Aluminum Wiring: What’s the Problem?

By Scott Bowers,

Aluminum electrical wiring showing burning

Aluminum Wiring was used in the construction of roughly 1.5 million U.S. homes built between 1965 and 1973. According to a report published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 (“old technology” aluminum wire) are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach Fire Hazard Conditions than is a home wired with copper. This problem only gets worse with time. The aluminum-wired connections that fail tend to progressively deteriorate at a slow rate, and after many years can reach very high temperature while still remaining electrically functional in the circuits. A large number of connection burnouts have occurred in aluminum-wired homes. Many fires have occurred some involving injury and death.

The Aluminum Industry Wins in Court

Initial investigations into hazards associated with aluminum wiring were spearheaded by the CPSC. The federal agency works very closely with manufacturers and testing organizations like the UL. Its findings are taken seriously due in part to its ability to impose industry standards.

In the mid-1970s, the CPSC began distributing information concerning the potential hazards of aluminum wiring. It also was working to seek relief for people with homes wired with aluminum. This resulted in a 1976 lawsuit filed by Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation against the CPSC, ending in 1979 with a federal appeals court ruling that deemed electrical distribution items not to be consumer products.

Since the CPSC has jurisdiction over consumer products, the area of electrical wiring falls outside of the CPSC.

Useful Resources (Supplied by Aluminum Wire Repair, Inc.)

Federal Pacific Service Panels

Insurance Considerations

Favorite Electrical Links

(Source: Aluminum Wire Repair, Inc.. No copyright infringement intended.)

What are Arc-Faults and Why are They Dangerous?

By Scott Bowers,

Leviton Electrical Fire Infographic

An arc-fault is an unintentional arcing condition in a circuit. Arcing creates high intensity heating at the point of the arc, resulting in burning particles that can exceed 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit and may over time ignite surrounding material such as wood framing or insulation. 

There are two types of potentially dangerous arcs – parallel arcs and series arcs. 

Source: Leviton

What Causes Arc-Faults?

Often unseen, arc faults can occur anywhere in the home’s electrical system including:

Within Walls

  • Within walls from nails, screws or staples inadvertently driven into wires.

Within Cords

  • Within electrical cords accidently damaged by furniture resting or pressing upon them.

Within Loose Connections

  • At loose electrical connections or cords damaged by doors closing on them.

Within Damaged Cords

  • Through old or cracked wires or cords as well as wires or cords damaged by heat, sunlight or humidity. 

Prevention and Consequences of Electrical Fires

Source: Leviton

Home Electrical Safety Checklist & Tips

By Scott Bowers,

Protect you and your home with these electrical safety examples

You power your home with energy, but do you practice electrical and appliance safety? The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 31,000 home electrical fires occur every year, and with over 180 cases involving electrocution or electricity-related incidents that could have been avoided, home electrical safety is too important to ignore. At Constellation, we care about the safety of our customers, and by following these electrical safety tips at home you can protect yourself and your family.

What causes electrical fires in homes?

The National Fire Protection Association notes that faulty or damaged wiring and related electrical equipment cause 69 percent of electrical fires, followed by lamps, light fixtures, cords, plugs, transformers and other power supplies. When looking for potential fire hazards in your home, always be sure to consult with a professional.

10 Tips for Electrical Safety at Home

Many electrical fires can be prevented by following some simple electricity safety tips. In our home electrical safety checklist below, there are 10 precautions every homeowner should know and follow. Always remember to ask a professional if you’re uncertain about the safety of an electrical outlet or appliance. Download a PDF of the 10 tips checklist.

1. Always follow appliance instructions for improved electrical safety.

“Read the instructions” should top the list of electrical safety tips at home. Understanding home appliance safety improves both the performance of your device and your personal safety. Should any appliance give you even a slight electrical shock, stop using it until a qualified electrician checks it for problems.

Electrical Safety Tips and Rules

2. Watch out for overloaded outlets to protect your home.

Overloading an electrical outlet is a common cause of electrical problems. Check all outlets to ensure they are cool to the touch, have protective faceplates and are in proper working order. According to ESFI, you can follow these electrical outlet safety tips:

  • Do not use extension cords or multi-outlet converters for appliances.
  • Only plug one heat-producing appliance into an outlet at a time.
  • Hot outlets should be checked by qualified electricians.
  • Remember that power strips only add outlets—they do not change the amount of power the outlet receives.
  • Smart plugs can be used to monitor outlet power loads and even shut off appliances should an outlet begin to overheat.

3. Replace or repair damaged electrical cords to keep your home safe.

Damaged power cords are a serious residential electrical safety risk, and they are capable of causing both fires and electrocution. All power and extension cords should be checked regularly for signs of fraying and cracking, and they should then be repaired or replaced as needed. Power cords should not be stapled into place or run under rugs and furniture. Cords under rugs pose a tripping hazard and can overheat, while furniture can crush cord insulation and damage wires.

The use of extension cords on a regular basis may mean that you don’t have enough outlets to fit your needs. Have a qualified electrician who understands electrical safety rules install additional outlets in rooms where you often use extension cords. When purchasing a power cord, consider the electrical load it will carry. A cord with a load of 16 AWG can handle up to 1,375 watts. For heavier loads, use a 14 or 12 AWG cord.

Pro tip: AWG stands for “American wire gauge.” The lower the number, the thicker the cord!

4. Keep your used and unused cords tidy and secure to prevent damage.

Electrical safety tips don’t just apply to power cords when they’re in use—cords also need to be stored safely to prevent damage. Keep stored cords away from children and pets (who may chew on or play with the cords). Try to avoid wrapping cords tightly around objects; this can stretch the cord or cause overheating. Never rest a cord on a hot surface in order to prevent damage to the cord’s insulation and wires.

5. Unplug all your unused appliances to reduce potential risks.

One of the simplest electrical safety tips is also one of the easiest to forget: when an appliance is not in use, unplug it. Not only does this save you power by reducing any phantom drain (the amount of energy the device consumes even when not actively in use), but unplugging unused appliances also protects them from overheating or power surges.

It’s often difficult to remember to unplug unused appliances, but the new generation of smart plugs offers a solution, allowing you to set power schedules for each outlet.

6. Keep electrical devices and outlets away from water to prevent shock.

Water and electricity don’t mix well. To follow electrical safety rules, keep electrical equipment dry and away from water prevents damage to appliances and can protect against personal injury and electrocution. When working with electrical appliances, it’s important to have dry hands. Keeping electrical equipment away from plant pots, aquariums, sinks, showers and bathtubs lowers the risk of water and electricity coming into contact.

7. Give your appliances proper space for air circulation to avoid overheating.

Without proper air circulation, electrical equipment can overheat and short out, and can become an electrical fire hazard. Make sure your appliances have proper air circulation, and avoid running electrical equipment in enclosed cabinets. For best electrical safety, it’s also important to store flammable objects well away from all appliances and electronics. Pay especially close attention to your gas or electric dryer, as these need to be situated at least a foot from the wall to function safely.

8. Ensure that all your exhaust fans are clean to prevent fire hazards.

Some appliances have exhaust fans, which can get dirty or clogged with debris and make the appliance work harder. This can shorten the life of the appliance and can cause a risk to the home due to overheating, or even cause a buildup of dangerous gasses that can lead to an electrical fire hazard. Cleaning exhaust fans regularly helps prevent such hazards.

9. Check that you’re using the correct wattage in all your fixtures and appliances.

Using the right bulbs can prevent electrical problems, so check all lamps, fixtures and appliances to ensure you’re using the correct wattage. If a light fixture has no wattage listed, use 60-watt bulbs or less. For unmarked ceiling fixtures, choose 25-watt bulbs.

Pro tip: LED bulbs consume less power and reduce the risk of fixtures overheating. Learn more about LED light benefits.

10. Be aware of heaters and water heaters to prevent potential accidents.

Combustible items should be kept away from portable heaters and built-in furnaces. For furnace safety, store combustibles far away from any heating appliances. Portable heaters should not be operated close to drapes, and to prevent tipping, they should only ever be placed on a stable surface.

On a related note, do you know what temperature your water heater is set to? High temperature settings eat into your water heater energy usage and can cause burns and unintentional scalding, especially in homes with small children.

Electrical Safety for Kids

Young children are naturally curious and are quick to explore the world, so it’s important to protect them. Teaching them electrical safety tips for kids can keep them safe and alert.

Install safety caps and covers over all outlets to keep your kids safe.

Installing safety caps and covers on outlets prevents children from inserting objects into the outlet, protecting them from shock.

Prevent accidents by teaching your kids to avoid yanking on cords.

Tell your kids not to pull on electrical cords. Yanking can damage or fray the cord and compromise electrical safety. For kids, show them to pull cords out of an outlet by carefully holding the plug, and not pulling on the cord.

Place dangerous appliances out of reach of small children.

Keep dangerous appliances away from children until they’re old enough to operate them properly and understand electrical safety at home. Tips include storing toasters, blenders and electric kettles on high shelves or in locked cupboards—anywhere children cannot access them.

Electrical safety for kids goes beyond teaching them safe practices. Tell them about what energy is, and where it comes from, with energy facts for kids.

More Residential Electrical Safety Tips

Other electrical safety tips at home range from preparing for severe weather to checking new appliances for Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL) listings. Here’s a sample of electricity safety suggestions that will help keep your home’s appliances running smoothly:

  • Look for NRTL listings for your products and appliances. NRTLs such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Edison Testing Laboratories (ETL) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA) test appliances to ensure they comply with OSHA’s electrical safety rules.
  • Ask Main Street Electric Company to install electrical wiring. Electrical systems are potentially dangerous. Even if you’re a skilled DIYer, consult with a professional before installing new wiring or electrical appliances. Licensed electricians have the skills and knowledge needed to keep your home safe and in compliance with electrical codes. Use our contact form to send a home visit request.
  • Know what to do when the power goes down. Knowing what to do when the power goes out helps you protect yourself from downed power lines and other hazards while shielding your appliances from damage caused by power surges. Check out how to report a power outage to keep you and your family safe.
  • Install smoke detectors. Electrical fires often smolder before breaking out into open flame, and the U.S. Fire Administration reports that most electrical fires occur between midnight and 6:00 a.m. Installing smoke alarms helps alert you to the dangers of electrical fires. Main Street Electric can advise as to your best smoke detector locations and brands. We can also install them for you. Contact us for more information.
  • Run a generator the safe way. A generator can keep the lights on during a blackout—but only if it’s been properly installed by a licensed electrician. Even then, you should learn about the different types of generators and what their various safety features are.
  • Stay safe during storms. If you live in an area prone to extreme weather, it’s important to know how to protect yourself and your electrical equipment from floods, hurricanes and severe winter weather. Taking hurricane safety seriously can limit the damage to your home and electronics.
  • Get your home inspected for electrical safety. Not sure how safe your electrical system is? One of the best electrical safety tips we can offer is to call your local fire department and ask for a fire safety inspection. The inspection will help identify potential sources of electrical fires, ensuring you make the changes needed to keep your home safe.

Electricity safety is important in any home. From powering your appliances, to lighting your home, electricity is an amazing force worthy of our respect and consideration. By practicing these electrical safety tips at home you can lower your risk of accidents, avoid overworking your home’s electrical system, and keep you and your family safe.

And remember, if you’re unsure about an electrical outlet or appliance, ask Main Street Electric Company to take a look and keep you and your family safe.

(Source: Constellation Energy. No copyright infringement intended.)

AFCI, GFCI, and AFGF Residential Breakers

By Scott Bowers,

FAQs

What’s the Difference Between BR and CH Breakers?

BR BREAKERS

  • BR breakers are 1″ in Width.
  • BR breakers are black, with black handles (In most cases. Some older styles have multicolored handles.)
  • BR breakers carry a 10 Year Warranty.

CH BREAKERS

  • CH breakers are 3/4″ in Width.
  • CH breakers are Black with Sandalwood (Tan) handles.
  • CH breakers carry a lifetime warranty.

What’s the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Surge Protective Devices?

  1. Type 1 devices are installed before the main device in the loadcenter, whereas Type 2 are installed following the main devices in the loadcenters. As stated in the catalog: “Type 1 Surge Protective Device (SPD)s are intended for installation between the secondary of the service transformer and the line side of the service equipment overcurrent device, as well as the load side, including watt-hour meter socket enclosures, and are intended to be installed without an external overcurrent protective device. Type 1 devices are dual-rated for Type 2 applications as well, providing the highest ratings available for installation at the service entrance.
  2. Type 2 Surge Protective Device—Permanently connected Type 2 SPDs are intended for installation on the load side of the service equipment overcurrent device, including SPDs located at the branch panel.” the Eaton Surge website

Residential Breakers Color Matrix

Source: Eaton.com

Why Federal Pacific Electric Panels Are Deadly

By Scott Bowers,

Your circuit breaker panel protects your home from problems caused by external power surges, circuit overload, and short circuits. A breaker cuts off the power to a circuit by tripping when it detects a circuit overload. If your circuit breaker panel fails, the electrical wires can get so hot that they start a fire.

Unfortunately, this breaker failure happens every year in homes equipped with Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Stab-Lok panels. Despite this information and the number of electricians and home inspectors who warn against this equipment, FPE Stab-Lok panels were never officially recalled.

HOW TO TELL IF YOU OWN A FEDERAL PACIFIC ELECTRIC STAB-LOK PANEL 

Millions of homes were built with FPE Stab-Lok panels between 1950 and 1990. If your home was constructed during this time frame, then it may contain a Federal Pacific Electrical panel labeled Stab-Lok.

Usually, Federal Pacific or FPE will be written on the box’s front cover. Inside the box, look for a label that says, Stab-Lok. The breakers will have a red stripe cross each switch.

Problems With Federal Pacific Electric “Stab-Lok” Panels

A CPSC Investigation

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began an investigation in the early 1980s and hired electrical experts to test FPE Stab-Lok breakers installed in homes from 1960 to 1985, which did not fully comply with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. requirements. Fifty-one percent of the tested breakers failed to trip.

Unfortunately, the CPSC ended its investigation in 1983, stating in a news release that, “Based on the Commission’s limited budget, the known hazards the Commission has identified and must address… and the uncertainty of the results of such a costly investigation, the Commission has decided not to commit further resources to its investigation of FPE’s circuit breakers.” The CPSC claimed that the data did not establish “that the circuit breakers pose a serious threat of injury to consumers.”

DOUBT SURROUNDING FPE STAB-LOK PANELS 

Even though the CPSC investigation closed, one member of the testing team, Jesse Aronstein, continues to speak out about the dangers of FPE Stab-Lok panels. An electrical engineer with a doctorate in materials science, Aronstein cowrote a peer-reviewed paper to illustrate the fire damage that those types of Federal Pacific Electrical panels cause. Based on information collected from fire reports, Aronstein and coauthor, Richard Lowry, estimate that FPE Stab-Lok panel failures result in as many as 2,800 fires, 13 deaths, and $40 million in property damage annually.

Reliance Electric Co., FPE’s parent company, provided additional information that leads one to doubt how safe these panels are. Reliance Electric Co. has stated that FPE obtained the Underwriters Laboratory seal of approval for its Stab-Lok breakers “through the use of deceptive and improper practices.”

It’s also worth noting that the CPSC issued a more recent statement in 2011 regarding their earlier investigation, stating that it was closed “without making a determination as to the safety of FPE circuit breakers or the accuracy of the manufacturer’s position on the matter.”

Is It Safe to Own an FPE Stab-Lok Panel?

The trouble with an FPE Stab-Lok panel is that it can function perfectly fine — until suddenly it doesn’t. It only takes one short circuit or overcurrent.

CPSC recommends getting this type of panel inspected by a qualified electrician “to look for any signs of overheating or malfunction among the circuit breakers.” However, after testing over 4,000 breakers, Aronstein states that you can only identify a defective Stab-Lok breaker by first removing it and then testing it. This process can be more expensive than installing a new, less risky Federal Pacific Electrical panel or any other brand. In many cases, it makes more sense to replace an FPE Stab-Lok panel.

How to Tell If You Own a Federal Pacific Electric “Stab-Lok” Panel

Millions of homes were built with FPE Stab-Lok panels between 1950 and 1990. If your home was constructed during this time frame, then it may contain one of these panels.

Photo by: “Repeater-Reclaim”. Used under Creative Commons License.

Usually, “Federal Pacific” or “FPE” will be written on the box’s front cover. Inside the box, look for a label that says, “Stab-Lok.” The breakers will have a red stripe cross each switch.

Unsure if your circuit breaker panel is safe for your home?

Contact Main Street Electric Company to set up an appointment for an electrician to visit your home or business. We have the manpower, experience, and training necessary to assist you with the highest standards of safety, quality, integrity, and value.

(Source: www.allelectric.com)