You probably think of your home as a haven, a safe harbor against the lurking dangers of the outside world -- when in fact, the electricity you use every day poses hazards of its own. Understanding and recognizing potential electrical problems can help you take the right steps to keep your loved ones safe. Here are four red flags you should be aware of.

1. Damaged Cables

The outer coating of insulation wrapped around your electrical cables plays a critical role in preventing fires and electrocutions. Over time this coating can become torn, cracked or frayed, exposing the metal wiring within and possibly leading to fire or electrocution. Inspect the various electrical cables in your home from time to time. If you see a possible problem, have an electrician check it out right away.

The electrical cables attached to household appliances are especially prone to damage. Many people tug on the cord to unplug an appliance instead of grasping the plug properly, and this strains the cord.

Another issue to be aware of is the fact that hiding lengths of cable under the carpet may look nice and prevent trip hazards, but it can also encourage people to tread on the cables. This causes frayed cords that call no attention to themselves until a fire has broken out. It's better to run these lengths of cable along the baseboards instead.

2. Signs of Extreme Age

Did you purchase a "vintage" home? If so, then your electrical system is probably of the same vintage -- and unlike fine wine, electrical systems do not improve with age. That electrical system from the first half of the 20th Century was designed to carry a relatively low electrical load, making it no match for today's multiple electronic gadgets. Additionally, the wiring may be sheathed with outmoded materials such as fabric or lead, increasing your risk of fire in an overload situation. 

Do you have fuse boxes in your home instead of circuit breakers? There's nothing wrong with fuses -- they do a perfectly good job of stopping electrical overloads in their tracks. But they're also old technology, meaning that the rest of your home's electrical system could be equally antiquated. Of course the presence of a circuit breaker is no guarantee that your system is thoroughly protected. Older circuit breakers with faulty connectors can fail, leaving you vulnerable to a catastrophic electrical fire.

3. Non-grounded Outlets

Outlets containing only two slots are another sign of age, but they also represent a clear and present danger on their own. Modern wall outlets always include a third slot for a ground prong, a necessary protection against electric shock. This is particularly critical if you've plugged a metal-encased device into the outlet. Without that third prong, anyone who happens to touch the "hot" metal case of the device could get shocked.

Any two-slot outlets in your home should be replaced, but electricians can (and should) also double-check your three-slot outlets. There's always a chance that there's no actual ground connection inside -- those "safe" three-slot plates may be covering old-fashioned, non-grounded outlets, in which case you're unwittingly plugging in without proper protection.

4. Sensory Signals

Even if you have no electrical knowledge, your own senses can help you recognize potential electrical problems. For instance, if you smell a strange burnt smell that you can't account for, your nose may be warning you of an electrical overload in progress. Do you see scorch marks around outlets or connections, or do you hear weird buzzing or crackling noises coming from them? If you do, then unplug any devices, cover the outlet so others won't use it, and call your electrician.

Watch out for potential trouble indicators, and have your older home inspected by a qualified electrician from a company like Sierra Electrical. A little vigilance now can save you and your family a lot of trouble later!