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Published on
January 11th, 2024

The Risk of Electrical Issues Following Flooding or Water Damage

Did you know that around 100,000 New Yorkers live in areas affected by routine flooding? While that statistic is concerning, it is not the only water issue people face in the city. Many buildings in the city are pre-war, constructed between 1890 and 1940, before World War II. With older construction and older plumbing, leaks are common, meaning building owners must worry about water damage from at least two sources: nature and structure.

While leaks and floods are worrisome enough, property owners also need to concern themselves with electrical water damage. Water from any source does not interact well with electricity. Discover the dangers and signs of water damage to a building’s electrical system and tips to keep tenants safe.

3 Risks and Potential Dangers of Electrical Water Damage

1. Electric Shock

Water is an excellent conductor of electricity, meaning it allows electrical current to flow freely through it. Tap water is such a good conductor because it contains impurities, such as calcium, dissolved sodium, and magnesium salts. Floodwater also contains conductive elements.

When a human body is introduced to the affected electrical elements or electrified water, it attracts an electrical discharge. Depending on the amount of power transmitted through the water or water-damaged item, you can expect quite a shock, resulting in potentially severe injuries.

2. Electrical Fire

An electrical fire is a legitimate concern during floods, leaks, or pipe breaks. When water enters the electrical system, it can cause short circuits. Also, depending on the damage to the system, live wires may contact ungrounded surfaces, causing arcing.

The temperature of an electrical arc is between 932°F and 36,032°F. Both low and high-voltage environments can produce arc flashes, especially in water-damaged systems. The energy released from a single flash is enough to ignite clothing, burn skin, and set a blaze in your building.

3. Electrocution and Death

Electrical water damage can also result in electrocution, which can cause life-threatening injuries or death. Many people assume that a power outage means no flowing electricity, but that is not always the case. A flood may short-circuit the lights, but the electrical current may still flow intermittently and unpredictably through the outlets and other devices. Many times, flooding or water damage may affect the circuitry and voltage regulators in a property.

Don’t risk your life to assess water and property damage. Stay clear of flooded and affected areas, and hire a licensed electrician to examine the system and make repairs.

3 Signs of Water Damage to Electrical Components

1. Discoloration

Unless you experience a flood, the signs of water damage might be subtle, especially regarding electrical components. While there are many signs of damage, the most obvious is likely discoloration. Outlets, switches, and drywall can all show signs of discoloration, so pay close attention.

Around outlets and switches, look for rust coloration. The color may appear on the switch or around the prong slots of an outlet. Also, the wall around the switch and outlet plates might look and feel spongy and damp. Paint may also begin to peel and crack on the wall.

2. Burning Smells

A burning odor can also signal electrical water damage. Again, the smell is usually most apparent around outlets and switches. A burning smell can indicate a short circuit or overheating within the system.

If you smell something burning or your tenants or staff complain about a similar odor, shut down power to the area and contact an electrician. While burning or charred smells may not mean an imminent threat of fire, there is the possibility. A licensed electrician can assess the issue, determine the immediate threat to your building, and make any necessary repairs.

3. Tripping Circuit Breaker

Sometimes, water damage to the electrical system is not so obvious. Since water damage can cause short circuits, it is possible your property may experience tripping breakers. Depending on the age of your building, you may incorrectly assume that the frequent tripping results from old wiring.

Even with older wiring, circuit breakers should not trip routinely. If the breaker trips often enough to give you or your staff pause, contact a licensed electrician and request a system inspection.

3 Tips for Safely Handling Electrical Water Damage Situations

1. Turn Off Power

If you suspect water damage to your electrical system, the most important thing to do is shut down power to the affected area. Depending on the severity of the flooding or water damage, you may want to shut off the primary power supply from the utility company. If you believe it is necessary to turn off the power to the property, switch off each circuit breaker before turning off the main breaker.

If your circuit breaker box is in the flooded area or near it, do not attempt to shut down the power. Call your utility provider and report the issue. The company may turn off the power from outside the building.

2. Touch nothing

Do not touch compromised electrical equipment or devices. Even if an item looks powered off, it may still hold a charge that can discharge the second you come near it. If you suspect electrical water damage in a specific area of your building, it is best to cordon off the area until a professional can assess the damage.

3. Contact a Licensed Electrician

Last and most important, call a licensed electrician to schedule an inspection and repair of the affected system. Trained professionals know how to interact safely with electrical systems, even damaged ones.

You can call an electrician for any electrical system concerns. Even if you think you are being overly cautious, it is best to be safe when dealing with tenants and staff.

Licensed and Insured NYC Electricians for Electrical Water Damage Repairs

Bolt Electric Offers Repair Services and Inspections

Electrical water damage is nothing to play around with. If you believe a flood, leak, or line break damaged your system, call Bolt Electric at 212-734-5000 and schedule a system inspection. Also, ask about annual service contracts to keep your system running at peak performance.

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