10 common electrical system hazards

What to inspect and fix before closing up the cottage

By Andy ChristieAndy Christie

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Inspect your electrical system for these common hazards

1. Faulty outdoor wiring

Check outdoor wires for wear, an immediate shock danger, and for damage-prone spots where wires can move, such as along the run to a boathouse or dock. Outdoor wiring must be inside electrical conduit or buried 60 cm underground.

2. Aluminum wiring

Aluminum wiring should 
be inspected by an electrician. You don’t need to replace it, but connections and receptacles must be aluminum-friendly to be safe.

3. Unlocked disconnects

Older cottages may have separate shut-off switches where the main electrical feed comes in and at large equipment, such as a boat lift. They carry big-amp power, often with nothing to prevent a curious child or hapless handyperson from opening the box and touching bare wires; use the built-in hasp and lock ’em up.

4. Missing GFCIs

Outdoor outlets and indoor ones near water (kitchens and bathrooms) must be protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. No GFCIs? You may be in for a fatal shock.

5. Faulty GFCIs

Plug a lamp into a GFCI outlet and push the test button. If nothing happens or the button sticks, the GFCI is faulty. If the reset button clicks but the lamp stays on, the GFCI is probably miswired.

6. Overfusing

Put a high-amp fuse on a lower-amp circuit and—yikes!—instead of the fuse blowing, the wires overheat. Lights 
and receptacles usually take 15-amp fuses. Baseboard heaters and electric water heaters are usually 20–30 amps.

7. Overheating

Turn off the main power and remove the breaker panel cover (or have an electrician do it). Look for wires or connections with signs of overheating (blackened sheathing, carbon deposits, or melted insulation).

8. Open junctions

Every connection, whether wire-
to-wire or wire-to-receptacle, must be in a covered, mounted electrical box to protect you from shock. Boxes are often missing near pumps, hot-water tanks, and ceiling light fixtures.

9. Loose receptacles

If you have to hold the receptacle’s cover plate to pull the toaster plug out, a shocking short circuit is likely. Fix it.

10. Damaged wiring

Mice sometimes chew wire insulation, especially in the attic and crawlspace. Replace the damaged wires and keep the rodents out.


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