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Rudi Kiefer: Take these precautions to reduce the potential fire hazards in your home
Rudi Kiefer

Houses in Southern California have beautiful rooftops, made of baked ceramic tile in shades of red and orange. The reason they are more common than Georgia’s shingle roofs isn’t appearance. It’s fire prevention.  When the dry, hot Santa Ana wind blows down the canyons, burning objects often come with it. Ceramic tiles are impervious to them, unlike our tar covered rooftops. Wildfires spread by the wind are less common here, though, than single home fires.

In Hall County, electrical problems are a major cause of home destruction. During the wet, chilly months of winter, it’s nice to have a space heater supplementing the home heating system and warming some cold spots in the house. It must be remembered that most of them, including the oil-filled radiator types and the ones that have a blower fan, draw 1,500 Watts on their maximum setting. That’s almost all the power available in a standard electrical circuit.  Check the breaker panel. The majority of switches on that panel will be labeled “15 Amps”. At 110 Volts, this comes to 1,650 Watts, which doesn’t leave much for other power-consuming devices. Plugging two space heaters into outlets that are on the same circuit is a no-no. If the breakers are a few years old, they are slower to trip than the latest versions. Overheating of the wiring can then lead to melt-downs, arcing, and finally a fire inside the studded walls, where our dry SPF lumber burns quite readily.

How do I know which outlets connect to the same breaker? It’s an easy test to plug something into an outlet, then clicking the breaker off. I use a $5 outlet tester, but even a lamp will do.  If it goes out when the breaker is off, you’ve found the circuit.

Extension cords, which should never be used with a space heater, are another risk factor. Their wiring inside is often much thinner than it looks. Overheating, melting and a good chance of fire again are the consequence.  The same is true for power strips, no matter how much “protection” their labels promise.

The National Fire Protection Association (nfpa.org) offers solid advice year-round. Currently, their website carries a checklist for fire safety during the winter months. It includes precautions for using wood-burning fireplaces, space heaters, and life-saving smoke alarms that should be in every room of the house.

 

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.