ELECTRICAL

I need to replace the lights in my bathroom. Are there any types of lights that you would not use?

A common problem in bathroom lighting is using too big of lights in fixtures and placing these lights too close to the ceiling. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the paint burnt and blistered on the ceiling above a bank of lights over a mirror. Using the thermal camera I see temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Besides being an unsightly thing this may also cause a fire. If nothing else use LED bulbs. Also be careful not to place a light over a door. Open the door to see how close the bulb is to the top edge of the door. If it is very close it may be a fire hazard. Lastly the light and all electrical connections and switches should not be within arm’s reach of the a person standing in the tub. 

What are the latest codes on smoke alarms?

A: The code has changed in recent years in terms of the way smoke alarms must be wired. In today’s electrical code it is required that each level of a home contain a smoke alarm.  When an event causes a single alarm to sound, all the smoke alarms in the home must sound. This has recently happened in my home. A friend left something on the burner to cook and came upstairs to chat. About ten minutes went by and all of a sudden the alarm went off next to where we were visiting. I had no idea what caused the alarm but followed the friend downstairs to discover 10″ of smoke on the ceiling. I was grateful my alarms were tied together.  I always recommend having at least one battery alarm as well and to place the alarms near cooking areas and in hall ways outside bedrooms. Remember you can never have too many smoke alarms. Be safe!

It tis the season – For fires so be careful.

This year several homes will experience fires due to overloaded electrical circuits, don’t let your home be one of those. We all like the pretty lights of the Christmas tree and other lights that signify the Christmas season. Unfortunately many homeowners don’t stop to consider what type of electrical load they may be placing on their homes wiring system. All too often we try to hide the fact that we needed to use multiple extension cords to get all the lights working. Most people will only use the closest receptacles to the lighted object such as a tree. The issue with trying to hide the cords is that many times we overload the circuit when we plug too many things into it.

The danger of  course is in the overheating of the circuit and eventual fire. Most homes today are set up with breaker panels that are supposed to trip if the load is too great. For example if you try to pull 20 amps through a 15 amp circuit the breaker should trip. The key word here is should. There are many documented events when a breaker has failed to trip under load and the result was a fire. If your home is older you could have a Federal Pacific panel or other older styles that have been known to be problematic in this type of over load situation. Before you get panicked over this situation I will say prevention is the best solution.

Do not overload a receptacle with more cords then it was designed to accommodate. If there are two places to plug something into that is all you should plug in to that receptacle. Furthermore don’t wrap several cords together and tuck them under the edge of the carpet to hide them from site. When you think about it there is a lot of electrical activity coursing through those wires and they are bound to get hot. The last thing you want is place them under a carpet that will insulate them and conceal smoke or fumes until it is too late. I suggest buying low wattage  and low heat light sets such as LED’s and pre-plan your electrical needs so you can avoid all the problems I alluded to above. May you enjoy this time of year in peace and safety, from my family to yours.

Changing a low voltage razor plug to a GFI

 

If you live in an older home chances are you will have a razor plug in you washroom. I would say about 40 % of the older homes I inspect will have a low voltage razor plug in place. There are several issues with these plugs which I will discuss below.   I always recommend changing the razor plug to a GFI or ground fault interrupter. These devices have been in use for a decade or so and have saved a lot of lives through their built in safety circuitry. Besides the benefit of being much safer, they run on 110 volts like all the rest of your receptacles and as such they will power all the tools mentioned below.  I don’t want to pretend to understand or try to explain all the technology that goes into these older receptacles, I just want to point out a few of the draw backs to the razor plugs so you can see how to upgrade them if you wish.

First of all the razor plugs incorporate circuitry that limits the load capacity of the electricity that is available to be used. From what I understand the razor plug idea was designed as a safety device because it was located near the bathroom sink where shocks are more likely. By producing less amperage of electricity the homeowner is less likely to die if electrocuted. I have read that the razor receptacle has a built in fuse that will burn out if overloaded.  The conversion process in this mall receptacle from regular household power supply to lower amperage uses energy and a lot of heat is given off as a result which I often detect with my thermal camera. Secondly these receptacles only have room for two prongs so any grounded three prong plug will not fit into the receptacle.  A third drawback is that the reduced amerage is not enough to power today’s bathroom tools such as curling irons and hair dryers. In fact you could damage these devices or the receptacle if you use them in a razor only plug receptacle.

The obstacle to changing these old razor plugs is that they were wired inside a double wide electrical box. This means you need to find a double wide GFI receptacle to fill the box. The best solution is to buy a kit designed specifically for the job. Most building supply stores will have these kits and depending upon your expertise and willingness, can be installed by the homeowner. Upon searching the internet I came across a wonderful website with step by step instructions for this exact job. http://www.electrical-online.com/how-to-replace-a-razor-only-receptacle-with-a-gfci/

Hire an electrician if you are uncomfortable in this area.  If you decide to do it yourself,  remember to turn off the power before attempting the changeover and as always be safe.

Will I need to upgrade my Electrical Panel to get insurance?

Electrical panel Sizes

Many homes built in the 1960,s have been modernized over the years and many look like they are much newer with the updates. Most of the homes of this era are on their third set of shingles and the second set of windows and exterior siding. The one renovation that is usually left to the last is the electrical entrance,  panel and branch circuits. This is because it is not easy to make changes to the interior of the walls where the wires are hidden. This issue will look at the electrical entrance in particular and how you may be forced to upgrade it to 100 amps.

Most of you will remember a time when you had to move furniture around to find a power source in a room,  only to see that it was already in use by two or more other cords. As an inspector I often come across the tangled power cords of several electronic components hidden behind a sofa or desk. Using the thermal camera I often detect a heat signature of an over loaded and over heated electrical circuit. Most of the time there is a power bar and an extension cord or two all plugged into one receptacle. The issue here is the potential for fire, which leads me into the topic of insurance.

Insurance companies are also aware of the extra demand of today’s homeowners. They have the data to prove that an older home with a 60 or 70 amp service panel can lead to overloading of the circuits and potentially a fire. This is why they will often insist that in order to be insured in such a home you are required to upgrade the panel to 100 amps and add extra circuits.  The cost of changing the panel is usually between $1500.00 and $2500.00. So before you sign on the dotted line have a look at the electrical system and the size of the panel. Ask your insurance company if they have a policy on the minimum size of the electrical service entrance.  While the 60 amp panel and one receptacle per room was sufficient in 1960 it is more likely to be inadequate and unsafe within the context of today’s power needs.

DOING IT YOURSELF IS CHEAPER – BUT IS IT SAFE

Don’t misunderstand me, I love to find out how to do something myself so I can save money. The problem I often see is with the quality of the work done by the so called do-it-yourselfers. Lets face it, the status one achieves after four years of training and about 8000 hours of on-the-job experience should mean that that person should have some knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. The professional trades people seldom make mistakes due to lack of knowledge.I know we all have hired those trades that appear to be clueless. I believe these people  usually make mistakes because they are either lazy or have a weak work ethic and unfortunately you can’t train that out of some people . For the most part I have experienced very few problems with professional trades people. Where I see most of the problems is with do-it-yourself carpenters, plumbers or electricians.

One such problem I came across recently was with electrical wiring in a basement. The photo below shows what can happen if an untrained person tries to do something they haven’t fully grasped. In this case the receptacles worked for a while but look what happened to the wire inside the walls. I know this person no longer believes in the do it yourself plan. In this case a fire resulted in significant and costly damage. Thankfully no-one was killed as we cannot put a price on a persons life.

     Once again I see no problems with a homeowner who either has adequate knowledge to do the job or is willing to ask and learn before getting into a job. The important thing is do you know what you are doing and are you legally allowed to do the job. As I always say do-it-yourself is not an option for everyone.