Since the time man first stood upright leaving only one set of footprints in the sand, fire has served as both ally and nemesis. From illumination to warmth, from cooking to tool making, from offense to defense, fire has been and continues to be one of the key factors to the advancement of our species. Yet, within a few brief moments, fire can turn on its user and erase all that was gained-take the fire that destroyed the Library at Alexandria as one example.
In order for fire to remain useful, it first must be contained and controlled. It goes without saying though fire has a mind of its own, constantly seeking to escape and enjoy life on the wild side. Even knowing this, we continually consent to the fire’s erratic personality because the benefits tend to outweigh its propensity for destructiveness.
The fire triangle best describes the three most basic elements found everywhere making the foundation for fire; oxygen, heat, and fuel.
Seen in this light, consider our homes and their construction-primarily wooden with plenty of oxygen between walls and positioned in the middle of the lowest level (fire loves to climb) is our furnace or boiler, usually unattended for months at a time.
In most cases, within a few feet of these appliances is our electrical equipment, another known source of ignition. Electricity possesses many of the same qualities as fire and our dependency on it is equally complex. As with both, containment and control are necessary if any safety is to exist.
Consider these facts from both the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Fire Administration:
· The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has compiled data that shows 31,000 home fires occur every year caused by electricity-related events.
· As many as 180 cases involved either electrocution or avoidable contact with electrical sources.
· Frighteningly, residential electrical fires occurred primarily in one and two-family homes (83%)
· Only 17% of residential electrical fires were limited to the object where the fire started
· Residential building electrical fires most often started in bedrooms (15%) and attics or vacant crawl spaces (13%)
Electricity in the form of house wiring and electrical equipment, left unattended to age and combined with a lack of maintenance, over time, can quickly become the spark that sets the fire triangle into motion.
10 KNOWN SOURCES OF ELECTRICAL FIRE
1. Overloaded Circuits-excessive use of plug strips
2. Improper wire size to appliances and other electrical loads
3. Faulty appliances
4. Damaged wiring, both in the walls and outside walls like extension cords.
5. Faulty switches and outlets. Ungrounded wall outlets (2 prong)
6. Lighting fixtures
7. Space heaters and other forms of localized heat utilizing existing circuitry
8. Air Conditioners and other forms of cooling utilizing existing circuitry
9. The placement of combustible material in near proximity to electricity
10. Water incursion into electrical equipment and wiring
This brings us to preventive maintenance and early warning and detection.
ELECTRICAL FIRE PREVENTION
As electrical connections begin to age over time, the tight metal-to-metal contact may start to separate from thermal expansion. As the wire conductors begin to heat up and expand, nothing is present in the circuit to bring the two metals back together once the heat subsides. Over time, this forces the electricity to ‘jump’ from metal-to-metal which is the essence of arcing. Arcing then becomes a degenerative process forcing the two metals further apart until there is some form of ignition or the circuit begins to fail. Finding these connections for maintenance may be difficult but it is detectable in some cases without exposing ourselves to electrical current. Our senses of touch and hearing come into play here. Heat can be detected by a simple touch of the hand and arcing has a distinctive ‘sizzle’ or ‘buzzing’.
It is important to remember self-maintenance of electrical equipment often requires exposing oneself to electrical energy, something best left to the professionals.
ELECTRICAL FIRE SAFETY TIPS
· Schedule an annual home maintenance inspection -- https://lippoliselectric.com/residential/ -- for your electrical system. Lippolis Electric professionals are trained to spot early warning signs of potential electrical failures.
· Circuits repeatedly tripping require evaluation for potential overload.
· Proper grounding-soup to nuts of the entire electrical system. Grounding systems age over time and the connections to grounding electrodes in your house may start to show signs of failing.
· Upgrade existing 2 prong outlets to 3 prongs. The third prong is used for grounding and is your source for safety in your home.
· Ground Fault outlets in all locations where water is present like kitchens, bathroom, garages, basements and outside.
· Unplug appliance when not in use.
· Replace frayed wiring -- https://lippoliselectric.com/residential/equipment-wiring/ -- or any wiring believed to be questionable.
· Never force a plug into an outlet with unnecessary force.
· Consider upgrading all existing outlets to a tamper-resistant style.
· Keep all cords and other wiring away from electrical heat sources.
· Replace any dimmers or pieces of electrical equipment in which you hear ‘buzzing’ or ‘sizzling’.
· Always consider extension cords to be nothing more than temporary.
· Any switch or outlet that appears weak or ‘wobbly’ requires immediate attention, repair, or replacement.
· Use generators -- https://lippoliselectric.com/generators/ -- only as recommended by their manufacturer.
In the next installment, we will discuss the detection and early warning of the presence of fire in the form recent advancements in smoke, heat, and carbon monoxide alarms.
Following these simple tips will help ensure fire stays where you want it to stay and electricity continues to function in a manner we all have come to depend on so greatly for warmth, comfort, and convenience. If any of this has ‘sparked’ a concern for your home’s safety, please call Lippolis Electric at 914-738-3550 for a free evaluation and recommendations for improvements.
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Lippolis Electric, Inc. | 538 Route 22, Pawling, NY 12564 | 845-855-1426 | lippoliselectric.com