gloves when shutting off the main disconnect. Keep a pair

of rubber gloves near the circuit panel at all times for this purpose.

Be sure everyone in your household knows where the circuit breaker panel is located and

can shut off the power.

Power Outage

If the power goes out suddenly in your home, decide whether the outage affects just your

home or the entire neighborhood. If it is a neighborhood outage, notify your electrical


If the electrical outage affects your home only, check for and reset tripped circuit

breakers. If a breaker immediately trips again, call a professional electrician to test your

electrical system.

Turn off or disconnect all motor-driven and electronic appliances to avoid possible

damage from either inadequate power or a sudden electrical surge when power is

restored. The furnace blower motor can be turned off by turning off the circuit breaker for

the furnace.

Motors for dishwashers, clothes washers, clothes dryers, garbage disposals, range fans,

sump pumps, refrigerators and other appliances can be disconnected by turning off or

unplugging the appliance. Computers, televisions, video recorders, stereos and other

electronic equipment should also be turned off. Turn on a radio and a lamp to alert you

when service is restored.

After power has been restored, it should be safe to turn on all appliances. You can retard

food spoilage by not opening refrigerators or freezers during the outage unless absolutely

necessary. Food in a tightly packed freezer will stay frozen for up to 48 hours if the door

has been kept closed. Food in a partially filled freezer may keep for 24 hours. If you are

in doubt about the safety of frozen food after a power outage, throw it out.

Always have flashlights, extra batteries, candles, matches and a battery-powered

transistor radio handy in case of power failures. Store these items in an accessible place

known to all family members. If any of these items are used for any other purpose, make

sure they are promptly returned. Finally, keep lit candles away from drafts, flammable

objects and children.

Sparking Appliance

Do not touch a smoking or sparking appliance. Instead, cut off power to the appliance by

unplugging the appliance, turning off the wall switch controlling the appliance or turning

off the circuit breaker for the appliance. Allow the appliance to cool, then take it to a

repair shop or call a professional service representative to repair the appliance.

If the appliance catches fire, get everyone out of the house, meet at your designated area

(see link) and call the fire department from a neighbor's home. Do not use water on an

electrical fire, it can be fatal. If you discover an electrical fire early, use a multipurpose

fire extinguisher on the flames.

If an appliance's electrical plug smokes or sparks, unplug the appliance by pulling its

cord. Do not touch the plug itself. After the plug cools, inspect the plug and cord for

damage. If they are damaged, replace the plug and cord or have them replaced by a

professional service representative. Reset any tripped circuit breakers.

If the plug and cord appear to be OK and there are no tripped circuit breakers, the

electrical outlet may be at fault. Test the outlet by plugging another appliance you know

works properly into the receptacle. If that plug sparks too, replace the outlet or have it

replaced by a professional electrician. If the new appliance does not cause sparks, then

the original appliance is probably faulty and should be repaired or replaced.