Most homes today use electricity for more purposes than ever before. Most items such as cordless telephones, computers, printers and microwave ovens did not exist when many American homes were built. That means that a lot of homes do not have enough wall outlets in the right places and, as a result, causes us to rely more on extension cords. Remember -- extension cords are intended for temporary use only! If you find that you have a lot of equipment and/or appliances plugged into an extension cord, and that they have been there for several months or even years, you probably need to have some electrical upgrading done on your home in order to update your system and install extra outlets. When using extension cords, check them frequently. If a cord ever feels hot to the touch, unplug it! It's overheating, and that presents a serious fire hazard.

If you have an older home with an electrical system that doesn't include a grounding wire, can you update some outlets with ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs)? The answer is yes. The National Electrical Code allows for replacement of outlets in ungrounded boxes with GFCIs. Those GFCI units will function as they should, even without being connected to a grounding source. But before you take on the task yourself, you should probably check with an electrician. In some older homes, the electrical circuits are wired with a material called BX, a cable encased in metal sheathing that provides the grounding conductor. If your home has BX you do have a grounding source. A qualified electrician can clarify how your electrical system is wired, advise you about the best way to install GFCIs in your home, or do the work for you.

Today's average home uses about six times as much electricity as a home did a generation ago. If you have an older home your electrical system may not be up to the task of powering all the equipment we commonly use today. In fact, some estimates indicate that four out of five American homes are inadequately wired. And inadequate wiring causes one out of eight home fires. How do you know if your home is properly wired? If you answer yes to three of the following questions, chances are that your electrical system needs upgrading. Is your home more than 10 years old? Do you have problems with circuit breakers tripping frequently? Is the picture on your television constantly shrinking or fading? Are your lights dimming or electric motors running more slowly than they should? Rewiring a home is an expensive proposition, but it's almost certainly cheaper than a fire. Have a licensed electrician review your electrical system and advise you of the measures you need to take to minimize the risk of an electrical fire.

If you use a lot of extension cords in your home or apartment, government safety experts say doing away with as many cords as possible can improve the safety of your home. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said homeowners can use fewer extension cords by taking the simple step of relocating floor lamps, clocks, radios, television sets and other electrical products closer to wall receptacles.

If a lamp or appliance plug does not fit tightly into a wall outlet, it may be more than just an irritant -- it could be a safety hazard. The wall outlet may need repairing or replacing because a loose-fitting wall outlet can overheat and present a real fire danger. Get an electrician to check out the outlet and repair or replace it with a new one. It probably will not be very expensive and it will be well worth its value in safety.