Search This Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Death By Code

Death by Code
I came across this article by Jeffrey S. Sargent (read below) and thought it was interesting.
There are numerous building codes in our country. While some states allow for local jurisdiction to amend codes, some states have statewide codes. As a home inspector in Hilton Head (and surrounding areas), South Carolina, I see variations in building codes from one town to the next. When political and economic concerns get involved, safety and common sense can fall to the wayside. Add local interpretation of adopted codes, and areas where code officials have little power, and you may have a mix for tragedy, such as the story told by Jeffrey, which resulted in death as a result of a local jurisdiction amending the codes. While this may be extreme, I hope it calls forth some interesting and productive discussions on code enforcement and code adoptions.

A Cautionary Tale

by Jeffrey S. Sargent

I had dinner recently with a good friend and colleague, and our conversation drifted to the topic of 2014 National Electrical Code® adoption. I told him adoptions were going well, but that some jurisdictions had passed or were contemplating amendments reducing the level of safety afforded by the NEC. The only “technical” support for these amendments, in most cases, were anecdotal accounts of operational problems and overstated financial concerns.
This led my friend to share an experience he had while working as the chief electrical inspector of a mid-sized city. He’s no longer employed by that community, but it was clear that the impact of what happened had not faded.
He told me he’d been at his office early on a Monday morning, and that he’d just closed out the last inspection report from the previous week when his phone rang. The caller explained he was interested in learning about the background of a city-specific amendment to the NEC. The amendment had exempted receptacles installed in garages and on the outside of homes from the requirement that they be provided with ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protection. The inspector explained the exception was on the books prior to him assuming the chief inspector’s job and had been added in response to negative feedback on the requirement that had been received by a member of the city council from local homeowners. The council member was in the homebuilding business.
Anyone who has served responsibly in the public sector understands the governmental chain of command, and in this case the inspector did what he believed was right by not disparaging those who were elected by the citizens of that city. He also knew that, had he been in the chief’s position at the time the amendment was proposed, he would have made every possible attempt to dissuade the council from reducing the level of safety established in a national consensus code. As it was, the amendment stood, and he had no desire to attempt to reverse a decision of the city council.
The gentleman on the other end of the line began calmly explaining the reason for his call. His family had recently moved into a new home in the city, and during the previous weekend they held a cook-out at their home. At the time, electrically heated outdoor grills were a new and easy way to cook outdoors—just plug in and cook. This family’s grill was flawed, however. The man’s young son had come in contact with the grill—which was plugged into an outdoor receptacle that lacked GFCI protection—at the same moment he was in contact with ground, and received a severe shock. He died en route to the hospital.
The electrical inspector was speechless. There were no words he could offer to justify why the amendment existed. He knew the amendment was wrong, but now he knew just how wrong: based on what the caller was saying, the amendment might be complicit in the death of a child. A lawsuit was filed against the city, and an out-of-court settlement was reached. The amendment was subsequently repealed.
Deeply disturbed by what had happened, the inspector vowed he would never again work in a jurisdiction where convenience and financial considerations were placed above safety. He never again wanted to be in the position of having to explain to a grieving parent the shallow reason why a fundamental safety feature had been amended out of a national consensus code for safe electrical installations.

End of article.

Thanks for reading my Blog.

John M. Wickline, President
JW Home Inspections, Inc. 

Bluffton, Hilton Head, Sun City, Okatie, SCNACHI, JW Home Inspections, Inc.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Color Are My Pants? Fire in The Closet!

Something in Your Closet Could Start a Fire
(and what color are my pants?)

by John M. Wickline, President
Hilton Head Island, SC 

OK, let's take a look at the safety issue first. The Culprit is Your Closet Light! Keep reading for information on Your pants.

This commonly applies to older homes. As a Home Inspector in Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Sun City, Okatie, SC , I occasionally inspect older homes and observe bare bulb lights in closets. This poses a fire hazard, since paper and cloth goods (flammable) are stored in closets and often in close proximity to the closet lights.
Of course the fix is to install proper and safe lighting. However, don’t quit reading yet. At the end (of course, I have to keep your interest) I explain why some lighting choices are better than others. Not just any light will provide what a closet needs (OK, the closet does not need the light, you do). I will also help you with figuring out what color your pants are (the things you can learn on my blog are amazing aren’t they?).
Home Inspector, Hilton Head, SC, Home Safety, Fire Hazard, JW Home Inspections, Home Inspector
Bare bulb light fixture - Fire Hazard
A closet is one of the few places in a home or villa where flammable materials can come in close contact with a source of high heat (bare light bulbs do give off high heat, and can start fires). Closet lighting must be installed with adequate separation from clothes, boxes and other flammables stored in a closet. Also, the quality of the light, and the bulbs efficiency should influence your lighting choices. 

Now for some boring bits and kibbles (it gets better at the end):

The 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) on "Permitted Luminaires and Clearance from Clothing"

The IRC defines a "luminary" as follows: 
a complete lighting unit consisting of a lamp or lamps, together with the parts designed to distribute the light, to position and protect the lamps and ballast (where applicable), and to connect the lamps to the power supply.

Types of luminaries permitted by the 2009 IRC include:
  •  surface-mounted or recessed incandescent luminaries with completely enclosed lamps, surface-mounted or recessed fluorescent luminaries; and
  •   surface-mounted fluorescent or LED luminaries identified as suitable for installation within the storage area.
Luminaries not permitted by the 2009 IRC:
  •   Incandescent luminaries with open or partially enclosed lamps and pendant luminaries or lamp-holders should be prohibited.
Clearances permitted by the 2009 IRC:
The minimum distance between luminaries installed in clothes closets and the nearest point of a storage area shall be as follows:
1. Surface-mounted incandescent or LED luminaries with a completely enclosed light source shall be installed on a wall above the door or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 12 inches (305 mm) between the fixture and the nearest point of a storage space.
2. Surface-mounted fluorescent luminaries shall be installed on the wall above the door or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches (152 mm).
3. Recessed incandescent luminaries or LED luminaries with a completely enclosed light source shall be installed in the wall or the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches (152 mm).
4. Recessed fluorescent luminaries shall be installed in the wall or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches (152 mm) between the fixture and the nearest point of storage space.
5. Surface-mounted fluorescent or LED luminaries shall be permitted to be installed within the storage space where identified within this use.

Now to answer that all important question, “What color are my pants?”.
Ah yes, the old Color Rendering Index (CRI)

The ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of various objects faithfully, in comparison with an ideal or natural light source is a quantitative  measure called CRI. The closer the CRI of a lamp is to 100, the more it will render colors as "true".  A light with a low CRI is why people are laughing at your color mismatched shirt and pants when you arrive at work. Now you know you can wipe those smirks off their faces. The CRI should be as high as possible in your clothes closet lighting. Believe it or not the old reliable incandescent lights shine brightly in this respect. With a CRI of 100, they are the most aesthetic lighting choice (but are inefficient). Compact fluorescents lights (CFLs) have a longer life and are far more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but with a CRI hovering the low 60s, they are a poor choice for clothes closet applications. Low-voltage halogen and LED lights however,  are relatively efficient, long-lasting, and have a high CRI, although not as high as incandescent bulbs. 

 Take a look in your closet. What do you see? If you see a bare bulb, get that thing replaced.  What do you not see? If you cannot see the colors in your clothing, now you are armed with the information to improve your wardrobe selection (go get yourself some serious CRI).
Wiping the smirk off the coworkers faces…Priceless.

Thanks for reading,

Home Inspection, Home Inspector, Hilton Head

Certified Professional Inspector