Keep in mind

Accidents don’t come with notification. What to keep in mind about electricity?

Here is a list of things to remember and keep an eye on. Also instructions in case of emergency.

Our world is held together screws, bolts and nails. Unfortunately screws are the least reliable.

If vehicle’s wheel bolts come loose, wheel will fall off and car might crash.

But in electrical world if screw that holds a wire loosens even for a half of a turn, that place will spark and becomes a fire hazard. It is totally unnoticeable process – with an exception we can notice loose socket at the wall. Even though in Estonia regular households are not required to show any about electrical maintenances every 5 or 10 years, for the sake of safety, most critical components should be checked and retorqued. Similarly to gas boilers and chimneys become dangerous if they get out of order, electrics can do the same, especially in a wooden building.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” isn’t always true. Sometimes there is nothing that ignites but there is a lot that creates smoke. Especially in electrics. Smoke is not as dangerous for the building as it is for inhabitants, especially in a sleep. Significant portion of electrical faults arise during nighttime, when heating is on or water is being heated in boiler or washing machine. Smoke, that starts from electrical faults is often toxic. Older cables have plastic shells that create hazardous fumes when overheated or shorted. Luckily electrical fires are slow, therefore smoke alarms are extremely helpful here.

Be on the safe side and please verify that you have at least a couple smoke alarms that are in operational! With an exception of single-room dwelling, where sleeping and cooking happens in the same space.


Recommendation 1: Those who can not push the TEST button due to height, find a broom or any other stick, use that to push the button for few seconds. Smoke alarm should beep loudly. This should be done regularly, for example, at the time you pay bills, monthly. 

Recommendation 2: There shall be one spare 9V battery always on hand. One day smoke alarm will start to chirp. Often battery is torn out and detector is just left inoperable for months. Unfortuntunately, there have been casualties here in Estonia for exactly that reason. Good 9V battery costs up to 2€. Anything above 4V is a ripoff.

Recommendation 3: If you still don’t have a smoke alarm or you can’t find anybody who would fasten it to the ceiling (we can definitely help you with that), as a last resort it is acceptable to put the alarm on the edge of a high closet.

“Accidents come without notice”. This is why we fasten seatbelts before we drive off. We never know when it happens. Therefore we should be ready to turn off water and gas supply. Go turn off your washing machines. Now close the water supply by turning stop tap to closed position. Go check that there is no water coming from the tap. It is good to repeat the process annually, otherwise stop tap might seize and you might not be able to close the water supply when you go for a vacation.

If you have a gas supply then check that valve as well. Leave the gas cooker or gas boiler on. Close the gas valve. Check that flame is gone. Now turn the device off. Turn on gas supply and restart it to check that now it works again. All done.

It is somewhat more complicated with electricity. Find the key for the electrical main panel or in case of a flat, key for stairway electrical cabinet. Inside the switchboard there is a word “pealüliti”, as in “main switch” (sometimes there are more than one in case there are switches for neighbours). If there are many, find the one with your flat number and turn it off. Now go and verify that there is no power anywhere in your apartment. Your electricity meter should switch off as well. In case of apartments often “pealüliti” word can not be found, just the numbers of the flats on the main breakers (usually they are next to each other.

Is is actually necessary to play all this? It is important that you know what to do in case of emergency within a minute. Also you might need to do it in case any of the circuit breakers turns off. Most common problems are: “electrical panel is locked and I don’t know anything about the key” and “I don’t understand anything what is happening there” – for the latter one you will get some help from the article  “Mis on mis elektrikapis”. It would be funny if somebody would say “I don’t know how to fasten a seatbelt” and “I don’t have a key to turn off the car”.

Who has to know how to turn off the power?

Every adult, who stays home alone. Sometimes one can ask for help from a neighbour, but in case of an accident there might be nobody to help, therefore it is reasonable to learn the procedure (at least with a helpful neighbour) and teach everybody, who lives home and can handle being alone there. Also tell this to your relatives and friends, they also should know how to do it.

As the last resort you can ask our services, we can teach you.

In case of electrical fires one may not just start extinguishing with water (power has to be turned off before). But regular powder extinguisher (marked ABC class) suits electrical fires even under live power. Unfortunately, usually there are no fire extinguishers at home. Rarely they are found there – nobody seems to need them. There should be in the vehicle, but not at home. I think it should be visa-versa. You can always get out of the vehicle, but getting out of the house might not be possible if evacuation route is on fire. Also vehicle costs less than a home.

I should not recommend, but still. Often we find out that vehicle’s fire extinguisher is due for service. This is never done as new one costs less than service itself. Most likely that extinguisher is fine. Rather than hiding it somewhere in the garage or attic, it could be left at more reachable place – at the kitchen for example. And for servicing it is enough to just listen for the powder inside pouring by twisting it upside down few times. Yes, this is what servicing actually means. Every few years it must be turned upside down and verified that powder inside is not sintered, in a quiet place with ear touching it. If it is, just tap it or hit it with rubber mallet – that would work. And the gauge should also show green. All done!

Remember: 1kg powder extinguisher is good for 7 seconds. You can cycle the lever, not push it continuously. And if you use extinguisher even for a second, it will be unusable for the next day – it will leak out on its own. 

Remember: if you don’t have a fire extinguisher, then you HAVE to turn the power off before you start extinguisher with water. Don’t close the door – let others hear your smoke alarm, maybe somebody will come to help.

This is one of the most forgotten activity. Firstly, many don’t even have it – more than half of homeowners. Pretty bad. If the building is new or lately renovated, then it leaves an impression “everything has been updated lately, nothing has to be done for years”. Not true. There is ONE device inside the electrical panel that requires the user to push TEST button ever so often. 

It is called Residual current device or RCD. It is a device, that measured, did all electricity, that went to device also returned. If even a tiniest amount did not come back through wire, device understands, that it leaked somewhere else. In the worst case it might pass human body and it will switch of the power immediately – so fast that heart will not stop. Brilliantly simple device that saves lives. Some manufacturers state that it should be checked monthly, some say every 3 months. It is a lot to ask to be true and only the best of us actually comply. If you check it twice a year that would be sufficient.

Before you check it, switch off your computer as the power will switch off. If pushing the TEST button doesn’t turn it off, it means device is broken and needs to be replaced.

What to do if you see sparkling or fallen power lines outside, some pole is tilted, a tree has fallen on the line or you found a life-threatening place (especially in the reach of children)?

If it is not life-threatening, more like a fault, call 1343. Add that number to your phonebook right now. If not, at least you know that you can find it here. If situation is dangerous, rather call 112.

Attention: If you notice a fallen wire outdoors, keep away of it, do not approach closer! Don’t make big steps and don’t run! Maybe it seems as a fiction, but electricity will jump between your feet.

More complex situation is when you found a fault or danger inside a building. It would be reasonable to knock the closest doors, maybe locals can act appropriately. If nobody answers, it is still reasonable to call and notify grid provider. If it is smoldering or smells, it might be reasonable to call 112 before it gets out of control.

If you see an open electrical panel and nobody is working on it, then you could find a responsible party – ideally landlord. 

If it is clearly dangerous situation, for example your own apartment building has a electrical panel that is open so a child could stick a hand inside, you have notified accountable party and nothing has been done within a week, you can call 112 and tell that there is a life-threatening situation at specific address. Most likely rescue service will fine or at least precept an order to fix it soon.

Electrical panels may be open only temporarily, when work is being done. Opening them without any tools should be impossible. Exclusion is well made modern enclosures, where opening the door only allows access to switches, meters buttons and no bare wires. Examples can be found in the article  “Mis on mis elektrikapis”.

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