Archive for the ‘safety’ category

Quick Tip #34 – Fix That Wobbling Ceiling Fan

October 6th, 2014

Wobbling ceiling fans are not safe to use. If a ceiling fan in your home shows excessive wobble, stop using it until you can get it fixed. Fans are dangerous if not installed and operated properly.

Many fans wobble because they have loose parts or need to be balanced. Find the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific fan.

In many cases, you can solve the problem by tightening bolts that hold fan blades to the motor housing. In some cases, swapping the position of some blades may solve the problem; swap blade for blade and test the operation after each swap.

If wobbling still occurs after tightening and swapping the blades, check whether your manufacturer provides a weight kit to balance the fan. With the balance weight kit, you work from blade to blade, adding and removing weight until the fan is balanced. This is tedious and time-consuming but effective.

Finally, if the mounting to the ceiling box or bracket is loose, the fan might be improperly installed. This condition should be checked by a professional. Ceiling fans are too heavy to be mounted in a standard electrical box; they need a special box and support bracket.

Never operate a fan with excessive movement or a loose mounting.

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Quick Tip #30 – Clothes Dryer Venting – A Hidden Danger

September 8th, 2014

Each year many home fires are caused by improperly maintained clothes dryers. The dryer and vent pipes can overheat and cause a fire. Vents plugged with lint will compound the problem. Don’t let your home become the next casualty.

First, always follow the manufacturer’s requirements for cleaning the dryer lint screen. On most dryers, the screen is easy to find and clean between each load; just pull the screen from your dryer and remove the lint.

Next, make sure the ducting that vents dryer discharge to the outdoors is properly installed. Many dryer manufacturers and local municipalities require a metal vent duct, not a flexible vinyl vent. The metal duct should have as few bends as possible and be routed outside with as short a duct as possible.

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The problem with flexible vinyl and flexible metal ducts is that their rough interior traps lint. Also, these ducts are often installed with excessive loops and tight bends that trap lint.

When in doubt, contact the manufacturer of your dryer for specific requirements. A person who cleans chimneys may also clean and maintain dryer exhaust ducts and will know local code requirements.

Quick Tip #25 – Turn That Gas Off

August 4th, 2014

Operating Wrench-Type ValveIf your home has natural gas or propane appliances, you should know where the gas valves are located and how to turn them off.

All gas appliances are required to have a special valve located on the pipe near the appliance. Look at your gas cooking range – you should see a valve just behind the unit where the flexible connector connects to the pipe. Also, there should be a valve on the side of a gas furnace or gas water heater.

The illustration shows a typical gas valve that is operated with a small wrench. The valve may have a larger handle you can operate with your hand, and in some newer installations there may be a valve with a large handle. In essence they all work the same: when the handle is parallel to the pipe, the gas is on; when perpendicular to the pipe, the gas is off.

Make sure the valves are off and the pipe is capped if your home has a gas supply line with no appliance connected to it. If you ever smell gas in your home, leave immediately. Call for help from outside your home – you can call the local gas utility or the fire department.

Quick Tip #21 – GFCI? What? Why?

July 7th, 2014

E125  Safety of GFCI vs. BreakerYou may not know what a GFCI is, but chances are it’s making your home safer. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) measures current flowing through a circuit. It looks simple, but it’s really a complex electronic device.

Electricity flows like water through a circuit. The GFCI measures this flow; if the device is operating properly, the flow into and out of the device should be the same. If the GFCI detects a slight leak of current (perhaps through your body), it immediately disconnects the circuit. That’s where the term “ground fault” comes from – the GFCI detects that the current is “grounding” when it’s not supposed to.

What about a circuit breaker or fuse? Wouldn’t one of these detect an imbalance? Circuit breakers and fuses are designed to prevent wires and devices from overheating. A 15-amp breaker will allow 15 amps of power to flow before it trips the circuit. That 15 amps is enough to light more than 15 100-watt bulbs; it’s enough current to kill a person. In fact, just a fraction of an amp flowing through your heart could be fatal. A GFCI will trip before that happens.

Remember to use the test button to check the GFCI periodically. Plug a lamp into the circuit; the lamp should turn off when you push the test button, tripping the GFCI.

Quick Tip #20 – Extension Cord Safety

June 30th, 2014

E086 - Extension Cord ProblemsYou should view extension cords as a necessary evil. Avoid using them. If you must use an extension cord, use a heavy duty cord with a sturdy plug and outlet. Make sure the cord is in good condition.

Some basic rules:

  1. Never run an extension cord through a doorway where it could get damaged.
  2. Never run an extension cord under a rug where it can’t be seen and could overheat.
  3. Never run a cord where it could present a trip hazard.
  4. Never use two extension cords end to end – you just double the risk.
  5. Never use a cord with exposed wires or a loose plug or outlet.
  6. Never cut or modify the cord or connectors.

For appliances like washing machines, toasters or hair dryers, don’t use an extension cord, period. Have an electrician install an outlet near the appliance so a cord is not needed. These appliances use lots of energy and can overheat an extension cord.

All permanently installed appliances – a garage door operator or sump pump, for example – must have an electrical outlet nearby so an extension cord is not needed.

Quick Tip #16 – Three-Way, Two-Way or One-Way Switch?

June 2nd, 2014

E036 - Switches - 120 Volt, Single Pole, 3-WayHome systems have some strange terminology. Why are the two light switches that control one light fixture called a three-way switch? You know – the kind with a switch at both the top and the bottom of the stairs. Sometimes it’s up/switch off, and sometimes up/switch on.

The name relates to switching the power line back and forth, and having an extra wire and connector. Electricians call this a three-way switch, and it takes a smart electrician to wire this properly.

You may not care about the details, but you should care about the switches and what they control. Here is the quick tip: You can identify the type of switch by looking at the marking on it.

Single pole switches, with one switch controlling one light, are marked with an “on” and “off ” position.

A three-way switch has no marking because there is no consistent on or off position. The on-off can change depending on the position of the second three-way switch. Take a look at the switches in your home. You may be surprised with what you have overlooked.

Quick Tip #15 – Garage Door Safety

May 29th, 2014

D009 - Garage Door Operator Control ButtonWhat is the largest, heaviest moving object in your home? You got it – the garage door. So it makes sense to do frequent safety checks on the door.

First, look for a safety label near the control button or the overhead door. It will tell you how to safely operate the door and test the reverse mechanism.

Second, make sure the control button is mounted at least five feet above the floor or any step. This prevents small children from playing with the door operator.

Third, never allow children to play with the door or the operator.

You should test your operator for reverse and door balance once per month. Follow the specific instructions on your door’s safety label. If you don’t understand these instructions or you don’t have specific instructions for your door, contact a professional door service company.

Several times per year, check the door hardware for tightness. Consult your owner’s manual for the proper lubricant, and apply it to rollers, tracks and other mechanical parts. Have the door serviced by a professional if there is any sign of problems.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #7 – Get with the GFCI

March 24th, 2014

E119Ever noticed that some electrical outlets have a red and a black button in the middle? You’re looking at a GFCI — a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. This sophisticated device senses any current leaking through and immediately shuts off the power so you don’t get a shock.

In newer construction, GFCI outlets are located wherever water and electricity are used in close proximity: near sinks, in the garage, and at exterior outlets. In an older home, there may be a GFCI breaker (with push buttons) in the main electrical panel.

You should test this device every month to make sure it’s working to protect you from shocks. A simple test is to plug a lamp into the outlet with the light on. Press the “test” button and you should hear a click and the light should turn off. Push the “reset” button and the light should turn on with a click of the GFCI outlet.

Statistics show that about 10 percent of household GFCI devices are not working properly. If you find a problem, hire a professional to fix it ASAP.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #2A: Quick – Turn Off the Water! (Cold Climate)

January 6th, 2014

Oh, no! Water is running from somewhere beneath the cabinets and ruining your new kitchen floor. HELP!

P005You can prepare for a crisis like this by knowing how to turn off the water to your home. You should locate the main water valve, know how to operate it, and tag it. Everyone in the household should walk through this drill.

Where is the valve? You don’t know? For us lucky folks in cold climates, supply piping is buried several feet in the ground; the pipe enters the home through the basement or crawl space. Take a look at the illustration. (In warm climates, pipes don’t need to be protected from freezing, and water may enter the house through an exposed valve.)

To find your supply line, look on the street side of your home first. You can also trace the pipe from the water heater to the cold water source. Remember, “right is tight” (off) with older valves. For ball valves: when the handle is perpendicular to the pipe, the water is off. If the valve is rusted or corroded, have a plumber test it and replace it if necessary.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #1: Power Lines: Play It Safe

January 1st, 2014

We all need to be aware of possible safety concerns with overhead power lines. If you ever see a power line – or what you may think is a power line – on the ground or in an area where folks can touch it, call your local utility.

Take a quick look at the electrical line feeding your home. It may be underground. Don’t dig a deep hole (to plant trees, for example) without contacting Diggers Hotline to locate underground wires and utilities.

E025If your home is fed by overhead wires, they should be at least 10 feet above any walking surface and 12 feet above a driveway. If your home has a pitched roof, overhead wires should be at least 3 feet above the roof. Make sure there is sufficient clearance to any window or raised porch. Electrical wires should never be run over swimming pools.

These clearances are mandated so people are never exposed to the wires, and also to keep the wires from being struck by tall trucks and other vehicles. You should never be able to reach out and touch a wire.

Sometimes clearances become a problem because of home improvements. We all add porches, deck and pools around our homes, and often folks don’t think about the overhead wires when making these changes. Any home inspector will tell you about finding hazards related to electrical wires.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It
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