Electrical Safety and Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Circuit Breakers

While most jurisdictions with electrical codes will allow them, the “stab-lok” circuit breakers have an extensive history of fire and other related electrical issues.

I find them in many of the older homes in Southwest Missouri (as well as in some newer additions where the builder recycled used electrical parts) and found them commonly used in many areas of St. Louis and St. Louis County, as well, when I did inspections there.

I strongly recommend to those utilizing these electrical service panels and breakers to (1) replace them, or at a minimum (2) install a smoke detector in the area of the panel.

The following was recently reported on a Kansas City television station:  http://kctv.membercenter.worldnow.com/story/19065927/kctv5-investigates-circuit-danger

Home Owners and Asbestos Exposure

Historically, asbestos has been included in products around the home and have been one of the sources for construction material in the early 20th century. Both homeowners and construction workers have dealt with asbestos concerns during repairs, remodels and demolitions. In many cases, the presence of asbestos goes completely undetected, placing those on site at risk for inhaling airborne asbestos fibers.

The use of asbestos in homes was so extensive that it’s best to assume most homes built before the 2003 ban could contain some amount of asbestos products. Homeowners who perform do-it-yourself projects should especially understand the risks of asbestos exposure and familiarize themselves with common locations for asbestos products so they can avoid them.

Most countries have established strict regulations to minimize exposure levels and prevent future asbestos-related diseases from developing. According to the International Labor Organization, about 100,000 workers pass away from an asbestos-related disease each year.

Health Concerns

Asbestos exposure has been linked to lung cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma and other cancers. All of these conditions cause respiratory problems and are difficult to treat. Common symptoms include coughing, chest pain, abdominal pain, and shortness of breath, but such symptoms can take 50 years to arise after exposure occurs. If you experience respiratory problems and suspect you were exposed to asbestos during a home project, it’s important to undergo screening by a doctor who is familiar with asbestos-related disease.

What to Look For

Homeowners should not be too concerned about asbestos if their home was built after 1980. But a home built before this date is likely to contain asbestos-containing materials and certain locations present more hazards than others. Common locations for asbestos products include:

  • Attics
  • Roofs
  • Ceilings
  • Basements
  • Exterior siding
  • Flooring

Areas inside homes that needed insulating and fireproofing were hotspots for asbestos-containing materials. Some of the most common asbestos products used for home construction included:

  • Insulation
  • Roofing felt
  • Shingles
  • Exterior siding
  • HVAC parts
  • Popcorn ceilings

Safety Recommendations

It’s important to understand that not all asbestos-containing materials present a health hazard. If asbestos products are in good condition and aren’t damaged, asbestos fibers will not become airborne. However, any disturbance to asbestos products can result in airborne asbestos fibers.

If you’re performing a construction project and suspect the presence of asbestos-containing materials, hire a professional to come check them out. Handling asbestos is very dangerous and strict laws regulate how asbestos can be removed from a home. Proper disposal procedures are required as well.

Bio: Jensen Whitmer has been writing for the Mesothelioma Center for more than three years and he has an interest in spreading awareness about the hazardous effects of asbestos exposure.  I thank him for being a “guest blogger” on my site and for sharing this important information.

What Does It Mean When a Home “Meets Code”?

Does the fact that certain work within a home has “met code” assure the quality of that work?  Not necessarily.

The technology has existed for many years to keep a home’s electrical wiring from arcing and catching fire from electrical short circuits — but has only recently been added to the electrical code.  The requirement for the use of this technology (an arc fault circuit interrupter, or AFCI breaker) has yet to be adopted everywhere and where it is adopted, its requirement is often limited to only those circuits in a bedroom (as if bedrooms are the only rooms in a home where electrical wires will arc and burn, I suppose).

For years, home dwellers were severely shocked or electrocuted when a hair dryer would accidentally be dropped into a sink or tub, even though the technology existed (in the form of a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI receptacle or breaker) to help prevent injuries from such accidents.  Again, it took many years and a series of small, incremental steps before GFCIs were finally required to be installed in homes where such requirements were adopted and enforced.

In this sense, the requirements themselves are lacking in prompt implementation and practical application.  Most items are added to codes and become “standards” only after many years of accumulated evidence of property damage, injuries, and death.  Today’s recent addition of life-saving fire suppression systems in the newer building codes — and the subsequent attempts to limit its application — is one recent example.

These requirements … and other building standards covering everything from the foundation to the roof, and everything in between … are what is commonly referred to as “building codes” or “code requirements”.

When codes are adopted by law in cities, counties and/or states … they become only the basic minimum requirement that a builder, remodeler or other contractors must meet.  Anything less than these basic minimum standards are considered illegal.  In that sense, simply “meeting the code” in some cases could also mean “barely legal” with the possibility that an even higher level of quality or assurance of safety can be attained.

Thus, “meeting code” is far from being any type of assurance of quality.  It only means that the minimum requirements established by law have been met.

Jurisdictions that have these basic minimum requirements will usually have someone tasked to enforce them called the “Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)”, “building inspector” or “code enforcement officer”.  His visits to a construction or remodeling site are typically short and limited and sometimes serious violations of minimum building standards can be overlooked, but his pending inspection goes a long way to motivate the contractor to adhere to the standards.  Some homeowners and contractors will perform work on a home without the proper permits whereby the AHJ is unaware of the work and does not inspect it.  For these reasons, not all homes for sale can be considered safe to occupy without having an independent inspection performed by a professional prior to purchasing.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where building codes have been adopted, it is important that you ensure that the proper permits have been acquired by your contractor … not only to meet the requirements of the law for obtaining a permit, but to ensure that your contractor meets the skill and licensing requirements in your area and to have the work inspected for compliance.

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