Call for a Free Estimate (704) 289-7792
Electricians in Charlotte, NC

What Does An Electrical Fire Smell Like?

How Does an Electrical Fire Smell?Wondering what an electrical fire smells like? While there are many causes, electrical fires can smell like “burning plastic” or “burning rubber” as the plastic insulation surrounding copper wires inside the walls starts to heat and melt, releasing strong unpleasant chemical odors. If the electrical fire progresses, you may begin to smell wood burning as well. Some people even report that an electrical fire smells “fishy” which could also be a result of the chemicals and other agents burning such as insulation.

Keep you and your loved ones safe by knowing what an electrical fire smells like and what to do in the event you detect an electrical fire. Contact the professional electricians near you at LiveWire Electrical can perform a thorough electrical inspection of your home to make sure your electrical system is up to code and does not pose any safety or fire hazards.

Are Electrical Fires Toxic?

Since electrical fires can smell like burning plastic or rubber, the chemical odors from the burning insulation wiring can be toxic. The temperature in an electrical fire can reach 1100°F in just 3 ½ minutes, which is high enough to melt home appliances, and burn plastic. This results in toxic fumes that include ketones and aldehyde gases that are harmful to inhale. Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) by-products are also emitted from electrical burning equipment that can cause cancer and other serious health issues. The intensity of the smell can change with the temperatures and complexity of the circuits. The HVAC systems can also carry the odor throughout the home, sometimes making it difficult to pinpoint the source.

The scary thing is that an electrical fire takes only 30 seconds to turn into a full-blown fire, and in about 5 minutes, the fire can cover the entire house and burn it to the ground. Preventing electrical fires is key. The problem is that electrical fires tend to start behind a wall, so you can’t see them and rely on other signs of an electrical fire to tell if something’s wrong. The unappealing, toxic electrical burning smell is a top giveaway that you have a fire burning in your home.

How Common Are Electrical Fires?

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 5,300 fires occur each year because of electrical receptacles themselves. Since you can’t always see electrical fires, their seriousness is usually downplayed. However, these fires can be deadlier than the average Class A and Class F fires for the simple reason that by the time you see them, it’s already too late. Around 51,000 electrical fires happen yearly, resulting in over $1.3 billion in losses and more than 500 deaths. Those are needless injuries and deaths that could have easily been avoided with some due diligence.

Some houses have outdated, wiring, meaning their outlet and extension cables are overloaded with the current of modern appliance wiring, which can cause electrical fires. Sometimes electrical appliances themselves can also be the reason for electrical fires.

Signs That You May Be Dealing With An Electrical Fire

Electrical Fire Smells From Burning OutletsElectrical fire originates from wires, electrical systems, breakers, cables, components, incorrect wiring installations after a remodel, and sometimes electrical appliances. Common reasons are circuit overload (not having a dedicated circuit installed) and panel age. Putting too much load on panel circuits can result in the irregular flow of electricity, causing the wires or circuit to heat up. Add to this prevalent issues like poor maintenance, old appliances, and ignorance of safety specifications, and you’ve got a possible disaster at your hands.

The warning signs for electrical fire can vary depending on how old the building is and if the panels were ever replaced. Identifying these issues at their onset can prevent deadly accidents. Minor signs like electrical buzz and sparking outlets foretell an impending disaster. Don’t ignore them but immediately call a professional electrician.

Always look out for the following danger signs:

Your Circuit Breaker Trips Often

Circuit breakers trip, but the issue arises when breakers start tripping often. It is a sign that your breakers are not working fine. There are various reasons for it.

It can be because of the circuit breaker being overloaded. To prevent excessive heat, the circuit breaker trips, which halts the electric flow. It would be best to place the appliances in different spots to avoid extreme heat on one circuit.

A circuit breaker tripping means it is preventing the electrical fire. Too much circuit tripping will fail to control the electrical fire. It is better to take help from professionals to solve the breaker-tripping issue.

Your Lights Flicker And Dim For No Reason At All

Dimming and flickering lights are a clear sign that there is a current issue in your wire or circuit. However, before jumping to conclusions, try the dimming light on another circuit to see if the light is at fault.

If more than one light flickers simultaneously, the circuit is at fault. Not only will dimming and flickering damage your light, but it can also generate sparks in the wiring.

The Outlets And Switches Are Discolored And Sometimes Even Downright Charred

Faulty wiring and burned switches are warning signs since a defective wire near the outlet and connection can cause a short-short circuit if left unchecked. Consult a qualified electrician to replace the circuit and fix the faulty wiring.

You See Sparks And Hear A Buzz Every Time You Try To Use An Outlet

Buzzing noises and sparks may seem normal, but it is the beginning of a bigger problem. The problem can occur from faulty wiring and electric current overload. It would be best to get it checked by an electrician.

Test Your Electrical Wiring For Possible Issues and Electrical Fires

Make safety a priority, and frequently check your home’s electrical circuits and wires under the right conditions.

Close all connections, and connect circuits one at a time. It will reduce the load. Once everything is done, return to each room and repeatedly switch it on or off. This will reveal faulty electrical wiring or loose outlet and can cause problems in the wiring.

Also, most homes have surge protectors or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, (GFCI outlets) that can save you from electrocution you. Test it at least once a month.

It’d be best to call a professional to do these tests and find overload problems in your breakers, wires, and circuits.

Call For Help When You Smell an Electrical Fire

If any or all of the issues mentioned above happen to you, it’s time to shut down the power breaker for the house and call in a professional electrician to give you an electrical safety inspection.

Also, NEVER use water to try to put out an electrical fire. It will only increase the risk of electrocution. Stick to the fire extinguisher. We can’t stress this enough.

If a fire has already erupted, and you are dealing with more than charred outlets, it’s time to call in your local fire department and 911. Once the situation is under control, call the electrical experts to fix the electrical wiring.

Contact Us

Are you in need of a professional electrician that is Licensed, Bonded & Insured? Get in touch with LiveWire Electrical today!

Phone: (704) 289-7792
Address: 1409 East Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28203
Hours: Open 24/7

Our Location

Service Areas

Huntersville NC
Matthews NC
* We Service All of Charlotte


Bobby was terrific! I got the appointment set up with him and he was prompt,
professional, and very communicative. Very reasonably priced as well!
I would recommend him to family and friends. He installed my Tesla wall charger
very quickly and perfectly and that’s all I can ask for! Great guy.

We're Proud of Our 4.8/5 Rating Across 210+ Reviews on Google