Like most of the country, our thoughts this week are centered on the Texas Gulf Coast, the city of Houston, and all the surrounding areas that have been seriously impacted by Hurricane Harvey. While most of Austin received little damage by comparison, we’d like to devote this week’s blog to electrical safety concerns before, during, and after a flood. We hope we won’t see another natural disaster on this scale for a long, long time, but when we do, here’s what your residential electrician recommends you do to prepare.
There’s one item you can take care of before the first drop of rain even falls: making sure your home is outfitted with GFCIs. Ground fault circuit interrupters can cut off the power to your home instantly if flooding is imminent. If you know that a flood is likely and if you have time to safely do so, move electrical appliances to higher ground, such as the second floor of your home. You should also disconnect any outdoor electrics that might become submerged and turn off the breakers to any outdoor plugs. Again, take these precautions only if you have time to do so; your first priority should be getting yourself and your loved ones to safety.
Electrical Safety During A Flood
During an active flooding situation, there are a number of factors to watch out for and pay attention to. First and foremost, never enter any room where water has come in contact with the electrical outlets. Even if your home has lost power, one of your neighbors might be running a generator and backfeeding electricity into the grid (this is extremely dangerous; never connect a generator to your house circuits or run a generator inside your home) or the power might be restored suddenly. Also, never stand in water to operate your breaker box. If you cannot get to your breaker box to shut it down, call the electrical company and have them shut off power from the meter. Never use an electrical appliance or touch any wires, switches, or fuses when you are wet.
During and following a flood, use all your senses to detect possible danger. Keep an eye out for downed power lines. Avoid them, and contact your power company to report them. Listen for popping or buzzing sounds. Be wary of any acrid or burnt-plastic smells — any of these could be signs of an electrical fire.
The Aftermath – Possible Electrical Issues
When the floodwaters finally recede, the hard work still isn’t over. Now’s the time to contact your residential electrician. Your electrician will advise you on the extent of the damage caused by the flood. Many components of your electrical system, including wiring, circuits, switches, and outlets, might need to be replaced. You may also need to replace your HVAC system and your water heater, as well as many major appliances. Any electrical appliance should be checked by a professional before you attempt to operate it post-flood. Unfortunately, most things in our homes aren’t built to withstand complete submersion, even briefly. Your electrician will let you know what’s safe to use and what needs to be discarded.
We cannot hope to prevent a flood on the scale we saw this past weekend, but we can do our part to educate our community on how to stay safe as water levels rise. To provide immediate aid for those affected by Hurricane Harvey, please consider a donation to the American Red Cross or other relief organization.