Homefix: Dwight Barnett answers home-improvement questions. This week's topic is on fire hazards and wires in an attic.
Q: I had some wiring work in my attic and where the wires come together the electrician left the covers off several of the boxes. I then had insulation added to the attic and they placed flexible drainpipes over the boxes to keep the insulation out of the wiring. I just had an audit of the home to be weatherized and they said I needed to remove the pipes and add covers to each box before they could continue with the weatherization.
A: It is important to cover an electrical junction box no matter where it’s located.
When one or more electrical wires are twisted together, the connection causes resistance to the flow of electricity, which in turn creates heat.
With several wires in one box, the heat generated can be multiplied. Not only does the cover protect the wiring from accidental human contact, it also prevents the spread of a fire should the wires overheat.
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If a circuit’s fuse or breaker failed, the wires inside an approved junction box with an approved cover would almost instantly burn in two and act as a fuse to stop the flow of current.
Placing a plastic pipe over a junction box does not provide the protection offered by a 50-cent cover plate. I don’t think a responsible electrician would have left the boxes uncovered.
My suggestion would be to hire a licensed and qualified residential electrician to check all the electrical systems and wiring that were added.
Why is this so important? According to a study by John R. Hall Jr. for the National Fire Protection Association: In 2007, an estimated 51,800 home-structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments involved some type of electrical failure or malfunction as a factor contributing to ignition.
These fires resulted in 450 civilian deaths, 1,640 civilian injuries, and $1.2 billion in direct property damage.
For more information concerning the investigation of residential electrical fires, go to www.interfire.org/features/electric_wiring_faults.asp.
Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at d.Barnett@insightbb.com. Sorry, no personal replies.