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.

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.