Domestic fires of electrical origin

1 incendie domestique sur 3 est d'origine électrique

Source: MMA

Non-compliant and non-renovated electrical installations, carelessness when using electrical appliances or lights, dangerous connections, overloaded sockets... one in three domestic fires is of electrical origin.

What causes electrical fires?

Electrical fires are often caused by overheating of electrical components that eventually ignite nearby objects or combustible materials.

According to the French National Observatory for Electrical Safety (ONSE), out of 27 million French homes, 7 million present risks of fire of electrical origin and 30% of them are considered particularly dangerous...
Every year, France has 200,000 house fires, 50,000 of which are of electrical origin:

  • 61% of these are related to electrical equipment in the home (household appliances, lighting, etc.).
  • 36% to fixed electrical installations (e.g. electrical switchboards, electrical cables, sockets, switches) or mobile installations (e.g. extension cords, power strips).
  • 3% to the electrical installations in the common areas of buildings or to the distribution of energy (electric meters, switchgear, etc.).

Checking the electrical installation of your home

If you live in a new house, there are normally no worries. Your electrical installation complies with the NFC 15-100 electrical standard.

On the other hand, if your home is old and the electrical installation has not been renovated, there are likely to be gaps, weaknesses or hazards, which may cause a fire to start.

Qu'est que la norme électrique NFC 15-100 ?

In concrete terms, the NFC 15-100 electrical standard regulates the electrical installation of a home, and imposes measures and equipment such as the installation of a GTL (Gaine Technique de Logement), protection of electrical circuits and the minimum equipment required in each room of the home. 

The risk of fire of electrical origin in relation to the age of the house

High risk for any dwelling built before 1974 (and not renovated since): the standard and control of electrical installations in dwellings built before that date were not mandatory. 
To a lesser extent, any dwelling built between 1974 and 1991: the regulations then changed in 1991 with the obligation to install a 30mA differential circuit breaker.

Of the 36.3 million French dwellings, 30.3 million are over 15 years old (83%). 
65% of the dwellings were built before 1986 and almost half of them were built before 1949.

Carry out a diagnosis of your electrical installation

The diagnosis of the state of the internal electricity installation provides information on the safety of electrical installations in the home. It aims to assess the risks that may compromise the safety of people and their property and focuses on 6 regulatory safety points.

What you need to know about the safety of older electrical housing

In dwellings over 15 years old, 2/3 of the electrical installations do not comply with at least one of the 6 regulatory safety points. These include:

  • 8 out of 10 dwellings have no or defective earthing.

  • 6 out of 10 dwellings have a poor equipotential bonding* or a non-compliant safety zone** in the bathrooms.

* The equipotential bonding connects all metal equipment that can conduct electricity to earth. It is intended to protect people against electric shocks.

** Water and electricity do not mix well, so zoning is essential to guarantee the safety of the bathroom. According to the NF C15-100/A2 standard, the bathroom is divided into four volumes, each with a specific type of electrical equipment.

Extension cords and other power strips - fire traps

How many French homes are "riddled" with extension cords and power strips? However, these handy accessories are also very dangerous. You should always consider them as temporary installations that are not intended to remain in place.  
If you use them, your fixed electrical installation is not adequate and it will be cheaper to have an electrician come and do some circuit modifications than to suffer the damage of a house fire.
Some practical advice if you still need to use it:

  • Never leave an extension cord plugged in if it is not connected to an appliance.
  • Never overload a power strip or combine several power strips together. There is a risk of overheating.

→ A power strip used for too many electrical appliances overheats (accumulation of all the electrical power of each appliance), which melts its protective sheaths. It then emits sparks which trigger a short circuit. A fire is then not far away...

  • Do not run extension cords under carpets. Do not staple them to the wall or any other support. Do not run them through doorways.
  • Replace any broken or damaged extension leads. 

Caution: electrical appliances = fire soon...

Older electrical equipment = electrical hazard
According to the ESO, 50% of our electrical appliances are obsolete. These are no longer safe or simply damaged due to their age or misuse, making them dangerous.

→ When buying a new electrical appliance, always check for the "CE" and "NF" logos, which guarantee that the appliances comply with the safety regulations in force.

 Never rely on your electrical appliances 

  • Connect all appliances to an earthed socket.
  • Do not leave your small appliances plugged in unnecessarily. 
    As soon as you stop using it, disconnect it from the socket (first examples of application: your coffee machine, toaster, iron, hairdryer, etc., often left plugged in permanently due to their relatively frequent use!)

→ Some small appliances, such as irons, toasters, raclette machines, electric planchas, etc., emit a lot of heat and therefore consume a lot of electricity. Therefore, do not connect more than one of these appliances to a single socket.

  • Don't leave your electrical appliances in standby mode (televisions, computers, etc.): remember to always switch them off if you are not using them. You will save energy (and therefore money) and you will also avoid the problems of overheating that are the source of many fires.
  • Never use an appliance if you are not nearby: dishwashers or washing machines that run while you are out of the house, yoghurt makers or bread makers that run at night... are all common and risky practices.
  • Check that your hotplates are switched off after cooking. The same goes for your oven.

→ If a device causes tingling when you use it, unplug it immediately and have it checked by a professional.

Beware of electrical cables on appliances
Damaged electrical cables can cause a fire
Electrical cables (also called electrical cords) are sheaths that house wires that should not touch. If misuse or pressure damages a sheath, the cable becomes dangerous.

  • A hoover cable trapped under a door or pulled to try to clean even further away, an extension cord flattened under the leg of a piece of furniture, an electrical appliance unplugged by pulling on the cord to avoid walking to the socket... are all carelessness that can lead directly to fire. 
  • Also, be careful not to use an appliance with a worn or frayed electric cable. The heat emitted by exposed electrical wires could ignite the combustible surface that touches them (curtain, carpet, parquet, etc.)... 
  • Finally, beware of phone chargers and charging cables. 
    Don't leave them plugged in all the time and make sure the cable is not lying under a sofa cushion, blanket or other flammable material. These little things are not as harmless as they look. In addition, many unsafe products (cheap or not!) are flooding the market...

Recognise the warning signs of an electrical fire

These different signs should alert you and require an electrician as soon as possible:

  • Fuse blows repeatedly.
  • Circuit breaker that trips regularly.
  • Electrical cable hot to the touch.
  • Electrical socket or switch that makes noise.
  • Bulb that flickers when you turn on your light.
  • An appliance that emits a particular odour or smokes during use.
  • Black marks on an electrical device.
  • Worn, cracked or frayed cable.
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