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Old 01-21-2007, 11:33 PM   #1
Chuck Spyropulos
North Shore Marine & Reef
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Join Date: May 2006
Location: Saugus, MA
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Outlet Fires Cause and Prevention - PLEASE READ!

It has come to my attention that a person on another forum had an electrical outlet catch fire. His problem was a loose connection. A GFCI or circuit breaker will NOT help reduce the chance of a fire in this case. Actually a GFCI protects only against a ground fault...that is if a live wire in a plugged in device breaks free and touches the device's metal case. In this instance the metal case of the device is LIVE and if there were no GFCI you could be shocked if you touched the metal case. Also, a circuit breaker will only prevent against overload current or a short in a device or too many devices connected; it will not protect you against electrical shock. Also, if the ciruit wire is not the correct gauge, the wire can still heat up and cause a fire so you still need the correct wire gauge regardless of weather or not you use a GFCI to protect against current overload and wire heating.

It is not necessary to have overlaod current to cause a fire however. If a wire breaks loose or there is a loose connection anywhere in an electric circuit, the electricity can jump across the void. The void or break can include loose connections, knicked conducters in the wire, corrrosion inside a connection or anything else that acts like an insulator. In these cases the electricty jumps, or "arcs" aross the void. In the void, the electricity actually ionizes the air around it to form a super heated plasma. If there is anything in the path of the plasma that is not fireproof it can catch fire quickly and cause a fire. This can include, but is not limited to, insulation, wooden studs, etc.... Old wiring in older houses are extremely prone to this mode of electrical fire....there is much more chance that the connections are loose or that the wire conductors are broken or nicked or that corrosion exists at connections.

The only ways that I know off that you can protect yourself against this mode of fires are:

1. Check all your connections once a year for looseness and corrosion and remedy these if need be by tightening connections or receptacle/wire replacement.

2. Install AFCIs (Arc Fault Circuit Interreputors) These are required by code in MA for all new bedrooms. They are sophisticated electronic devices that have circuit breaker form factors and can be installed easily in your circuit box. If you have old wiring, faulty wiring, wet area wiring, then these should and can be used along with GFCIs. They are expensive but worth it in my opinion.

3. Block any unused receptacles with plastic plugs available at most HW stores including HD. This will prevent any water from entering the receptacle and reduce the chance of corrosion.

4. Always use junction boxes for any connection. Plastic boxes and metal boxes are available and MUST be used for all connections to meet local electrical codes. These boxes will prevent any arcing due to loose connections from igniting more flammable materials like wood, insulation, etc.
Massachusetts North Shore Marine and Reef Club

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