Electrical Safety

Electrical Safety in the Home : NS Labour and Advanced Education, Building and Equipment Safety

Open Letter

Unsafe wiring or the use of non approved electrical equipment can be deadly as it can cause shocks, fire or other electrical hazards.

When additions, renovations or upgrades are made to your house with regard to the electrical system, all work should be carried out by a qualified electrician. The electrician must obtain a wiring permit for most instances and then a qualified inspector reviews the work to ensure it complies with the proper codes. Conditions that may cause shocks or fire hazards such as improper installations per the Electrical Code should be detected by the inspector who will then require the electrician to correct any such conditions.

Homeowners can also ensure electrical safety in the home by carrying out the following steps:

Use only approved equipment having one of the following labels:


Note that the small 'c' is required at approximately the eight o'clock position on the label for those indicated in order for them to be valid for use in Nova Scotia. With out the small 'c' they are not approved and can not be used.

Always read and follow the manufacturers instructions and do not use any electrical equipment in a manner for which is was not intended to be used. All electrical items for outdoor use must be approved for outdoor use and such approval would appear on the product typically or in the instructions.

Typically items such as toasters, toaster ovens, electric coffee makers or kettles ,electric blankets , portable electrical heaters, hair dryers or irons should be unplugged when not in use even when the items have built in shut off devices or on /off switches.

To insure the electrical safety of your home, your electrical system should be inspected and any deficiencies corrected. All repairs should meet the most recent electrical code requirements.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about the frequency of inspection for your home but the following will provide some general guidelines.

To determine when your electrical system was last inspected, examine the door and cover of your electrical panel(s). The panel may contain a label or tag with a date, a signature, or initials on it. If there is more than one date, the most recent one should be the date of the last inspection. DO NOT remove the service-panel cover. This is a job for a qualified electrician.

The following are some warning signs that should also be taken into account to determine if your home should have its electrical system inspected.

Potential Electrical Hazard Warnings Signs

POWER OUTAGES fuses need replacement or circuit breakers need resetting frequently
OVERRATED PANEL electrical panel contains fuses or circuit breakers rated at higher currents than the ampacity (current capacity) of their branch circuits, sometimes called "overamped" or "overfused"
LIGHTS FLICKER lights flicker or dim or the size of your television picture shrinks
ARCS/SPARKS bright flashes or showers of sparks anywhere in your electrical system
SIZZLES/BUZZES unusual sounds from the electrical system
OVERHEATING parts of your electrical system, such as switch plates, wall outlet covers, cords and plugs, may be warm. These should never be hot - painful to touch or discoloured from heat
PERMANENTLY INSTALLED EXTENSION CORDS used to extend the home wiring system for a long period, instead of being used temporarily to connect some appliance with a cord too short to reach the wall outlet
LOOSE PLUGS attachment plugs that wobble or pull out of a wall outlet easily
DAMAGED INSULATION wires with cut, broken or cracked insulation
Therefore, taking into account the above guide for electrical warning signs,
If your last inspection was:
  • 40 or more years ago, inspection is overdue, have a qualified electrician inspect your house.
  • 10-40 years ago, inspection is advisable, especially if substantial electrical loads (high wattage appliances, lights and wall outlets or extension cords) have been added or if some of the wiring signs discussed are present.
  • Less than 10 years ago, inspection may not be needed, unless some of the warning signs, described are present or temporary wiring has been added.

Appliance Use

Circuits can only handle a specified total wattage of all electrical products connected to that circuit. If too much wattage is plugged into a circuit, serious electrical problems can result. Here is a guide to knowing what a circuit can handle:

15-ampere branch circuit can carry 1500 watts at 120V

Find the nameplate on each appliance indicating its power (watts) rating. Add up the total watts for appliances that you may use at the same time on the same branch circuit. The following are examples of 120V appliances and their associated typical approximate wattages:

Electric Kettle 1000 watts
Hair Dryer 1400 watts
Toaster- 2 slice 1000 watts
Iron 1000 watts
Microwave 1000 watts
Portable Heater 1200 watts
Toaster Oven 1500 watts
Vacuum Cleaner 600-1500 watts
Deep Fat Fryer 1300 watts
TV 300 watts
Portable Fan 150 watts
Computer 500-600 watts
VCR 200 watts
Stereo 300 watts
Electric Coffee Maker 1000 watts
  • If the total exceeds the branch circuit ampacity, disconnect some of the appliances until the wattage is proper for that branch circuit rating.
  • Keep all portable and counter top appliances in the kitchen unplugged when not in use.
  • Never use or attempt to repair a damaged appliance; always consult a qualified repair technician.


Cords stretched across walkways are subject to damage.
  • Whenever possible, arrange furniture so that outlets are available for lamps and appliances without the use of extension cords. Extension cords should not be used as a substitute for permanent wiring. Unplug extension cords when not in use.
  • If you must use an extension cord, place it on the floor against a wall where people cannot trip over it.
  • Move the phone so that telephone cords will not lie where people walk.
Furniture resting on cords can damage them. Electric cords which run under carpeting can overheat and cause a fire.
  • Remove cords from under furniture or carpeting.
  • Replace damaged or frayed cords.
  • Do not drape extension cords over a hot surface such as a radiator or space heater and keep them away from water.
Nails or staples can damage cords, presenting fire and shock hazards.
  • Remove nails and staples from cords after disconnecting power.
  • Check wiring for damage.
  • Use tape if necessary to attach cords to walls or floors.
Damaged cords may cause a shock or fire.
  • Replace frayed or cracked cords.
  • Do not use frayed electrical cords.
Overloaded extension cords may cause fires.
  • Replace No. 18 and 16 gauge cords with No. 14 gauge cords as a minimum. Older extension cords using small (No. 18 gauge) wires can overheat at 15 amps or 20 amps. They also cause a higher voltage drop and can possibly damage equipment such as lawn mowers and larger power tools. Refer to manufacturers instructions for recommended cord sizes.

Light Bulbs

A bulb of too high wattage or the wrong type may lead to fire through overheating. Ceiling fixtures, recessed lights and "hooded" lamps will trap heat.
  • Replace with a bulb of the correct type and wattage. (If you do not know the correct wattage, contact the supplier of the fixture.)
  • Place halogen lamps away from curtains. These lamps become very hot and may cause a fire hazard.

Portable Space Heaters / Electric Baseboard Heaters

Portable electric space heaters can cause fires or serious burns if they are knocked over or if they are placed near home furnishings.
  • Relocate portable space heaters away from passageways and flammable materials, such as curtains, rugs, furniture or newspapers.
  • Ceramic type portable space heaters provide a good source of heat without any exposed heating elements. Some units are available with an automatic shut-off if they are knocked over and this feature is highly recommended in addition to those with high temperature cut outs , units should always have guards around the heating elements. Never leave portable heaters operating when unattended and unplug them when not in use.
  • It is recommended that electrical cords, foam filled articles, drapes, bedding and other flammable items be kept a minimum of 6 inches from the electric baseboard heater and a minimum of 36 inches for portable space heaters . Read the manufacturers instructions on proper use in all cases.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters

A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) detects any loss (leakage) of electrical current in a circuit that might be flowing through a person using an electrical product.

GFCI wall outlets can be installed in place of standard outlets to protect against electrocution for just that outlet, or a series of outlets on the same branch.

A GFCI Circuit Breaker can be installed on some circuit breaker electrical panels to protect against electrocution, excessive leakage current and over current for an entire branch circuit.

Plug-in GFCIs can be plugged into wall outlets where appliances will be used.

A GFCI can provide power without giving an indication that it is no longer providing shock protection. Be sure your GFCI still provides protection from fatal electric shock.

  • Test monthly. First plug a night light or lamp into the GFCI-protected wall outlet (the light should be turned on), then depress the "TEST" button on the GFCI. If the GFCI is working properly, the light should go out. There will be an indicator to show if it is working properly or not. Press the RESET button on the GFCI to restore power .If not working, have the GFCI replaced.
  • If the "RESET" button pops out but the light does not go out, the GFCI has been improperly wired and does not offer shock protection at that wall outlet. Contact a qualified electrician to correct any wiring errors.
  • If you have a home without GFCIs, consult with a qualified electrician about adding this protection for bathroom and outside areas.

Fuses/Circuit Breakers

Replacing a correct size fuse with a larger size can present a serious fire hazard. If the fuse in the box is rated higher than that intended for the circuit, excessive current will be allowed to flow and possibly overload the outlet and house wiring to the point that a fire can begin.
  • Be certain that correct-size fuses are used. (If you do not know the correct sizes, plan to have a qualified electrician identify and label the sizes to be used.)
  • Breakers or fuses that frequently trip or blow may indicate a potential serious problem and should be reviewed by a qualified electrician as soon as possible.

Switches and Receptacle Outlets

Switches are used to turn the power on and off. Receptacle outlets are usually mounted on a wall or floor to supply electricity to appliances through a cord and plug.

Unusually warm or hot outlets or switches may indicate that an unsafe wiring condition exists.

  • Unplug cords from these outlets and do not use the switch.
  • Have a qualified electrician check the wiring as soon as possible.
Exposed wiring presents a shock hazard.
  • All outlets or switches should have cover plates.
  • Use outlet plug covers to prevent children from inserting objects into the outlets.

Small Appliances And Tools

Even an appliance that is not turned on, such as a hair dryer, can be potentially dangerous if it is left plugged in. If it falls into water in a sink or bathtub while plugged in, it could electrocute you.
  • Install ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection near your bathroom sinks to protect against electric shock.
  • "Tucking in" an electric blanket or placing additional coverings on top of it can cause excessive heat buildup which can start a fire.
  • Don't allow anything on top of the blanket while it is in use. (This includes other blankets or comforters, even pets sleeping on top of the blanket.)
  • Do not use electric blankets on children.
  • Consider replacing old tools that do not have a 3-prong plug. The third prong is there because the appliance must be grounded to avoid electric shock.

Portable Standby Generators

  • The improper installation and use of portable generators connected to the main service power panel can cause serious fire and shock hazards.
  • Always use a qualified electrician to install this type of equipment and have the electrician obtain a permit to ensure it is inspected and meets all Code requirements.

Who To Contact?

    If you experience any electrical problems, contact a qualified electrician to review and correct the situation.

    Should you have any general questions regarding electrical safety, contact your local electric utility or contact the:

    Nova Scotia Labour and Advanced Education
    Public Safety Division
    (902) 424-5721 or 1-800-559-3473
    and ask to speak to the Chief Electrical Inspector.