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.