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What causes electrical fires in the home?

Electrical fires are one of the leading causes of domestic fires. With the NZ fire service reporting electrical faults being the second most common cause of fatal fire incidents. Between 2012-2018 there were on average, 1500 house fires each year in NZ connected to electrical issues.


But what actually can cause an electrical fire, and how can an electrical fire be prevented?


What to watch out for

- Flickering lights - this can be a sign of an issue with your cabling.

- Circuit breakers and RCD’s tripping

- Burning small / fishy smell

- Visible burns/scorch marks on sockets


One of the most common ways an electrical fire can start is due to having faulty and/or old cabling. Old cable isn't strong enough or capable enough to power all of the electrical appliances associated with our modern lives. Cabling circuits overtime can easily become overloaded, potentially leading to the start of a house fire. Old, dodgy cabling can leave your home open to potential fires and unsafe.


Light fittings also can potentially start a fire within your home if not installed and connected correctly. Having a light fitting too close to insulation (particularly insulfluff) makes this especially true. Always be aware when purchasing downlights, to check how close the manufactures state they can be installed to building materials. It is worth bringing up that there are currently no downlights available on the NZ market that are safe to be installed directly or closely to insulfluff (or other loose insulation).


Extension cords are another biggy that can cause electrical fires. We've all been there, needing to plug something in but there not being enough sockets, or it being just outta reach. Then out comes the extension cord. However, especially in older homes please think twice before plugging in your extension cord. This is because extension cords actually come with a huge risk of starting an electrical fire. It is very easy for an extension cords to overload circuits.


Old appliances can lead to fault and can also become an electrical fire hazard.

The most common appliances to cause fires are:

- Dishwashers

- Microwaves

- Dryers

- Refrigeration

- Toasters

To ensure safety when using appliances it is always important to be aware of manufactures instructions for operating and maintaining your appliances. Always make sure to check the appearance of the appliance, particularly the plug and cord before use.

Switchboards with safeguard protects your home against fires and prevents electrical related injuries, but only if looked after and well maintained. If your home is an older property there's a high chance that you will not have RCD protection installed. RCD’s protect you and your home by cutting off the electricity when a fault is found within its protected circuit, avoiding fires and electrocution.


To summarise, electrical issues are one of the leading causes of domestic fires, these are often preventable. Your homes wiring does require maintenance, if you notice any of the warning signs listed above, please don't wait until it is too late and call a registered electrician.