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The Home Inspector

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Home Inspector: Why is there a lock on my circuit breaker?

I recently had someone send me an email, asking why their circuit breaker had a lock on it, preventing the breaker from being turned off, or tripping. It would seem that this is a safety hazard, wouldn't it?

Lock at circuit breaker

The answer is actually quite simple, but let me first explain why that locking device is there.

Section 422.30 of the National Electric Code (NEC) requires a disconnecting means for all appliances. The idea is that someone should be able to turn off the power to an appliance to safely work on it. You don't want someone in one part of a building working on exposed wires, and then have someone else in another part of the building unknowingly turn the power back on and electrocute the person working on the wires. Makes sense, right?

One obvious disconnecting means is a cord and plug. If you can unplug something, it's disconnected. So there's that.

For small appliances under 300 Volt-Amperes, such as doorbells and smoke alarms, it's good enough to have a circuit breaker that can be turned off. For everything else, the branch circuit switch or circuit breaker can be used as the disconnecting means for the appliance as long as the switch or circuit breaker is within site from the appliance (within 50', unobstructed view), or there is a proper locking device present at the circuit breaker. What you're seeing in the photo above is a locking device at the circuit breaker.

If someone wants to work on the hardwired dishwasher and not have to worry about someone in a different part of the home turning the power on, they can turn the power off to the circuit breaker, and then throw a small padlock on the circuit breaker. A few common places to have locking devices like this are on circuits for dishwashers, electric water heaters, and wall ovens.

Back to the point...

So anyways, getting back to the original question, the simple answer is that this lockout device will not interfere with the operation of the circuit breaker. If the circuit breaker trips, the power will be cut off, regardless of whether or not the handle is allowed to move. To demonstrate, I installed a circuit breaker lockout at my own panel and made a little video clip. Check it out.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections


Home Inspector: Why photoelectric smoke alarms are a must

Get photoelectric smoke alarms if you don't already have them. There are two types of smoke alarms available, ionization and photoelectric, and there is a huge difference between the two. I never used to make any distinction between the two types of smoke alarms, because I never took the time to fully educate myself on the differences between the two. Today, I’m fully onboard with photoelectric smoke alarms, and I recommend them in almost every one of my home inspection reports. So does everyone else in my company, I think.

I’ve blogged about photoelectric smoke alarms many times in the past, and I’ll give links to those blog posts at the end of this one. Rather than discuss the differences between photoelectric and ionization smoke alarms, I’ve got a great anecdote today.

Furnace torn apart

I recently inspected a house for a homeowner in Edina who had a major furnace malfunction. She had a sealed combustion, high efficiency furnace that somehow overheated, and continued to operate despite reaching dangerously high temperatures. When she arrived home, there was smoke pouring out of the supply registers and her house was filled with smoke.
She called the fire department, and they promptly shut everything down upon arrival to troubleshoot what caused the problem. When they turned the furnace back on, they said it operated like a smoke generating machine. As it turned out, the furnace got so hot that the drain pan for the air conditioner completely melted, which is what generated all of the smoke. Both the St. Louis Park and Edina fire departments said they had never seen anything like it, and had no explanation for the furnace malfunction.
The owner had smoke alarms installed in the common areas on every level of her home, and in every bedroom. She was religious about replacing the batteries in her smoke alarms every six months, they were all less than 10 years old, and they were all properly located. They were also all ionization alarms. You see where I’m going with this, right?
Throughout this whole event, not a single smoke alarm went off. Only after the fire department turned the furnace on for the second time to troubleshoot the issue did one of the smoke alarms in a particularly smoky room finally sound off.
The homeowner contacted her smoke alarm manufacturer to find out how her entire house could fill up with smoke without a single smoke alarm sounding off, and she was told that it's important to have both types of smoke alarms in her home. The smoke alarm manufacturer also sent her a nice little care package of photoelectric and dual-sensor smoke alarms, shown below.
Smoke Alarm Assortment
Would photoelectric smoke alarms have sounded off any faster? Yes, without a doubt. Photoelectric smoke alarms excel at detecting slow, smoldering fires, which is essentially what was happening inside of the furnace. Again, if you don't have photoelectric smoke alarms installed in your home, get them. They cost a little more, but they can make a huge difference. Here's a recent news story on the difference between the two smoke alarms, done in November of 2014 by WCCO / CBS News, along with the Coon Rapids Fire Department:
For specific info and stats on the importance of photoelectric smoke alarms, check out these previous blog posts that I've written on smoke alarms:

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections


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