Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Have New Devices Outstripped Your Home's Ability to Deliver Electricity Safely?

The electricity requirements of new appliances and other devices keeps going up and up, but the electrical infrastructure of many homes has not been upgraded to meet this new demand. Added electrical load creates safety issues in homes and makes it imperative that homeowners obtain a professional assessment to determine if the home's electrical system can meet a family's needs.

The amount of electricity a home needs is measured in amperes, more commonly called amps. An ampere is the amount of electrical energy flowing through an appliance at any given time.  Just 30 years ago, the average home only needed a 60 amp electrical service to function well. In only 10 years, homes began to need upgrading to 100 amp electrical service as new electrical appliances and devices became available. 
Why is it important to upgrade your home’s electrical service?  Here's a simple example : A home built in the 1970’s may have had 12 circuits to service the entire house.  Typically a circuit would be run to serve outlets, or maybe a fixed appliance in the kitchen or utility room.  At that time bedrooms would be rated to have a clock radio and a ceiling light fixture as average load.  In the event new loads ( i.e. appliances or stereos multiple televisions) are introduced to the circuitry, now the circuit is being asked to deliver more amps than it was originally designed for , thus the possibility of tripping a circuit breaker, blowing a fuse, or overheating the wiring in the walls.  As home electrical demands increased, circuit breakers were introduced into home electrical systems that interrupt the flow of electrical current when a circuit becomes overloaded with more amp demand than the circuit can handle. 

Increasing home amp capacity is a result of Americans becoming more and more power hungry.  For example,  average homes today are wired with 30 to 40 circuits .  Even a modern  air conditioning system will consume more power than an entire home did 30 years ago.  Many kitchens are now wired with over 15 circuits, which is more than an entire house 30 years ago!   That modern kitchen now needs circuits  capable of supplying more than 60 amps of demand as we have introduced microwaves, coffee machines, undercounter lights, subzero refrigerators and more.  Yet as this demand has increased, many people have not thought about increasing the capacity of their home’s electrical panel.

“Many people fill their homes with the latest electronics, such as computers, massive televisions, and high-tech stereos," said Tim Emsley, owner of Bel-Red Electric.  "Yet these same people often have an old, outdated electrical panel!  They’re plugging in thousands of dollars worth of electronics into a panel that may not be able to safely serve and protect them.  It’s a potential disaster waiting to happen!”

A common sign that a home is drawing more electricity than its system can safely distribute is frequent circuit breaker trips or flickering lights. 

“At Bel-Red Electric, during National Electrical Safety Month (May), I’m offering all homeowners 50 percent discount on electrical safety inspections," Emsley said.  "One of my highly trained technicians will conduct a multi-point check of every room in your home, as well as give your electrical panel a complete diagnostic. This service normally costs $197, but we’re doing it for HALF PRICE to raise awareness of electrical safety.  Having an outdated or inadequate electrical panel is a big concern and we want to alert as many people as possible to the problem and its solution.”

For more information on Bel-Red Electric, visit  www.belredelectric.com   and to schedule a electrical safety inspection, call 425-883-7178.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Protect Your Home Improvements with Up-to-Code Smoke Detectors

A majority of the 3,500 fire deaths that occur annually in the United States happen when people are at home, according to the U.S. Fire Safety Administration.  If for no other reason, this startling statistic confirms the importance for homeowners to install and frequently test their home smoke alarms, said Tim Emsley, owner of Bel-Red Electric.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that 62 percent of home related fire deaths resulted either because the home did not have smoke alarms or the alarms were not functional.  “If your smoke alarms are more than 10 years old, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having them replaced or at least inspected at the very least,” Emsley said.

“A fire can build and grow in just minutes.  That can cause poisonous gas to quickly build to life-threatening levels in the home," Emsley said.  "If you’re asleep, it’s an extremely dangerous situation.  That’s why smoke alarms are the most important thing that people can have in their homes.”

While recent building codes require smoke detectors on every level, and in every bedroom, many older homes do not meet this requirement and need an upgrade.  Upgrading will not only include additional detectors, but the latest fire safety technology which involves interconnected AC/DC smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, devices designed for the hearing impaired as well as rechargeable battery features in the detectors.

Known as the "silent killer," carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that claims about 300 lives a year and is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the U.S., according to the association.  That's why it is important for homeowners to have carbon monoxide detectors as well as smoke alarms.   

Carbon monoxide can be produced by gas or oil appliances such as clothes dryers, water heaters, furnaces, ovens and space heaters.  Improperly vented fireplaces and chimneys partially blocked by creosote and other residue are also a major source of carbon monoxide in the home.

Carbon monoxide does not rise to the ceiling like smoke so detectors can be plugged into electrical outlets, but homeowners should make certain that the detector comes with a battery backup in case of electrical power loss.  Should a fire compromise the electrical circuit before smoke or carbon monoxide reaches the detector, the alarms will not sound without a battery backup.

Here are some smoke alarm safety tips that every homeowner should know:

·        Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home as well as outside sleeping areas.
·        For additional protection, install a smoke alarm in each bedroom.
·        Alarms should be tested every month and the batteries replaced at least once a year.
·        Install alarms near the highest pitch of the ceiling, at least four inches away from the wall.
·        Avoid placing alarms too close to the kitchen and bathrooms where fumes and steam can result in false alarms.
·        Purchase smoke alarms that are listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
·        Install special alarms for anyone in your home who is deaf or hearing impaired.
·        Test smoke alarms after returning home when away for more than a few days.

“The best smoke detectors people can have today are interconnected smoke alarms," Emsley said.  "If one signals, all of them throughout the home will simultaneously alarm.  This provides maximum safety for family members because each will be alerted even though the fire may not be physically close to where the person is in the home.”

Homeowners can ensure that they are adequately protected from smoke and gas by having a professional electrician inspect the detection system installed in the home.  At a minimum, this service involves testing the detectors and installing new batteries.  In addition, trained electricians can inspect the home’s electrical panel/fuse box, all outlets, and all other electrical components to ensure that none are malfunctioning and pose a fire or carbon monoxide risk.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Choosing the Right Generator Before the Power Goes Out - Avoid the Pitfalls Experienced During Seattle Winter Storm 2012

A January 2012 winter storm in the Seattle area knocked out power for more than 250,000 electric customers, and many homes were without electricity for 4-5 days.  This storm caused many homeowners to consider installing home electrical generators.  The reasons are obvious.  Power outages can cause damage or injury.  Home generators power appliances such as refrigerators and freezers, keeping food from spoiling.  Alarm systems run without interruption to maintain home security.  Medical devices can be operated without serious interruption.  Home electrical heating can be maintained.  Unfortunately, when permanent power is restored to the home and life returns to normal, most homeowners forget about installing home generators.  That's unfortunate because installing a home electrical generator is a relatively simple process that ensures peace of mind when the next electrical emergency occurs.

Homeowners need to understand, however, that there is a difference between portable and standby generators.  Portable generators supply power to appliances and other devices with extension cords and are kept outside and away from the house to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide buildup in the home.  If installed correctly, portable generators can also be tied into a home's electrical configuration.  This requires a licensed electrician to install safely measures to protect the home.  Proper, professional installation also ensures that electric company workers who come into a homeowner's neighborhood to restore power can do so safely.  Portable home generators are generally a less expensive option than standby generators but also require proper installation and use.

Standby home generators are more efficient than portable generators, as these are installed directly into the house's electrical structure.  The generator detects a power loss and starts up to restore power to the house without any action by the homeowner.  Fuel choices include natural gas or propane, and fuel supplies can be easily replenished during long-term outages.  Either portable or standby generators will work during a power outage but standby home generators are a superior option for instant power restoration during interruptions.

There are a variety of home generators available that provide increasing wattage levels to deliver power to homes of varying sizes.  The most important thing for a homeowner to consider when choosing a backup power system is to determine how much wattage is needed in an emergency by actually measuring the power required.  First, decide what lights and equipment, such as heating systems, refrigerators, fans, alarm system, etc., are needed to operate simultaneously during a power outage.  Then have an electrician measure the electric consumption when all these loads are running.  This will determine the continuous (running) watts that are needed to power the home during an outage.  For example, motor driven appliances such as refrigerators and furnace fans require larger amounts of current for initial start-up, then lesser amounts of power when running.  This is called peak (startup) power, and a licensed electrician can determine the startup power requirements for your home.

As with all mechanical devices, there are several brands of residential power generators and each is manufactured in a unique manner.  Homeowners should be aware that some less expensive generators may not last as long, while more expensive ones can last indefinitely. A licensed electrician can help a homeowner make an informed decision concerning which device to choose for a particular home and how much to spend.  Once a decision is made, the electrician will insure that the generator is installed correctly to ensure safe operation.  Improperly installed power generators can create many dangerous situations in the home ranging from fire to electrocution or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Home generators provide safety and security when power outages occur.  They can also add resale value to the home.  A home with a generator can stand out to potential home buyers as a well-equipped home, ready for power outages and stormy weather.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Replacing Your Ceiling Light Fixture with a Ceiling Fan? There's More to it Than You Think

More and more homeowners are replacing their existing ceiling light fixtures with new paddle fans to realize significant year-round energy savings.  In the summer, ceiling fans create cooling breezes, which reduce the strain on air conditioners.  In winter, they circulate heated air to keep the room warm.  With a variety of available styles, ceiling fans can be an attractive update for a room's overall d├ęcor. 

While ceiling fans are common installations, homeowners often overlook the safety hazards involved.  These hazards can be especially prevalent in older homes. 

First, it is important to select the correct size fan.  Here are some tips:
Use a 36-inch diameter ceiling fan if the largest room dimension is 12 ft. or less.
Use a 42-inch diameter ceiling fan if the largest room dimension is 12 to 15 ft.
Use a 52-inch diameter ceiling fan if the largest room dimension is over 15 ft.

Next, inspect the ceiling lighting box.  The majority of ceiling lighting boxes in older homes are made either of plastic or a composite called Bakelite.  These boxes are light duty, rated for fixtures only, and are often not strong enough to support a ceiling fan.  The boxes feature a plastic grooved threading for the fixture mounting screws.  Over time, plastic and Bakelite boxes can become brittle and too fragile for even a light fixture.  This is especially true if homeowners have used over- wattage lamps in the past. The heat from oversized lamps will rise and penetrate the box, eventually baking out the little moisture left in the plastic.  This causes fragile mounting threads and a less than structurally sound lighting box.

Electrical code specifically requires a ceiling mounting box that is rated by the manufacturer for use with ceiling fans and heavy chandelier lighting fixtures.  These "bracing" boxes are usually made of metal, but are always UL labeled for fan use.   More importantly, they are designed to support the fixture separately from the box.  Long bolts and screws connect to a framing member, which supports both the weight and vibration associated with ceiling paddle fans. The box serves a dual purpose – it houses the electrical connections in a safe, non-combustible environment, and the bracing design supports the fixture and its load.

There are many different boxes that meet this "bracing" requirement.  A homeowner who is going to remodel and replace an existing light fixture with a fan, or who wants to install a new ceiling fan on an open stud ceiling, must select the appropriate mounting box. 

Ceiling fan installation can be difficult.  If not done correctly, or if done with an inadequate mounting box, an improperly installed fan can lead to short circuits or even fires in the home wiring system.
A homeowner who is unsure if the mounting box is rated for paddle fan use or if it has an adequate weight rating for the fan being installed should consult a professional electrician. www.belredelectric.com

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Do You Have Enough Electrical Capacity to Handle an Appliance Upgrade? Know When It's Time to Upgrade Your Home Electrical Panel

The newest large-screen television …  an espresso machine … the wine refrigerator you always wanted.

Upgrading your appliances can make your life easier and provide new lifestyle options.  In addition, today's technology offers energy-saving devices that can significantly reduce your electric bill.  However, before upgrading it is important to consider the capacity of your home's electrical system to handle these new devices.

The first place to begin is your home's electrical panel.  This is the heart of an electrical system; it distributes electricity to each room, appliance and device.  Panels can experience problems at any age; however, the likelihood increases with time.  The life expectancy of an electrical panel is 30 to 40 years.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 50 percent of homes  potentially have an obsolete electrical panel.  The signs of an aging or outdated panel can be difficult  to detect.  Perhaps a light  continually flickers or dims momentarily.  Maybe an outlet works intermittently, or perhaps you have circuit breakers which trip often.  One or more of these symptoms are indicative of a panel that may need  immediate attention.

“ Obsolete electrical panels can short out your refrigerator or that new television," Tim Emsley, owner of Bel-Red Electric, said.  "But a faulty electrical panel can lead to even bigger troubles.  They're one of the leading causes of home fires.  That's something no one wants to face."

While there are a variety of obsolete panels, many experts agree that there are two specific residential  panel types that should be inspected regularly:

1.       Federal Pacific (FPE) – There are more than 5 million of these panels in the U.S., and they are known to burn connection points, which can create overheating and increase fire risk. The (FPE) Company lost a class action lawsuit after the company violated the Consumer Fraud Act because FPE knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards. Experts agree that Federal Pacific Electric panels fail to trip at a much higher rate than standard panels.

2.       Zinsco ( Magnetrip, Sylvania) – this is a first generation circuit breaker panel installed from 1950 through the 1970s.  The manufacturer of these products was forced to stop production many years ago by the UL listing authorities because the panels do not operate properly.  In some cases, the breakers inside these old, obsolete panels will take a minute or more to turn off the power or may not trip at all. The panels are easily identified by the multi-color handles on the breaker switches.

Many Federal Pacific Electric and Zinsco panels, as well as other panel types installed in older homes, have been known to operate properly for years. But if and when they do malfunction, a disaster could occur.  That’s why experts recommend that homeowners have their homes evaluated by a licensed electrician at least once a year.  Home electrical systems, including panels, can change dramatically over the course of 12 months, and in so doing, potential safety hazards can develop.

If you have an older home – and especially if you plan to upgrade your electrical appliances – you should consider upgrading your electric panel, as well as the electrical wiring and other system components.  Older electrical systems were not designed to handle today's modern appliances.  Current technology can improve the safety and reliability of a home's electrical system and increase efficiency when using the latest appliances. 

In addition to problems with old or obsolete electrical panels, there are other things to consider before upgrading your appliances.  For example, older electrical systems were often designed for 60-amp (four fuses) or even 30-amp (two fuses) service.  Electrical upgrades can bring your home up to 100 or even 200-amp service. This extra capacity will be more than enough to handle modern electronics and appliances.

Additionally, older wiring can present safety hazards that can be corrected only by a wiring upgrade. Homes built before 1960 typically feature wiring wrapped in rubberized fabric that provides little insulation when the material becomes brittle and frayed. Substandard insulation can be a problem in crawlspaces and attics.  Homes built in the 1960s and 1970s frequently were built using aluminum wiring.  Aluminum wiring can loosen over time, causing electrical shorts and overheating that can lead to fires. 

Upgrading your electrical system will provide the infrastructure for a more satisfying lifestyle and insure a safe environment.  It is therefore critical to consult an expert before upgrading your appliances and other electrical devices.   Emsley pointed out that the technicians at Bel-Red Electric have the professional training, expertise and experience to evaluate a home's electrical panel and wiring as a critical step before upgrading electrical appliances.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tip 1: Before You Upgrade Your Appliances - An Electrical Safety Checklist

May is National Electrical Safety Month

While the odds of being killed by a lightning strike are approximately 1 in 2.3 million, more than 800 people in the U.S. die each year from electrocutions and electrical fires and thousands are injured.  Each year, electrical problems cause over 140,000 electrical fires and $1.1 billion in property losses. 

May is National Electrical Safety Month and a good time to check your home and to protect yourself and your family from electrical hazards. 

According to Underwriters Laboratories (UL), over 30 million homes - over one-third of the United States housing – is more  than 50 years old.  Why does this matter for electrical safety?  Tim Emsley, Manager of Bel-Red Electric in the Seattle area, notes, “ today’s homeowner demands higher levels of electricity, we have added numerous appliances  for lifestyle changes to our homes.  If an electrical system is obsolete, there are many unseen hazards."  For example, old wiring inside walls can be overheating and damaging it’s own insulation.  High wattage light bulbs located too close to ceilings can char wood frames.  Often, home owners use light bulbs that exceed the fixture wattage rating.  It is easy to be complacent as long as the lights come on and the appliances work – until a fire starts.

Because 53 percent of residential fires involve electrical wiring, home owners can greatly
increase protection by installing an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI).  This safety device detects and stops electrical arcs that can cause fires.  Arcs are not detected by most breakers and fuses.

Additionally, to protect personnel you can invest in ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).  These de-energize a circuit when a hazardous condition is detected that could result in a severe electrical shock or electrocution.  If your home already has GFCIs, it is critical to test them on a regular basis.  Installing GFCI protection in every home and workplace – and checking it monthly - could prevent almost 70% of electrocutions that occur each year. 

Here is a helpful checklist of Don'ts and Dos:

Don't overload power strips, cords and surge suppressors.
Don't overload circuits by plugging too many items into the same outlet.
Don't run electric cords under rugs or in high traffic areas.
Don't use power tools or electrical appliances if the cords are frayed.

Do replace damaged electrical equipment or have it repaired at an authorized dealer.
Do use GFCIs when working where water is close to electricity.
Do check electrical outlets and old wiring.
Do check your light fixtures, lamps and light bulbs to insure proper wattage.

Homeowners can prevent many problems that may lead to electrical fires, but in some cases, it is important to consult a professional electrician.  Emsley points out that "if you have an older home , then some small but important wiring issues can be critical to home safety."  When Bel-Red makes a service call, the electrician provides a list of electrical safety recommendations at no charge.  The company can make homes safer the same day as their service trucks are equipped to make on-the-spot repairs.

Eliminating electrical hazards begins with education and awareness.  Homeowners can protect their families and property by checking for hazardous conditions and by consulting a professional electrician.

If you live in the greater Seattle Area, including Redmond and Bellevue, WA, contact Bel-Red Electric to learn more about safely upgrading your residential electric service.