Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Residential

Heating System Losses: Part Two

Previously, Warren posted the first installment of a series on losses associated with heating systems.  The first article looked at central forced air furnaces.  This new article will look at a common form of supplemental or secondary heat, oil filled electric radiant heaters. These heaters are commonly used to provide extra heating in areas that are lacking in central heating capacity. Another rationale for their use arises from manufacturer’s claims that the portable heating units can lower your power bill.  This is based on Read More

How Long Before the Pipes Freeze?

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An unexpected severe winter freeze will remind many people and businesses that when water in a pipe freezes, the ice will expand and burst the pipe or pipe fitting.  Large losses will result from flooding when the temperatures rise.  Insulation will help, but not prevent freezing.  Insulation simply slows down the rate of heat loss.  The time of exposure to subfreezing temperature is an important factor.

The American Society of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Handbook of Fundamentals has a short entry on the topic (Chapter 23, page 23.5-6), which gives an equation for estimating the time that it will take an insulated pipe to freeze, Read More

T is for Temporary – Issues with Extension Cords and Other Temporary Wiring Applications

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Temporary wiring is just that….temporary, and is typically used for repair and maintenance projects.  In this blog I am going to discuss guidance offered by Article 590 of the National Electric Code (NEC), as well as some points to consider when using temporary wiring, including extension cords and holiday lighting.

Before each use, extension cords need to be inspected for visual damage.  Cords with cuts or splits to the insulation need to be discarded.  Cords with damage to the connectors, including those that feel loose when connected, need to be taken out of service.   Failure to properly select and use extension cords can have a catastrophic result.  Read More

Spontaneous Combustion…Is it hot in here or is it just me???

In the old-timey Fire Triangle, you have heat, fuel, and oxygen.  Get these three together in the right quantities, and you get fire.  What if the fuel provides its own heat?  That’s spontaneous combustion, or spontaneous ignition.  NFPA921 defines this as “initiation of combustion of a material by an internal chemical or biological reaction that has produced sufficient heat to ignite the material.” Read More

Improper Hearth Extension Leads to Structure Fire

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The fire service affords you the opportunity to witness and observe things that a lot of engineers and even most people do not get the chance to see.  An example of this is the situation where extended elevated temperatures combined with poor construction techniques to result in a structure fire.

I have personally observed several occasions where a structure fire was initiated due to improper construction of the fireplace hearth extension.  The most recent one followed a multi-day cold snap, at least by South Carolina standards.  The thermometer read 17 degrees F as I drove to the call of smoke in a residence Read More

Proper Construction and Maintenance Can Prevent Deadly Chimney Fires

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Burning Fireplace

There are few things as comforting to me during the winter months as a warm fire burning in the fireplace.  And in this case, I am talking the real deal, the kind that warms you multiple times; from cutting, splitting and stacking the firewood until finally lighting a fire in the fireplace.  However, just like your parents taught you, fire can be dangerous.  And having an actual fire in your home fireplace comes with some required maintenance to ensure you can safely control the fire and keep it where it belongs. Read More

Heating System Losses, Part One

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When fall and winter arrive and temperatures drop, it is a great comfort to have a heating system to warm your home or office. Several categories of heating equipment exist to provide both primary and secondary heating. Primary heating systems include fuel gas/fuel oil/electric forced air furnaces, heat pumps, hydronic heating/steam systems and even wood-fired heating systems.  Secondary heating equipment includes electric, gas and kerosene space heaters of both fixed and portable design, and fireplaces. Each of the different types of heating systems have unique hazards that, uncontrolled, can result in fires, explosions, burn injuries, and carbon monoxide poisoning.  Read More

Staying Connected on the Loop: Two by Two’s Mobile Internet Setup

After completing the sit-stand workstation in the guest stateroom of our 47’ Nova Scotia pilothouse trawler, Two by Two, that I reported in a previous blog, I found I needed an internet connection with reasonable speed and reliability.  While almost every marina will give you a password for their WiFi, the quality of most marina connections is unreliable and too slow to effectively work as a forensic engineering consultant. When I tried to download a simple photograph through any type of remote connection to the Irmo, SC office, I could go make a cup of coffee and come back before the download finished.  To upload a group of photographs Read More

Shedding Some Light on Fluorescent Light Fixture Fires

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Lighting systems in buildings and other structures have undergone changes over the years.  Many of these changes have occurred as manufacturers have developed more efficient lighting methods.  Lighting loads can represent the largest category of electrical load in many buildings, thus improved lighting efficiency may significantly lower your power bill and can lengthen time between lamp changes. Read More

Product Design is Critical to Consumer Safety

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As the holiday season nears, thoughts turn to wonderful home-cooked meals with family.  Few things in life are more pleasurable than a traditional holiday turkey feast. Yet for an unfortunate few, holiday meal time can turn tragic if a turkey frying accident occurs.   While fried turkeys may be tasty, many fire safety experts feel that the reward is not worth the risk.  Read More

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