Category Archives: safety
Window Air Conditioners – Don’t Assume You Can Just Plug Them In!
Before long, furnaces will be turned off, and air conditioners will be cranked up. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region, with its long history, many homes and businesses have been around for years. Because they were built before central air was available, they rely on window air conditioners. Window air conditioning units can actually be the most cost-effective and efficient way to cool down a space, without cooling the entire building.
AC Size and Requirements
The size and electrical requirements of a window AC unit are the most important factors in determining whether it will need a dedicated circuit. Some units are 110/120 volts, but most of those that I run circuits for are 240 volts, which does require a special receptacle.
A note here – when installing a special circuit, HVAC contractors and electricians should work as a team. The electrical specifications from the unit’s “spec sheet” should be shared between them, as communication is paramount.
How Large is Your Space?
The size of the room being cooled is another factor and includes not only the square footage but the ceiling height. Double-height ceilings are a relatively recent phenomenon, and I’ve found that homes and businesses with high ceilings almost always have central climate control.
Consider Other Appliances
AC units require a lot of power, so they should not share a circuit with other appliances or other loads and equipment. Refrigerators, computers, washing machines and water heaters are examples of power-hungry appliances.
What Can Happen if I Don’t Have a Needed Dedicated Circuit for Your AC Unit?
Failing to consider all the above factors can cause several problems:
First, circuits can overload. A circuit is a loop through which electrical current flows to power electrical devices and equipment. Different circuits are built to supply varying amounts of electric current, based on the devices that will use the circuit.
When something is connected to a circuit that requires more electricity than the circuit can supply, the circuit overloads, which causes the breaker for that circuit to trip, and everything on that circuit will shut down.
Also, watch for overfusing, which means that the circuit wiring is too small for the rating of the breaker protecting the circuit. For example, 14-gauge wire in a circuit should not be protected by any fuse or breaker rated higher than 15 amps. An overloaded circuit may not trip if it is over fused.
A break in a hot wire can cause a series arc, which will not trip a standard circuit breaker or blow an old-style screw shell fuse, but it can cause a fire.
Finally, don’t plug your AC unit into an extension cord. An undersized extension cord can cause overheating of the cord, which is a fire hazard. A bad connection between the appliance plug and the cord, and/or between the cord and the receptacle it is plugged into, could also be a fire hazard. Extension cords are not recommended except as a very temporary fix until a new circuit can be installed.
If you have questions about your AC unit, please use our Contact Us to give us a shout!
Electrical Safety While Working from Home
Are you still working or spending more time at home? Be sure to always plug into power safely and ensure #electricalcords do not become tripping hazards. Never run cords under rugs, carpets, doors, or windows. Follow these electrical safety tips from the Electrical Safety Foundation International to keep you and your home safe from #electrical hazards.
Get the full details on this downloadable pdf.
Fire Prevention Week™ is October 4-10, 2020!
This year’s Fire Prevention Week’s campaign theme is “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!TM” The campaign’s goal is to educate everyone about the simple but important actions they can take to keep themselves, and those around them, safe in the kitchen.
Unattended cooking is the leading cause of fires in the kitchen. Keep kids safe and avoid accidents and injuries by keeping them three feet away from the stove while you are cooking.
Other basic kitchen fire safety guidelines include:
- Keep appliances serviced, clean, and in good repair.
- Unplug electric appliances when not in use. This saves power by reducing the amount of energy a device consumes even when it’s not being used, and protects against overheating and power surges that can damage equipment.
- Install a smoke detector near, but not in the kitchen.
- Use caution when lighting the pilot light or burner on a gas stove.
- Don’t use metal in the microwave.
- Don’t overfill pots or pans with oil or grease.
Additional fire prevention guidelines include:
- Avoid “over-fusing” circuits…the modern-day version of putting a penny in a screw-in fuse socket to keep the fuse from blowing. If a breaker is tripping, but will allow you to reset it, there is a problem on the circuit. It may be overloaded. Replacing the breaker with one of a higher amperage rating is a potential fire hazard. Enlist the help of a licensed electrician.
- If your lights flicker, or appliances start working and then stop, whether they are plugged in or hardwired, or you hear crackling or sizzling noises at a switch, receptacle, or inside a wall…stop using the equipment, turn off the breaker, and call a licensed electrician. There may be arcing on the circuit, which is a potential fire hazard.
Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of October 9th in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began on October 8, 1871, and caused devastating damage.
In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Fire Prevention Week a national observance, making it the longest-running public health observance in our country. During Fire Prevention Week, children, adults, and teachers learn how to stay safe in case of a fire.
Firefighters provide lifesaving public education in an effort to drastically decrease casualties caused by fires.
When you need a trusted licensed Electrician, Call on Little Sparkie Electric!
Flooding Can Wipe Out Your Electrical System
After a largely nonexistent winter, the spring storm season is upon us. Mid-Maryland homes and businesses have seen some devastating floods in recent years. Downtown and other parts of Frederick have flooded several times, and Ellicott City saw devastating floods two years in a row in 2017 and 2018.
Unfortunately, most electrical components that have been underwater for even a brief time need to be replaced. This includes wiring, circuit breaker panels, and fuse boxes, also receptacles, switches, and light fixtures. Once mineral deposits and resultant corrosion get a foothold, the damage keeps on going. Corroded electrical equipment can present a significant fire hazard.
Before you enter a flooded business or home, have a licensed electrician and utility personnel check to make sure the building is safe from shock and electrocution risks. This could also involve removing the electric meter or circuit breaker panel. Although you may be comfortable replacing receptacles, switches, and lights, these are only part of a larger project after a flood. The serving electric utility’s further assistance is also often needed. The utilities will disconnect power in an emergency, but they generally require an electrical permit and an inspection to reconnect power to a building. Safety always must come first.
Frequently, recovering from a flood includes replacing drywall, sheetrock, ceiling tiles, insulation, and flooring, in addition to the electrical infrastructure. Remember, it’s easier to rewire a building or a home when walls and ceilings are open. Gutting and rebuilding also gives you the opportunity to add more needed receptacles and put them in new locations, for example higher on the walls, above the 100-year flood level. This way you can cut down on future repairs, as we’ve seen our fair share of “100-year” weather events. Higher receptacles are also handy for setting up charging stations for all of your employees’ devices. We can install receptacles that include USB ports for device chargers.
Replacing receptacles and switches can also allow you to upgrade to more sophisticated technology that can be controlled anywhere with a tablet or smartphone. Don’t forget energy-saving occupancy sensors and timers. Several platforms and systems are currently available.
It might also be a good time to consider installing a permanent standby or backup generator to protect against power outages.
But it all starts with a phone call to a qualified, licensed electrician and Generac factory-certified generator technician. Little Sparkie Electric stands ready to help in spite of the Coronavirus. We’ll take all necessary precautions to keep you, your employees, and your family safe, while we help make your home or workplace safe.
NFPA urges home fire safety caution amid pandemic
As the public largely remains at home in response to COVID-19, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges added caution around home fire safety in the days and weeks ahead.
According to NFPA, cooking, heating, and electrical equipment are among the leading causes of home fires year-round. “We already see the majority of fires happening in homes,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “As people spend much more time at home and engage in activities that significantly contribute to the home fire problem, it’s critical that they recognize where potential hazards exist and what they can do to prevent fires.”
Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and is responsible for nearly half (49 percent) of all reported home fires involving cooking equipment.
Moreover, unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires, meaning that home cooking fires occur most often when people aren’t keeping a close eye on what they’re cooking.
“As many households are now dealing with unusual routines and out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, such as kids home from school and parents working from home, there’s greater potential for distracted cooking,” said Carli.
NFPA statistic show that heating equipment is the second-leading cause of home fires, resulting in an average of 52,050 home fires each year. Electrical distribution or lighting equipment is involved in an annual average of 35,100 home fires.
With everyone at home, people may be using the same outlets to charge phones, laptops and other digital equipment, which also presents a fire hazard.
With these concerns in mind, NFPA reminds the public to use best practices for staying fire-safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond:
- Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, boiling, grilling, or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
- If you are simmering, baking, or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
- Keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains — away from your stovetop.
- Make sure all handles are turned inward, away from where someone can grab a hot handle or tip a pan over.
- Be on alert. If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, refrain from using the stove or stovetop.
- If you have young children in your home, create a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet (1 meter) around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.
- Keep anything that can burn at least three-feet (one meter) away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.
- Have a three-foot (one meter) “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
- Never use your oven to heat your home.
- Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
- Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters.
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning. If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call your local fire department or gas company.
- When charging smartphones and other digital devices, only use the charging cord that came with the device.
- Do not charge a device under your pillow, on your bed or on a couch.
- Only use one heat-producing appliance (such as a coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc.) plugged into a receptacle outlet at a time.
- Major appliances (refrigerators, dryers, washers, stoves, air conditioners, microwave ovens, etc.) should be plugged directly into a wall receptacle outlet. Extension cords and plug strips should not be used.
- Check electrical cords to make sure they are not running across doorways or under carpets. Extension cords are intended for temporary use.
- Use a light bulb with the right number of watts. There should be a sticker that indicates the right number of watts.
In addition, smoke alarms should be located on every level of the home, in each bedroom, and near all sleeping areas. Test them monthly to make sure they’re working. NFPA also strongly encourages households develop and practice a home escape plan to ensure that everyone knows what to do in a fire and can escape quickly and safely.
(To this NFPA article we also would add that you should have one or two fire extinguishers in your home.)
For a wealth of NFPA resources and information on home fire safety, visit www.nfpa.org/Public-Education.
About the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global self-funded nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards.. For more information, visit www.nfpa.org. All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free at www.nfpa.org/freeaccess.
Best wishes for a safe and happy 2020!
As we march into a new decade, we want to thank our many customers for making the past year another successful business year for Little Sparkie Electric!
This month we celebrate our 13th year in business! We defied the odds when we started our business in January of 2007, in the early days of what would come to be known as “the Great Recession.”
Our first paying job came just two days after we opened our doors, and our business has been growing steadily ever since!
Keeping business busy by servicing generators
One of the ways we’ve grown our business is by expanding our Generac Generator sales and services for commercial businesses and residences.
If you haven’t already done so, it’s good to get your generator professionally serviced before the ice storms hit! Many people don’t realize that a generator is like an engine, and servicing it is no project for a DIYer!
After servicing generators for 13 years, and training novice technicians, we know what to look for as well as what to listen for.
Although we have all of the sophisticated testing equipment, experience plays a major role in tracking down problems and coming up with solutions!
Receptacles shouldn’t become loose
Many people like the convenience of leaving appliances plugged in. We don’t unplug everything at our house either.
Anything with a power supply (computers and cell phone chargers are two examples) does draw a small amount of current even when the equipment is turned off, and these small draws can add up with more appliances and over time.
If a receptacle is backwired using its spring clamps, then plugging and unplugging appliances can loosen the contacts over time. When we install or replace receptacles, we don’t use spring clamps – we use the device’s screw terminals, and for this exact reason.
If the receptacle is wired properly, using the screw terminals with contact pads and/or looped wire ends, contact loosening will not happen provided the terminals are properly torqued and that the material in contact with the screw terminals is copper. Copper, like all metals, warms up when current is passed through it and expands slightly under normal use, but when the current is removed, the copper cools and the metal contracts to return to its original shape.
If the receptacle itself is loose in the wall, most likely the box is set back too far and/or the drywall hole is cut too large, and shims may be needed to hold the device firmly against its box. If the box is loose because it was improperly installed, it should be remounted or replaced.
If a receptacle has been painted over, paint can weaken the plastic face of the device. A properly wired, installed, and properly protected receptacle will not fall apart absent a manufacturing defect (fortunately these are rare).
Over time, the recessed spring steel blade contacts that hold a plug can lose their grip and the plug will feel loose. This wear is normal, and means it’s time to replace the receptacle. We usually see receptacle blade contacts start to feel looser after some 15 to 25 years. This is an average based on observation, and several factors are at play in how long a receptacle will properly hold a plug.
An alternative to plugging and unplugging cords is to use an outlet strip, which can be turned off when connected appliances are not in use, and which also provides some measure of surge protection. Please bear in mind though that an outlet strip does not increase the capacity of a circuit, it simply means more things can be plugged into it. But you can turn the strip’s switch on and off without disturbing the receptacle the strip is plugged into.
We are always happy to answer questions. Safety comes first in our business.
Dangers from Space Heaters Are Not Over Yet!
By Master Electrician Catherine Nazarene, Little Sparkie Electric LLC
Maryland has seen some warm winter days recently, but that doesn’t mean the dangers of space heaters are over. In fact, people may actually use the space heaters more to avoid cranking up the thermostat when temperatures drop. Unfortunately, they can pose significant fire and electric shock hazards if not used properly.
Fire and electrical hazards can be caused by space heaters without adequate safety features, by heaters placed near combustibles, or heaters that are improperly plugged in, or are plugged into receptacles with loose or improper wiring.
Heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States, and more than 65,000 home fires are attributed to heating equipment each year, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).
These fires result in hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and millions of dollars in property damage, says the ESFI.
Put safety first
Here are some tips from the ESFI for keeping your home safe and warm during the chilly months ahead:
- Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.
- Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.
- Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, don’t use the heater.
- Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep, and don’t let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
- Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
- Proper placement of space heaters is critical. Heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.
- Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways, where they may pose a tripping hazard.
- Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
- Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or a carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
- Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use.
Little Sparkie offers safety checks as part of our services, and we see scary things just about every day. We check circuit breakers and wire connections, look for deterioration and corrosion, run tests to help ensure that electrical equipment is functioning correctly, and make recommendations to help ensure safety.
And you should always check to make sure your smoke alarms are working; we also install hard-wired alarms to comply with local electrical codes.
If you have any concerns about your home or office’s wiring, please give us a call at 301-606-5181, or email us at [email protected]. We serve Frederick, Carroll, Howard and Montgomery Counties, along with Western, Southern, and Eastern Maryland, and Northern Virginia.