Electrical Hazards of Weather

High winds and severe weather can bring risks to home and commercial electrical systems

Downed power lines and the presence of water around electrical outlets and appliances are never good things, and a word to the wise is to call a professional if a risk appears likely

Throughout the summer there have been reports of severe flooding and other weather emergencies all across the country and while the Denver area has been spared from catastrophe heavy “monsoon” rains here in July have brought a little havoc to the area.  A key issue in any weather situation, whether big or small, is to safeguard people and their homes from damage to electric power lines, electrical systems and appliances that often result from severe weather.

Among the first things reported in weather emergencies are power outages that obviously have an effect on lifestyle, but these can also be accompanied by dangerous situations of exposing people to electric shock and injury, and sometimes even cause fire. High winds associated with powerful storms often bring down power lines, lightning strikes can short out substations and even home electrical systems, and water from flooding or heavy rains is never a good thing when it mixes with electricity.

As residential and commercial electricians serving Colorado and the Denver area for a dozen years, Allstar Electrical Services has been called out scores of times for weather-related electrical damage repair or systems safety checks and advises that homeowners and business alike should taker extreme caution if they suspect an electrical compromise in or around their properties during or after a storm.

The first thing, obviously, is to stay away from downed power lines and call the local utility company. In some cases it is also wise to call 9-1-1 with the report of downed power lines so that emergency services can respond and protect people and property. If it involves power lines, the emergency responders will take care of calling in the utility line people for safeguarding and repair. Rain and standing water only exacerbates the situation and downed power lines should be addressed with extreme caution.

Another potential electrical safety problem area is flooding, and in our experience problems most often occur as a result of basement flooding. While there are going to be other problems associated with significant basement flooding, the first safety issue is to be very wary of standing in water that may have compromised electrical outlets, appliances and lamps, hot wate5r heaters, furnaces and the like. While up-to-date electric codes mandate the use of GFI (ground fault interrupter) outs, switches and circuits in basements (and anywhere else in proximity to water; e.g. kitchens and bathrooms), many older homes have not been updated with such equipment and may expose a homeowner to shock. The best advice: avoid standing water that could be exposed to electricity and call in a professional to handle the situation.

While basements are the most obvious locations for water damage in severe storms, such weather can also damage roofs, windows and doors. Once again, it is never a good thing if water mixes with electricity, so if you suspect water damage coming from the roof or broken openings, check the electrical first before marching in on a repair. Roof damage in particular could bring water into the walls, unseen, where electrical connections reside, so take caution turning on switches or appliances, unplugging things, etc. If there’s any doubt, call a professional electrician.

One of the most frequent electrical situations we encounter are blown circuits and damaged appliances as a result of power surges during electrical storms. The best way to protect your home and its electrical equipment from lightning damage is to unplug everything, however that it often impractical. Infrequent-use appliances — like toasters, blenders, hair dryers and curlers, etc. — should be unplugged when not in use anyway; even off they continue to drain power. Wired appliances like TVs/entertainment centers and computers should be connected with power-surge strips or other technology to protect them from “blowing up” as a result of a power surge or strike. Also, after an electrical storm it is best to check appliances, switches, receptacles and outlets for any obvious signs of stress – short circuits, excessive heat, smoldering – as these are signs that the electrical components have been compromised and may pose a risk of shock or fire.

And finally, a word to the wise: often after severe weather or a storm has knocked power out of a home, people turn to portable gas-powered generators to get some lights and some essential things working. Always operate a generator with full ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, and never ope5rate them inside a basement, garage or inside the home.

The good news is that only under the most extreme weather conditions does modern electricity become compromised and pose a risk. For the most part, the home electrical is safe and will provide years of worry-free service if proper maintenance is conducted and upgrades are made at the appropriate times (e.g. new additions to the house, new and heavy energy consuming device like air conditioning). Just keep in mind that it is never wise to take a chance when there is a potential for an electrical hazard, like high winds and the presence of heavy rain or flooding near electrical devices. Call a professional and all will be safe.     

For all commercial and residential electrical needs – including emergencies – call Allstar Electrical Services at (303) 399-7420