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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

What Does An Electrical Fire Smell Like?

12/7/2020 (Permalink)

electrical fire on electrical circuit Did you know that sometimes electrical fires can smell a bit fishy?

When there's electrical problems in your home, you likely will come across many warning signs of an electrical fire. This may include flickering or dimming lights, circuit breakers keep tripping or short circuiting, or even electrical outlets suddenly having burn or char marks.

But, perhaps the most obvious sign of an electrical fire is its distinct smell, which can sometimes be mistaken for just an unwanted odor in your home. Here, we will go over the odd smells that can occur when your electrical system experiences a fire and what you should do.

The Smell of an Electrical Fire

You may assume that the smell of a fire in your home's electrical system would smell like a regular fire. But, it turns out that a fire caused by electrical components can sometimes smells fishy or urine-like.

Why can electrical fires smell like fish? This phenomenon is due to the plastics and heat-resistant chemicals in the materials used to make outlets, circuits breakers, or wiring. When these components are exposed to a high heat, they may produce this fishy or urine-like smell due to melting or actively burning.

This 'fishy' smell causes many homeowners to believe that there is an odor issue in their home rather than an immediate fire hazard. You may relentlessly search for the source of the smell - looking for dead animals, sewage gases, or broken pipes. Some homeowners go as far as to have their HVAC system cleaned and serviced, as the odor is seems to come from the vents.

Unfortunately, it is hard for the average homeowner to determine the smell is actually coming from the electrical wires or other components behind walls.

What Should You Do When You Smell an Electrical Fire?

Whether you experience a 'normal' persistent burning smell or experience the 'fishy' smell of an electrical fire, you should always immediately call an electrician. If it seems that there is an active fire or there are also signs of smoke - evacuate the home immediately and call 911.

Unfortunately, its usually hard to catch an electrical fire by the smell. By time a distinct burning smell is produced, your electrical system has likely already started a fire in your home. It is more common to experience this 'fishy' smell when components are actively overheating - but not on fire.

Rely On Other Signs of an Electrical Fire

Since it's uncommon and usually too late to prevent electrical fires based on smell, you should be well aware of the many other signs to keep your home safe. Signs your home's electrical system is a fire hazard include:

  • Damaged or old wiring
  • Lights dimming sporadically
  • Charred or discolored outlets
  • Loose light switches or outlets
  • Circuit breaker keeps tripping
  • Outlets emitting heat

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