Home electrical fires cause more than 500 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and $1.4 billion in property damage each year. According to a report recently released by the U.S. Fire Administration, fire departments across the United States responded to more than 412,000 home fires in 2006—an increase of more than 16,000 fires from the previous year. The majority of these were caused by problems that could have easily been prevented.

The potential risk of home electrical fires has escalated as both the life expectancy and the energy consumption of the average home have increased in recent years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, half of all homes in the United States were built before 1973, before many of today’s common household appliances and standard electronics, such as electric can openers, hair dryers and computers, became common.

“Many homes and electrical systems in the U.S. are simply being overburdened leading to fire-related fatalities and injuries,” said Brett Brenner, president of The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi).

To combat the issue of home electrical fires, ESFi provides a checklist that outlines simple steps for identifying common dangers and preventing electrical home fires. The foundation will also educate occupants of older homes on the development of newer fire prevention technology such as arc-fault circuit interrupters.

Brenner hopes that ESFi’s efforts will raise public awareness and encourage people to recognize warning signs that may be present in their homes, such as circuit breakers that trip repeatedly or light switches that make crackling sounds. As an additional precaution, ESFi recommends that homeowners make sure there are working smoke alarms in every room of the house and that fire escape plans have been practiced in case of an emergency. For more information, visit www.electrical-safety.org.