Topic: Electrical


3 action steps to get you started using portable generators safely this winter

Our first big snowfall of the season hit the east last weekend and with January well underway, we know this storm is not going to be the last! There's a lot to do to prepare for the cold weather and all that Mother Nature will throw at us, especially when we know that with these severe storms comes possible power outages. Are you one of the thousands who plan to use a portable generator during a storm when the electricity goes out? If you are, you should know that using a generator improperly can be dangerous. The most common hazards include carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, electrical shock or electrocution and fire hazards. But don't let the risks keep you from using a portable generator; you just have to know how to operate them safely. Consider the following action steps that you can put into place now before the next storm hits: • Operate generators in well-ventilated locations outdoors away from all doors, windows and vent openings• Never use a generator in an attached garage, even with the door open• Place generators so that exhaust fumes can't enter the home through windows, doors or other openings in the building Find additional action steps and resources about portable generators, including a great tips sheet, that you can download and post on your fridge for easy access all winter long from the “safety in the home” section of the public education page of our website.

#101Wednesdays - Shedding Some Light on Emergency Lighting

In this week's edition of #101Wednesdays, I'll take a look at what I think is one of the Life Safety Code's most widely misunderstood requirements: emergency lighting. We take for granted that when we're in a public building, if the lights go out, emergency lights will kick on to illuminate the path of egress in the event of an emergency. In many, but not all, cases this is true. Emergency lighting is required by the Code where specified by the applicable occupancy chapter. In some cases, emergency lighting is always required (e.g., health care occupancies). In other cases, it depends on the number of stories in height and occupant load (e.g., business occupancies). To determine whether emergency lighting is required for a specific occupancy, go to the X.2.9 subsection of the applicable occupancy chapter, where X is the chapter number (e.g., 38.2.9 for emergency lighting requirements in new business occupancies). Where emergency lighting is required, the performance requirements are specified in Section 7.9, which prescribes such criteria as illumination levels (average of 1 ft-candle at the floor level – and maximum delay from the time the normal illumination source fails (10 seconds – These criteria are widely understood and implemented. What are not widely understood and implemented, in my experience, are the conditions under which emergency lighting must be provided, as specified in* The emergency lighting system shall be arranged to provide the required illumination automatically in the event of any interruption of normal lighting due to any of the following: (1) Failure of a public utility or other outside electrical power supply (2) Opening of a circuit breaker or fuse (3) Manual act(s), including accidental opening of a switch controlling normal lighting facilities Let's take a look at each of the three scenarios described in and the means by which emergency lighting might be provided. Item (1) describes a condition where the building loses its normal, incoming power supply from the grid (e.g., lightning strikes a pole and takes out a transformer; the neighborhood is in the dark). If emergency lighting is provided by battery-operated unit lights, the units will sense the loss of power to the lighting circuit and activate, illuminating the egress path. (It's important to ensure that the unit is wired or plugged into a lighting circuit, and not a power circuit. The unit needs to activate when the lighting circuit loses power, not a power circuit.) If emergency lighting is powered by an emergency generator (emergency and standby power system), then likewise, the system will recognize the loss of power to the building, the emergency generator will start, and subsequently power the emergency lighting circuits. In most cases, compliance with Item (1) isn't a problem. Item (2) describes a condition where a circuit breaker or fuse, located anywhere in the building, opens, resulting in loss of the normal means of egress illumination. This could be a breaker in a distribution panel on, say, the 8th floor of the building. If such a breaker protecting a lighting circuit trips, again, battery-operated unit lights on that circuit will activate and provide the required illumination. But what about systems powered by a generator? We wouldn't expect the generator to come online when a breaker in a distribution panel trips. So how will emergency lighting be provided in this case? Hold that thought. Item (3) describes a condition where someone accidentally flips a light switch and the required means of egress illumination goes dark. Battery-operated unit lights won't activate because the circuit still has power; power has just been interrupted from the switch to the luminaire (that's code-speak for light fixture). Likewise, we would hope the emergency generator won't start every time someone turns out the lights (and it doesn't). So how can we possibly meet the emergency lighting performance criteria for the scenario described in Item (3)? It's important to note that the Code does NOT tell the designer how to arrange the lighting circuits; it only specifies the required performance criteria. I can describe one means to meet the performance requirements of, but keep in mind, it's not necessarily the only means: arrange the lighting circuits so that no area required to be provided with emergency lighting is normally illuminated by fewer than two separate lighting circuits, one of which is an emergency lighting circuit where an emergency generator is employed. Here's how it works: Scenario (1): Building loses power; all lighting circuits are de-energized; battery-operated unit lights activate, or generator comes online, transfer switch energizes emergency lighting circuit; good to go. Scenario (2): Distribution panel breaker trips; regardless of which lighting circuit loses power, the other circuit in the same area will still be energized. As long as an average of 1 ft-candle is initially provided along the designated egress path, the emergency lighting performance criteria have been met without necessarily activating any battery-operated unit light or the emergency generator; again, good to go. Scenario (3): Someone accidentally opens a switch controlling the normal lighting; like Scenario (2) above, the other circuit will provide the needed average 1 ft-candle. Using this arrangement, the NFPA 101 emergency lighting performance criteria are met for all three conditions. When I describe how works in NFPA's three-day Life Safety Code Essentials seminar, I usually see some jaws hit the table (figuratively), which indicates, to me, that these provisions are, perhaps, not being widely implemented, or enforced. It's the Code's intent to provide emergency lighting for any condition that causes the normal illumination source to lose power, not just failure of the building's normal power supply. I'm hopeful that this installment of #101Wednesdays has illuminated some of you. Since NFPA will be closed December 24 through January 2, this will be the final installment of #101Wednesdays until 2017. I'd like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season, and I look forward to posting lots more topics next year. Until then, stay safe! Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I'd love to hear your suggestions! Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.”

NFPA 1: Referencing NFPA 72 and fire alarm requirements in NFPA 1, #FireCodeFridays (Monday edition)

Last week I spent Monday through Wednesday attending NFPA's 3 day classroom training on NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code in Orlando, FL (followed by a few days of vacation with my family...when in Orlando, right?)  Attending this training has provided me with a stronger foundation and connection with other documents that I work with such as NFPA 1, NFPA 80, NFPA 101, and some additional training initiatives that I will be involved with next year as NFPA rolls out some newer offerings! NFPA 72 is referenced throughout NFPA 1, Fire Code. Section 13.7 of the Code is the main section for detection, alarm, and communication systems.  It mandates that where building fire alarm systems or automatic fire detectors are required by other sections of NFPA 1 that they be provided and installed in accordance with NFPA 70, National Electrical Code, 72 and Section 13.7.  Codes such as NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 will tell the user whether or not a fire alarm system is required; how it must be initiated, and whether or not occupant and emergency responder notification is required; that is not the role of NFPA 72.  NFPA 72, however, provides the installation, inspection, testing, and maintenance criteria for the required system.  Section 13.7 provides comprehensive provisions, extracted from both NFPA 72 as well as NFPA 101.  The NFPA 101 provisions cover the basic functions of a complete fire alarm system, including fire detection, alarm, and communications. The provisions extracted from NFPA 101 are also occupancy based (see Section 13.7.2.)  Certain occupancies might not be required to have a fire alarm system at all. In industrial and storage occupancies, for example, the number of occupants in the facility or the hazard classification of the building's contents determines whether an alarm system is required. In small mercantile and business occupancies, there are usually enough people present (at least during a part of the day) to discover an incipient fire. For these occupancies, the Code imposes less rigid requirements for fire alarm systems than it does for certain other occupancies. Conversely, for health care occupancies, the provisions for fire alarm systems are quite detailed with respect to notification and emergency functions, such as the automatic closure of smoke barrier doors. The NFPA 72 provisions extracted into NFPA 1, found primarily in Section 13.7.3, address the following technical provisions: Nonrequired coverage (instances where a facility installs a detection system to meet certain performance goals or to address a particular hazard or need.) Smoke alarm and smoke detector installation location Alarm annunciation, annunciation access and location, and annunciation zoning Supervisory and trouble annunciation Fire alarm system equipment Documentation Manually actuated alarm-initiating devices Installation of automatic fire detectors (including smoke, heat, and duct detectors) which addresses protection of equipment, location, specific installation criteria by detector type, protection during construction NFPA 72 is a fundamental fire protection document.  Even though much of Section 13.7 is extracted from NFPA 72, users should always consult the source document for the full details.  Remembering the scope of NFPA 1, the provisions included in the document help aid the enforcer/inspector with fire alarm provisions they may need to know while enforcing the Code.  It is the basics (when a system is required, installation criteria, equipment provisions, etc.)  NFPA 72 should also be consulted for full details regarding inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems. Chapter 14 of NFPA 72 will provide the detailed requirements for ITM.

9 ways to know that you're a holiday decorating disaster

   1) Your cat lets you know he's delighted you've finally bought some great toys!    Keep pets and children at least three feet away from burning candles and  electrical cords to prevent burns and electrical fires.      2) That ever-growing pile of fallen pine needles on the floor is receiving  more comments than the decorations for your Christmas tree.    A dry tree in your home is a fire danger. Think of it as a huge pile of kindling in  your home. Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.      3) You've spent more time trying to free yourself out of the tangled lights  than actually decorating the tree.    Check the manufacturer's instructions to find out how many lights can be  connected to prevent electric shock and fire.      4) You know it's bad to put flammable material near a fire, but you can't  help yourself. These stockings just look so darn cute and festive!        Keep anything that can burn away from a heat source, despite how awesome  it looks. Flameless candles are also a great alternative to real ones when  decorating.      5) Your house is a holiday tourist attraction and you couldn't be prouder.        An overloaded electrical outlet is a major fire hazard. Plug strings of lights  directly into the wall and keep the number to a minimum.      6) Some of the bulbs on your string of lights have already taken time off   for the holidays.        Replace any string of lights that has worn or broken cords or loose bulb   connections. These can easily start a fire. 7) You've remembered to keep yourself well hydrated, but the same can't be said for your Christmas tree. Always keep water in the tree stand. Check daily and add water as needed. Dried-out trees are a major fire hazard.   8) You're sure those strings of Christmas lights make the perfect hat to complement your holiday outfit. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both. And most certainly, not for your head.   9) You've been lazy about disposing your Christmas tree so you got creative and came up with a new tradition: a Valentine's Day tree! Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home. Check with your local community to find a recycling program. Let's face it, the holidays are never perfect, no matter how they're portrayed in magazines and on television. But by following a few simple practices and precautions, you can create a fun and perfectly fire-safe holiday for you and your loved ones! And remember, have working smoke alarms in your home and create a home escape plan. Practice it with your family so everyone knows what to do if a fire does occur. Find additional tips and resources about holiday fire safety on our Project Holiday webpage.  Happy Holidays from NFPA!

NFPA 1: Electrical Fire Safety and Relocatable Power Taps (power strips), #FireCodeFridays

One of the more common code violations with regards to electrical safety provisions in NFPA 1, Fire Code, relates to power strips (referred to as power taps in the Code.)  Just this week I was sitting in a conference room at an NFPA Technical Committee meeting and multiple committee members lost power to their computers at the same time.  Upon further investigation, we found that the power strips were plugged into one another (daisy-chained) to provide a series of power strips to serve computers around the room.  One power strip was accidentally powered off, so multiple strips were affected, a code violation many overlook.  For compliance, each power strip should have been plugged into a permanently installed outlet. Section 11.1 of NFPA 1 provides provisions for basic electrical safety.  Topics addressed in this section include relocatable power taps, mutiplug adapters, extension cords, and the building disconnect. The approval of new electrical installations or approval of modifications to an existing electrical system is a function typically performed by an electrical inspector or other building code enforcement official using the requirements of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®. However, in many cases, prior to a building or other facility being constructed or occupied, fire marshals or fire inspectors perform periodic inspections to ensure that the safety systems and features of the premises are in place, are in proper working order, and have not been compromised or adversely modified. Here the requirements of NFPA 1 can provide basic guidance to fire inspectors to assist with identifying proper and safe installations. With regards to relocatable power taps (power strips), Section 11.1.4 of NFPA 1 states the following: 11.1.4 Relocatable Power Taps. Relocatable power taps shall be of the polarized or grounded type with overcurrent protection and shall be listed. The relocatable power taps shall be directly connected to a permanently installed receptacle. Relocatable power tap cords shall not extend through walls, ceilings, or floors; under doors or floor coverings; or be subject to environmental or physical damage. Power strips are commonly used for computers, printers, and other electronics at workstations, offices, and dormitories, where additional electrical power receptacles are needed. During inspections, power taps that are plugged into other power taps (daisy-chained) should be removed, because such arrangement is prohibited. Relocatable power taps are for temporary use and should not take the place of permanently installed receptacles. In addition, power strips should not be connected to extension cords to extend their reach.  Ideally, where extension cords are used for other than temporary purposes, additional permanent receptacles should be installed to accommodate the power strips. Understanding basic electrical safety practices can be instrumental in preventing fires in residences, hotels, dormitories and offices, among other locations.  For additional information, check out NFPA's resources on electrical safety! You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA. 
Electrical Safety

ESFI reinforces proper use of extension cords to reduce risk of electrical fires

At home or at work, all of us at one time or another have used extension cords to power up a lamp or TV, computers, our electronics and other gadgets. But did you know that if you use these cords the wrong way, you could start a fire? Yes, in fact, roughly 3,000 home fires start in extension cords each year, so it's important to keep safety in mind when using them. All through the month of May, Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is promoting National Electrical Safety Month with tips, tools and resources to help raise awareness of electrical safety. This week we're highlighting ESFI's extension cord safety infographic, which provides important steps you can take to help you and your family reduce the risk for damage or injury when using extension cords throughout your house. Download it for free and share with family and friends. Think you've got safety under control? Take a look at an extension cord you may have in your living room, kitchen or bedroom. If it looks like a spider web with multiple cords protruding out of it, It means you have too few outlets in the room for your needs. Solution? You'll want to consult a licensed electrician and consider having additional outlets installed in the room and throughout the house. This is just one of the many safety tips you can get from ESFI. Review the infographic to get more resources that will point you in the right direction. You can also get great information on NFPA's electrical safety webpage including a downloadable tips sheet and video.
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