11 Deadly Myths About Electricity That Need to Be Cleared Up
We use electricity every single day—here's what you should know to stay safe.
Storm damage got you down and powerless? Don’t become a statistic. The number one rule with power lines is to not touch them. Let the professionals take care of these potential killers. If you hear someone spouting the myths below, set them straight with these tips from NYSEG, Indiana Electric Cooperatives, and electricity experts.
“Power lines are insulated”
90 percent of power lines are not insulated, and even the ones that are could have lost insulation from a storm. That means they are never safe to touch—for humans. Birds don’t get electrocuted when they sit on power lines because they don’t make a path to the ground. Discover what the colored balls on power lines are.
“The line is safe because it’s not high voltage”
Actually, voltage is not what will kill you; amperage will. It takes one amp to cause fatal heart irregularities. The average house has between 100 and 200 amps running through it.
“A fallen wire will shut off”
No, it won’t. If it falls on a poor conductor, like asphalt, the wire will not short circuit. Always stay at least 20 feet away from a downed line. It could still be live, even if it doesn’t produce sparks. Which brings us to the next myth…
“A live wire will make sparks when it falls”
Not always. The line will spark when it doesn’t make firm contact. With firm contact, it will not spark or make noise, potentially making it even more dangerous to anyone who assumes it’s no longer energized.
“Wood is not a conductor”
False. Wood is just a poor conductor, but wet wood is much better, so be careful around any wood that could have been energized.
“Rubber gloves and rubber shoes insulate”
Only if they are 100% pure rubber. Since your typical cleaning gloves and shoes are mixed with cheaper materials, they can be conductors. Don’t expect them to protect you from a potential electrocution.
“If you turn something off, it won’t be using any energy”
The only exception where this would be true is if an item has a “standby” mode, which generally consumes zero electricity when it’s turned off, according to Michael Bluejay, aka Mr. Electricity. “Other devices can continue to use a little energy when you switch them off, because they’re not really off,” he continues. “However, with the exception of devices like DVRs and cable TV boxes, devices which use standby power use just a trifling amount of standby power.”
“Electric room heaters cost less to run than oil- or gas-fired furnaces”
Depending on whether or not you’re heating your entire house with electric heaters to the same temperature you would with an oil or gas furnace, the electric heaters would cost way more, according to Bluejay. “If you heat only a fraction of your house with electric heaters, not heating unused rooms, the electric heaters will likely cost less,” he adds.
“It saves energy to keep lights on rather than turning them off then back on”
If you’ve ever heard someone saying that it saves money to keep the lights on all the time rather than suffering from the “startup penalty” of turning them on after they’ve been shut off, you can now officially debunk that myth. “In practical terms, there isn’t any such startup penalty,” says Bluejay. “You always save energy by turning the lights off.”
“Household currents aren’t strong enough to kill”
As much as we’d like to think that the electricity in our homes isn’t dangerous, it definitely is. “Household electricity has killed people before, and of course is especially dangerous with water,” says Tina Carpenter, electrical advisor for Juice Electrical.
“It’s safe to work around electricity if your ladder is made of fiberglass or wood”
Fiberglass and wood might be safer than metal, but that doesn’t stop electricity from flowing through wet or dirty fiberglass or wood. The materials are safer when they’re dry, but the only way to truly stay safe is to work with de-energized circuits or, when in doubt, call a professional.