Electrical Hazards

Flooding caused by hurricanes and storms can create significant electrical safety hazards. Floodwater contaminants can create serious fire hazards if electrical wiring and equipment have been submerged in water. Even with professional cleaning and drying, sediments and toxins are difficult to remove. 

After a flood, dealing with the hazards is not a do-it-yourself project. Before energizing a circuit, you should have a qualified electrician or electrical inspector check it thoroughly to assess the extent of the damage, and only then proceed with repair or replacement. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) (offers these important safety tips: 

  • Do not flip on a switch or plug in an appliance until an electrician confirms it is safe.
     

  • Do not touch a circuit breaker or replace a fuse with wet hands or while standing on a wet surface. Use a dry plastic or rubber-insulated tool to reset breakers, and use only one hand.
     

  • Do not allow power cord connections to become wet. Do not remove or bypass the ground pin on a three-prong plug.
     

  • Use portable ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs) to help prevent electrical shock injuries.
     

  • If electrical devices such as circuit breakers, receptacles, and switches have been submerged, discard and replace them.
     

  • When using a wet-dry vacuum cleaner or pressure washer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid electrical shock.

 

Often after a flood there is a question as to whether you should replace or recondition electrical equipment.  Corrosion and insulation damage can occur when water and silt get inside electrical products. Water can also damage motors in electrical appliances. Therefore, you should be prepared to replace:  

  • Circuit breakers and fuses 

  • All electrical wiring systems 

  • Light switches, thermostats, outlets, light fixtures, electric heaters, and ceiling fans 

  • Furnace burner and blower motors, ignition transformers, elements, and relays  

  • Hot water heaters 

  • Washing machines, furnaces, heat pumps, refrigerators, and similar appliances.  

  • Electronic equipment, including computers and home entertainment systems. 

  • Air conditioners 

  • Non-submersible pumps 

  • Boilers  

The writers at Popular Mechanics magazine  caution against going into a flooded basement until the utility department, fire department, or a licensed electrician has removed the home’s electrical meter from its socket. Removing the meter from the socket is the only way the house can be completely disconnected from the grid.   

Even if you have no power, you can still be electrocuted in a flooded basement if someone is running a generator nearby and back-feeding electricity into a storm-damaged grid. Even after the building is fully disconnected from the grid, never go into a flooded building alone. Put on chest waders and bring a bright flashlight that clips to your hat or your waders so you do not have to carry it. Have someone standing by in case you need help.  

Additional precautions are offered by Electrical Safety Authority:

  • Move dangerous chemicals such as weed killers, insecticides, and corrosives to dry areas to reduce the chance of contaminating electrical equipment. 

  • Shut off all electrical power and the gas supply valve to any gas-fired appliance prior to flooding, if possible. Shut off the electrical supply to all oil-fired equipment.

More information on electrical hazards and electrical appliances and equipment can be found at: