Every month, we seek to bring our readers insight from the worlds of home construction, home repair, and home maintenance straight from local Northwest Washington contractors in a segment we call “3 Questions.” Yep, you guessed it: we ask three questions, and the contractors answer them.
This month, we learn about electrical issues with Andy Nichols, owner at North Sound Communications on Lopez Island.
Q1: There are so many light bulb options available….CFL, LED, Xenon, incandescent, dimmable/not- dimmable, plus there’s even mention of a Kelvin temperature scale!?! Where’s a homeowner to start, and do you have any personal rules-of-thumb or pet peeves for light bulb selection?
First off, let me say that in the electrical industry we call light bulbs “lamps.” Of all of these options, I would recommend LED the most and CFL the least. CFL is great if you have an existing fixture that only takes a certain CFL lamp, but CFLs are difficult to dim, slow to turn on, and do not provide a high quality of light. LED technology is still developing but has come a long way. For residential applications, I look for LED lamps with a high CRI value. CRI (or color rendering index) gives a value to how the LED light is going to portray the color of the objects it illuminates. I look for an LED with a 90 or higher CRI value. Kelvin temperature relates to what color of light the LED is emitting; the range is typically 2700K-5000K. 2700K looks like traditional incandescent light (more orange) and 5000K looking more like daylight. For residential applications, I like using lamps that are no higher than 3000K, and I have found that 2700K looks better to highlight wood finishes. For garages or workshops, 5000K is great because it makes everything clear (just like if you were out on a nice, sunny day). I could go on and on about this subject, but, to summarize, I usually choose 2700K or 3000K lamps with a CRI rating of 90 or higher.
Q2: Advances in circuit breaker technology have made new construction homes safer, e.g., GFCI, AFCI, and dual-function GFCI/AFCI breakers are now available. My house isn’t that “old,” but it doesn’t have any of these “special” breakers now required by code for new construction. Do you recommend upgrading older breakers as a logical safety improvement?
GFCI or ground fault circuit interrupters have been around for a long time in the form of GFCI receptacles commonly found at bathroom counters or sinks. The electrical code has expanded their use to protect dishwasher circuits, washing machine circuits, and any receptacle within 6’ of a sink. This type of protection prevents people from receiving a lethal electric shock, and YES, this is very important. These should be used on any 120-volt receptacle near water or any appliance with a water connection or exterior receptacles. AFCI (or arc fault circuit interrupters) were developed to detect arcing which can cause fire. Obviously, fire prevention is essential, and I would not discourage anybody from adding AFCI protection to an existing electrical system. However, they can be complicated to add later as existing electrical systems can cause nuisance tripping for reasons I will not get into here. The best thing people can do to protect themselves from causing a fire is to avoid using extension cords inside, particularly if they are being used to plug in a portable heater. Also, look around the house and make sure outlets are not overloaded or loose. Loose connections are a common cause of electrical fires. GFCI/AFCI combine both forms of protection on a single circuit breaker and, in new construction, are frequently used for kitchen appliance circuits and the like.
Q3: During the winter season, generators are frequently contemplated by homeowners. Can any home be upgraded to accommodate a generator in the event of a power failure?
Yes, any home can be upgraded to accommodate a generator. The degree of difficulty can vary greatly depending on what type of generator or transfer switch is used. The easiest way to integrate a generator is to set up a power inlet on the exterior of the house for a portable generator to plug into. We wire this to a back-fed circuit breaker in the main panel and use a generator interlock bracket to disconnect the utility power while the generator is feeding the house. This is critical as it protects your generator from back-feeding power onto the utility (grid) and possibly injuring a utility lineman.
BONUS: Any electrical alterations, additions, or repairs require a permit through the Department of Labor & Industries, regardless of who does the work. Is this a “scary” process or pretty straightforward?
The Department of Labor & Industries is not-at-all scary, and they do a great job of making sure an electrical installation is safe. It is very important to get all electrical work inspected. Legally, everyone is required to purchase a permit when performing electrical work. Simply go to the electrical tab on the website to purchase a permit. It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll feel like a professional. When the L & I inspector comes out to inspect your work, they will make sure that the work is done safely and will not injure anyone or cause a fire. It is up to the person performing the work to make sure the installation is safe as an inspector may not be able to catch every issue. Sometimes it’s best to hire a certified and licensed electrical contractor.
About North Sound Communications
North Sound Communications provides professional, residential, and commercial electricians that handle electrical and communication services across all of the San Juan Islands—including Lopez Island, Shaw Island, Orcas Island, and San Juan Island. North Sound Communications provides a full range of commercial and residential electrical repair, maintenance, and installation services—including electrical, TV and antennas, phone, internet, and data communications. The company guarantees every aspect of its workmanship with a commitment to service and price.
A big “thanks” to Andy for his responses!If you have questions or comments about electrical issues or home inspections in general, tweet me (@AIHomeInspect).