Originally Posted By: jtedesco
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Make sure your home is wired for safety
More than 35,000 fires occur each year due to shoddy home wiring
NORTHBROOK, Ill.; Spring 2004 - The lights flicker when the central air is switched on. An extension cord in the bedroom outlet sparks. The power goes out every time the clothes dryer starts to spin. These are just a few telltale signs that the wiring in your house may need an upgrade. But experts say too often these signs go unnoticed or ignored, until it is too late.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are more than 35,000 fires and 300 deaths every year due to shoddy home wiring. This might involve circuit breakers, switches, receptacles, outlets, cords, plugs and light fixtures. As owners and prospective buyers prepare for fix-up projects and house hunting, Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) warns consumers to stay on the lookout for potential hazards that could signal it is time to upgrade your home wiring capacity.
"The reality is that we keep bringing more and more electrical products into our homes. But if a home is more than 30 years old, the home wiring system may not be designed to handle the combined amount of electricity that today's products and appliances demand," said John Drengenberg, UL's manager of Consumer Affairs. "We all need to be aware of warning signs that seem commonplace, but could indicate a potentially serious safety hazard."
Drengenberg said that some older homes could still be wired with 30 amp or 60 amp service, which normally is enough to power basic lighting and small appliances. Now, he said because homeowners typically want all of those small appliances, as well as larger electrical appliances, such as water heaters, ranges, clothes dryers and central air, they may find more capacity might be required.
A national survey by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) found that improper electrical wiring is the second most common problem they find when doing home inspections. Common defects include insufficient capacity, inadequate overload protection and amateur, do-it-yourselfer-type wiring or wiring connections in kitchens, bathrooms, basements and garages.
"Most home owners have the best intentions, but they are not familiar with the codes and the potential safety hazards that are common in do-it-yourself electrical work," said Stephen Gladstone, president of ASHI.
Drengenberg recommends homeowners and potential buyers pay attention to the following warning signs and realize that they may need to talk with a licensed/qualified electrician or consult a home inspector:
Anytime you are shocked in your home: A properly wired and grounded electrical system will protect you from most potential shocks.
Overloaded outlets: Too many appliances plugged into a single outlet could indicate your house may not have the required number of outlets. The National Electrical Code requires that outlets be spaced every 12 feet of running wall space, or one on each wall of the average 10-foot by 12-foot room. Kitchens typically require outlets spaced every four feet along the countertop.
Flickering or dimming lights: This could indicate loose connections, overloaded circuits, improper wiring, or arcing and sparking inside the walls.
Hot, discolored receptacles, switch plates, cords or plugs: If you can't keep your hand on these for more than five seconds, you may have an overload or product malfunction.
TV screen or computer monitor shrinks or wavers when a large appliance is turned on: This could mean you have too many appliances plugged into one circuit, or that your house needs additional electrical capacity.
Unusual smells: Burning metal or plastic smells may indicate a loose connection, malfunctioning switch, light fixture, broken connection, overheating components, arcing or sparking inside the walls, damaged wire, or other potential hazards.
Wobbly plugs: This could indicate that the outlet is outdated and worn. It should not be used and be replaced immediately.
No three-pronged outlets: In new housing the National Electrical Code requires three-pronged outlets everywhere on your property, including outdoors. If your house has none, then your system is likely outdated.
Blown fuses and tripped circuit breakers: Replace fuses and reset breakers. If it happens again, a problem exists somewhere.
Reliance on extension cords: Extension cords are meant for temporary use only. Any long-term products plugged into extension cords indicate your house does not comply with current National Electrical Code requirements.
Gladstone also suggests that consumers make sure any handymen or contractors they hire are qualified to do the work. If the work is electrical in nature, make sure to hire a licensed electrician and ensure that all applications for licenses and permits, which will require a third party inspection, are completed before work begins.
|"Home inspectors will look for evidence of potential hazards by making sure the house meets basic safety requirements and will identify poor workmanship," he said. "Municipal inspectors will make sure that all electrical installations meet the requirements of the National Electrical Code. Both inspections will keep your family safe."
Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) is an independent, not-for-profit product safety certification organization that has been testing products and writing Standards for Safety for more than 109 years. UL tests more than 18,000 types of products annually, and more than 19 billion UL Marks appear on products each year. Worldwide, UL's family of companies and its network of service providers include 60 laboratories, and testing and certification facilities.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Interviews with a UL safety expert are available upon request. Please contact UL's Media Relations Group at +1-847-664-1508 or E-mail Joseph.F.Hirschmugl@us.ul.com.
Joe Tedesco, NEC Consultant