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ELECTRICAL SAFETY TIPS

According to the Government of Alberta, there are approximately on average 120 home fires per year related to electrical problems. Out of these fires, there are approximately two deaths, six injuries and over nine and a half million dollars in property damage. Some of these fires are caused by equipment defects, but most are caused by incorrectly installed wiring, overloaded circuits, misuse, and poor maintenance.

Everything breaks down over time, and electrical devices are no different. With proper maintenance and updating of our electrical system, we can dramatically improve the safety of our home or business. Summit Electric can remove your old electrical devices and install approved devices, which can reduce the chance of an electrical failure which is known to be a major cause of fire.

Summit Electric offers everyone an electrical inspection. Give us a call today at 403-993-9208 to schedule an appointment.

Areas where Summit Electric can help you improve the safety of your home or business include:

Tamper resistant receptacles
As any parent will admit, kids come with curious minds – which lead some of them to insert metal objects into outlets and receive terrible burns. Plastic caps can be used, but if the child figures out how to remove them, or the caps are not replaced, outlets can still be a hazard. Cover plates with sliders can also be figured out quite easily by a child.

Tamper resistant receptacles are designed with our kids in mind due to a growing concern of children coming in contact with electrical outlets. These specialized receptacles are permanent, offering continuous protection unlike plastic outlet caps that can be removed -- studies show that 2-4 year old children are able to remove plastic outlet caps in less than 10 seconds. And statistics show that kids are still coming into hospitals with 1st and 2nd degree burns due to electrical outlets.

In one report taken from 14 different Canadian hospitals over a period of 8 years there were 465 reported cases of electrical burns due to outlets. 85% of the cases were children under 4 years old, and 79% happened at home. In half of those cases, the child was playing with what parents considered to be a safe object like keys, never assuming they would figure out how to get past the safety devices and insert them into electrical outlets.

Child resistant cover plates were also tested and made it more difficult for kids to access the electrical circuit, but still presented a hazard when a plug was plugged into it. The material used does not allow the plug`s prongs to be fully inserted, which causes the material to come in contact with the electrical circuit. This leads to arcing, excessive heat build-up, and the potential for a fire.

Tamper resistant receptacles were designed with all of these considerations in mind. They will only accept electrical plugs reducing the chance of foreign objects entering. Even when the plug is removed, the internal safety device returns, providing constant protection.

Arc fault circuit interrupters
Arc fault circuit interrupters [AFCI] are designed to protect against electrical arcing, which contributes to over 80% of electrical related fires. An AFCI breaker operates like a normal breaker in that it will trip when overloaded or under a short condition.

What makes this breaker different is that it will detect arcing that may occur from damaged wiring such as wire staples pounded in too hard or punctured by drywall screws or nails, poorly installed electrical devices, furniture pushing up against the wall plug, and deteriorating wires or cords. The arcing produces high current and extreme temperatures. This may only occur at millisecond intervals which may not be a long enough time for a standard break to trip, but can generate enough heat to start a fire if it is in contact with combustibles.

Ground fault circuit interrupters
Ground fault circuit interrupters are often associated with the bathroom plug, but are also seen in the electrical panel as a breaker. These interrupters are designed with sensors to compare the current that comes in with the current that leaves.

If there is as much as 5 milliamps that does not balance out, the device will trip, disconnecting the power supply. This can happen as fast as 25 milliseconds. It has been recorded that 200 milliamps are enough to cause severe muscle contraction, burns and disrupt the ventricular heart rhythm, which usually means death. GFCI’s are by code installed around water. This is the most dangerous combination as water has the ability to act as a conductor with very little to no resistance. Coming in contact with water will allow the current to flow through you as it seeks the path of least resistance to ground, usually resulting in death.

Circuit loading
Circuit loading is a term that is used in the electrical industry when determining how much power will be used by a circuit. Typically we would refer to it in current or amps. Knowing the current that the device requires to operate helps in determining what size of wire and breaker to use.

When determining a circuit such as plugs and lights in a new home, electricians are instructed to load up to 80%. With a 15 amp breaker this would indicate that we would only load 12 devices on that circuit. Some will load up to a maximum of 15 devices with the understanding that not all the devices will be operating at once.

Circuit loading becomes a safety concern when renovations and electrical modification are done by an unqualified or inexperienced electrician who does not understand the codes or have knowledge of circuit loading. Overloaded circuits can lead to repeated breaker tripping and excessive hot points. If this is not addressed by a qualified electrician, then the protection device such as the breaker may fail or cause equipment and wiring to fail within the circuit.

Surge protection/ power conditioning
Sometimes we see the result of an electrical surge, but most of the time we are unaware that it is happening on a daily basis. The utility companies provide a power supply that fluctuates, which is usually out of their control. Electricity is based on a magnetic field, and sometimes there are external forces that affect the supply we receive, such as lightning, accidents or peak demand. Even though the electrical equipment can handle the normal spikes and dips, it still wears on them -- motors have to work a little bit harder during the dips, and lights get a bit brighter during the spikes, which shortens their life expectancy.

Surge protection devices protect against the drastic spikes that can damage our electronic devices. Power conditioners help to regulate the dips, spikes and filter out noise/static that is picked up in the magnetic field.

Electrical hazards
Live wires inside walls. Junction boxes with live wires hanging out with no connectors on them. Receptacles that are broken and missing cover plates but are still energized. Extension cords that are frayed and used as permanent wiring, smoke detectors that no longer work. These are some of the hazards we have found during inspections and renovations. Each home is different and listing all the possible hazards would be difficult. Some wiring methods still surprise us even after we think we have seen it all.

The best solution is to have an electrical inspection of your home or business. All inspections are completed by Marco Koomans, owner and operator of Summit Electric. Marco is a Master Electrician with over 15 years of electrical experience, more than 10 years in the maintenance industry, and over five years as an electrical instructor with SAIT.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detection
It takes less than 30 seconds for a small fire to turn into a large, uncontrollable fire. In less than four minutes, the house can be filled with toxic black smoke and when the house is engulfed in flames the temperatures can reach up to 600 degrees.

Smoke alarms are our best chance when it comes to house fires, next to having a plan in the event that a fire does occur. Unfortunately, many people do not have smoke alarms, and if they do, are not sure if the alarms are operational. In North America, over 3600 people are killed by residential fires each year. 63% of the fatalities had no smoke alarms in their house, or the alarm was not working.

Carbon monoxide claims the lives of approximately 200 Canadians a year. It is known as the silent killer because it is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. A carbon monoxide detector measures the carbon levels in the air over time based on ppm (parts per million) levels. We are exposed to carbon monoxide levels within our home each day, however these are usually considered safe levels reaching up to a maximum of 15 ppm over an 8 hour time period and 35 ppm over a 1 hour time period. When the levels reach over 50 ppm they are considered to be toxic if exposure exceeds an eight hour time period. At 70 -100 ppm, flu like symptoms are experienced after only a few hours of exposure. 150 – 300 ppm exposure can produce dizziness, drowsiness and vomiting. Exposure to levels of 400 ppm and higher can result in unconsciousness and death.

Switching
Up to 18% of fires related to electricity are due to lights. In some cases, the lights are accidently left on, or the incorrect light bulb wattage is used so heat builds up and can lead to equipment failure. Even if the correct wattage is used, the heat that builds inside the fixture can be very high.

Summit Electric has many past clients who have decided to replace their lighting. There have been a few situations where after removing the old fixture it was discovered that the wires were brittle due to heat build up. When wire insulation breaks down the possibility of arcing increases. By controlling the length of time that the lights are left on, one can reduce the heat build up. This can be done by adding motion activated switches, timers, or placing scheduled lights on a time clock.

Electrical panels
The electrical panel is the main component of your power distribution. From this point, the power is distributed out to the areas that we need electricity. As our house grows with renovations and upgrading of electrical devices, the demand placed on the distribution is increased. In some cases, we find additional panels added on to meet this need. Before 1950, the size of the electrical panel needed was only a 30 amp service supplying only 120 volts and having only 2 fuses. Around 1960, homes were putting in a 60 amp 240 volt service to meet with the electrical demands. Now the minimum size service is 100 amps and some new homes will even put in 200 amps having up to 80 circuits.

Electrical demands are increasing as lifestyles and technology advance. Be sure to have an inspection done by Summit Electric to ensure that your main service can safely provide for all your electrical needs.

Aluminum wiring
Aluminum wiring was used in over 450,000 homes in Canada prior to 1974. Studies concluded that aluminum wiring in residential homes was safe. The area of concern was the point of connection, where the wires are terminated. It was estimated that homes wired with aluminum and terminated to plugs and switches were at a 55% higher risk of electrical related fires. Some of the connections related to aluminum electrical fires were due to poor workmanship; however, there were too many incidents overall.

As a result, further studies were done and two possible causes were determined. One was oxidation, and the other was coefficient of expansion. The latter is believed by many to be the reason for so many aluminum related fires. The expansion and contraction of the two metals are different when under thermal load -- the connection loosens over time, and device failure may result.

There are many homes today that are still wired with aluminum. Use of aluminum poses a concern to the extent that some insurance companies will not provide coverage. If you suspect aluminum wiring in your home, it is very important to call Summit Electric. Do not try to fix this yourself.

I’d like people to know there is an electrical service company specializing in the rural communities surrounding Calgary that is committed to providing quality work and great customer service. Summit Electric does the job properly the first time so you know your home is safe. Marco Koomans, Owner - Summit Electric