Some older Lake Highlands homes may be equipped with a ‘ticking time bomb’March 9, 2010, was a rough day for the Clardy family. That morning, Karen Clardy and her husband, Floyd, were forced to euthanize their beloved pet, an ailing 8-year-old rottweiler. That night, after the couple had settled in to nurse their wounds, they heard a loud pop and the lights went out. In the garage, they saw flames shooting out of a breaker box.
“The fire extinguisher did nothing to help,” Clardy says.
She had time to grab her purse and her other dog and run to the lawn before her home near Forest Meadow Junior High was engulfed in flames.
“I just thought, ‘This isn’t happening.’ I’ve imagined before what I might try to save if my house ever caught fire. In reality, I didn’t have time for any of it,” she says.
Six fire trucks arrived within five minutes, but by then the house had suffered $190,000 worth of damage and would be unlivable for the next five months.
The source of the fire, according to Dallas Fire-Rescue reports, was the electrical panel, a Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok.
The Clardy fire quickly became the jumping-off point for discussion, followed by both a Dallas Morning News story and an NBC5 report about the Federal Pacific brand, which is a type of circuit breaker used in many homes built in our neighborhood in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
The panels are considered unsafe. A breaker, when overloaded, is supposed to automatically flip off, says Gus Antos, co-owner of Milestone electric company, but the FPE panels don’t always automatically turn off or “trip”. There has been at least one class action lawsuit (in New Jersey) against Federal Pacific Electric, and the company is no longer in business.
Clardy, whose misfortune was cited in both stories, says she doesn’t mind the media attention.
“I am glad people are learning about this,” she says. “If I’d have known that the panel was dangerous, I wouldn’t have thought twice about getting it replaced.”
But it’s not an easy decision for everyone. Replacement can cost as much as $2,500 or more in some cases, Antos says.
“I think of it like putting your seatbelt on. Chances are good that when you get in your car, you are not going to get in an accident, but that doesn’t stop you from buckling up, just in case. The difference is that this is a big expense for some people, and it’s not a sexy purchase.”
Jason Page, a 29-year-old pharmacy technician, has an FPE breaker in a closet of his White Rock area home. He has heard about the potential hazards but hesitates to replace it.
“It’s a lot of money. There are so many other things I would rather spend that money on,” he says, frowning. “But I know I really should.”
Lake Highlands resident Keith Graham knew about the potential dangers of his FPE panel and wishes he hadn’t waited to replace his. Just after midnight on May 16, 2009, he and his wife, Kathleen, awakened to their “dogs barking like crazy.” They thought someone was breaking in.
Keith jumped into action.
“In the seconds between getting up and reaching the garage, I noticed the lights were out. I wondered, ‘Did they turn off our electricity?’”
He opened the garage door to an inferno that had already engulfed the family car. He yelled at his wife to get their son, Jason, and get out. Smoke filled the house. He grabbed his phone, dialed 911 and ran out the front door hollering for his wife, but no answer. He ran back inside.
“I was screaming at the 911 operator, screaming for my wife and son at the same time, and then I heard the fire truck outside and they drove right by my house,” he says. “I ran out the door, chasing the truck, got their attention then ran back toward the house screaming. It was pure chaos.”
At that point, a neighbor told Keith that Kathleen and Jason were inside another neighbor’s home, but Keith was suffering from delirium caused by severe smoke inhalation.
“They found me wandering in a nearby yard. The next thing I remember was waking up in the ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face.”
The next day, the fire investigators told the Grahams that the blaze had begun in the electric panel.
“I knew it was a bad panel,” he says.
The family was preparing to embark on a remodeling project and Keith, who runs a Lake Highlands-based air conditioning company with his brother, Kelly, had already purchased a replacement. He just hadn’t gotten around to installing it yet.
“I lost everything in that fire, and almost my life,” he says.
These types of electrical fires spread remarkably fast, Graham says, because the panels are often located in the garage, “where you keep lawn mowers and gasoline and all of your most flammable items.”
Many other panels are in closets, also a source of kindle such as clothing and Christmas decorations.
Like Clardy, Keith Graham feels obligated to share his experience with anyone who will listen.
“I’ve had at least 30 panels in the neighborhood replaced because of my story,” he says. “These things are ticking time bombs, and if I saw one in someone’s home, didn’t warn them and something happened to them, I couldn’t live with myself.”
Clardy and Graham’s anecdotal evidence is alarming, but there are no hard statistics when it comes to how many FPE panels cause house fires because fire investigators typically report electricity-caused fires as “electrical malfunction”. It would be rare for an investigator to take note of the brand on the electrical panel, Section Chief James Adams of the Dallas Fire and Rescue Fire Investigation Division says.
Antos, whose company has replaced “hundreds, maybe thousands” of panels in the Dallas area, says that it would be unfair to call FPE-caused fires “common”.
“Statistically, there might have been five fires [in the Dallas area] in the last 10 years,” he says. “I don’t want to scare people, but if there was one in my house, I would get it replaced.”
Antos notes that homeowners who have an FPE panel but can’t replace it can do a few things to make the home safer: Have someone look at the breaker box once a year. Make sure it is working and that the breakers are tight. Every few months, flip the breakers on and off — it may help to unlock the components that prevent it from tripping.
Still, your best bet, Antos says, is to have a qualified electrician replace the panel.
Clardy and Graham agree.
“You can pay now,” Clardy says, “or you might pay later.”
Find more information about panels at ismypanelsafe.com or inspectapedia.com.
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If the moisture can easily leave the dryer through a clean lint trap then it will be more efficient and be able to run for less time.
32 Run Full Loads of Laundry
If you run full loads of laundry you can therefore put more items in the dryer at the end of each cycle, and run the dryer less often.
33 Soak Your Dishes
Soaking off the tough food stains on your dishes overnight means that the following day you can put your pre-soaked dishes in the dishwasher on an energy conservation cycle.
34 Check Your Dryer Before the End of the Cycle
Just because you’ve set the dryer for 90 minutes, it doesn’t mean the items won’t be dry before then. Checking before the end of the cycle allows you to remove the items which are dry and turn off the dryer, or let the items which need more time dry more quickly on their own.
35 Check Your Dryer Efficiency
As your dryer runs it may tangle large items such as sheets. However, if you check their progress regularly you will be able to untangle them so they can dry more quickly.
36 Don’t Completely Dry Clothes in the Dryer
Taking items from the dryer when they are still damp will help them last longer and it also means you can use your dryer less if you hang them up to dry naturally.
37 Can Your Dryer Sense Moisture?
If your dryer has a moisture sensor feature make sure this is activated as your dryer will shut off once it senses the clothes are dry.
38 Do Consecutive Loads of Laundry
When your dryer is already warmed up, keep washing to take advantage of the warmth, rather than making it heat up from cold again another time.
39 Don’t Use the Wrinkle Shield Feature of Your Dryer
If left unattended, the Wrinkle Shield will run the dryer at the end of the cycle for two minutes, every five minutes to stop the clothes wrinkling inside. If you’re out and unaware, your dryer will be running almost the entire time.
40 Turn Off Your Home Office
If you don’t want to scramble around with cables when you’re not using your office equipment, at least turn them off when they’re not in use.
The TV provides its own light if you need to get up and move around the room and you certainly don’t need the light on to see the TV better – in fact it’s likely to look better in the dark.
22 Turn the TV Off When You’re Not Watching
If you’re going in and out of the room getting ready for work or cooking or cleaning, don’t leave the TV on when you’re not there to watch it.
23 Watch Less TV
Turning the TV off when you leave a room may also lead you to watch less TV all together which can save you even more. Plus, flat screen TVs especially, get very hot when on for long periods of time so get off the couch and couple saving electricity with exercise, gardening or board games.
24 Don’t Dehumidify When It’s Not Humid
You will only need a dehumidifier to be running when it’s humid so to avoid unnecessary electricity consumption, turn them off during late autumn, winter and early spring.
25 Unplug Battery Chargers
After your iPod, camera or other device has charged, unplug the device and the charger from the wall. Even when your device isn’t plugged into its charger, the charger is still consuming electricity.
26 Turn Off Appliances
Leave your fridge and freezer running of course, but make sure all other appliances are off when you leave the house – your microwave, stereo and coffee maker don’t need to stay on while you’re gone.
27 Take All Food From the Fridge at Once
If you’re cooking take all the ingredients from the fridge at the same time, or if you’re making a sandwich get all the toppings in one go as opening the fridge door less, means it doesn’t have to work as hard.
28 Clean Fridge Coils
Clean coils means your fridge will take less electricity to keep its contents cold.
29 Use Half As Much Light
Go through your house and unscrew every second light bulb and see whether you really do need so much light in your home.
30 Clean Dishwasher Drain
If your dishwasher is clean, then your dishes will be too and if you allow only clean water to come through the drain, there is less chance you need to rewash the dishes and use yet more power.
Setting aside a space inside to hang your clothes on an airer will make it easier for you to stop using the dryer and all that extra power.
12 Turn Off Your Home Office
When working from home you need a break from the office too, even if you just close the door to the spare room and forget about it for the weekend. Well, while you’re forgetting about work, unplug all of your office equipment on the weekend too.
13 Unplug Your Home Office
If your home office doesn’t run at the same pace as an inner-city business then you don’t need to be using the same amount of power either. Therefore, if you’re not printing anything unplug your printer, if you’re not scanning anything unplug your scanner, if you’re not using your audio equipment then unplug your speakers.
14 Turn Off and Turn In
Before you go to bed it will cost you nothing to double check that all lights, TVs and electrical equipment are turned off.
15 Use Your Front Door Not Your Garage Door
Your garage door opener uses power every time you come and go from your house. Therefore, if you’re stopping at home quickly leave your car in the driveway instead of opening and closing the garage door. Plus, if you have an entrance to your home from your garage, use it, instead of opening and closing the garage door for your car, and again for yourself.
16 Turn Off Your Computer
A simple money saving habit to get into and one which will save you a fortune in power you’re just wasting when your computer sits idle.
17 Not a Fan
If you are cooling off in front of a fan, make sure to turn it off when you leave the room. A fan is only going to make you feel cooler when you are in front of it and leaving it on when you’re not there is not going to lower the temperature of your home.
18 Turn Off Appliances When You Leave
If you’re not watching the TV remember to turn it off, same too for your computer and games console. You can turn them right back on when you return.
19 Transfer From Freezer to Fridge
If you plan out the next several meals you can transfer all that food from your freezer to your fridge at once. Opening your freezer less will mean it doesn’t have to work as hard as if the door was regularly being opened.
20 Christmas Lights Light Up the Night
Don’t leave your Christmas lights running during the day – no one can see them. Also make sure to wait until it’s actually dark to turn them on at night.
A simple habit to remember and one which can save you a fortune. Turing off the lights when you leave a room and when you go out makes financial sense, and should appeal to your common sense too.
2 Stop Your Dishwasher Drying Your Dishes
Turn off the dish drying function of your dishwasher cycle and boost your savings account by letting your dishes dry naturally.
3 Using Table Lamps
Table lamps will light just the space you are using, making them a much more efficient option than turning on all the numerous and larger overhead lights.
4 Shut Off Mains Power
If you are willing to reprogram your alarm clocks and recorders when you return, turning off your mains power when you leave the house can save you a lot of cents when you add up the power used when appliances are on standby.
5 Only Use Lights When Needed
Get out of the habit of turning lights on whenever you enter a room. Often by simply opening a curtain you’ll have enough light for general tasks during the day.
6 Turn Lights Off When You Leave a Room
A habit which is going to save you money on your electricity bill when you do it regularly – plus there is no substance to the myth that turning lights off and on uses more power than leaving them running, so no matter how long you’re leaving a room for, turn off the light.
7 Free Cooling Passages
The air comes into your fridge and freezer through a vent on the inside so make sure you don’t place food or items in front of that vent, as the appliance will have to work harder.
8 Use Task Lighting
If you’re working on the computer or reading a book, use lighting which will light up just the space you need. This is especially important if you are at your desk where your computer, monitor, printer and office equipment is already powered up.
9 Hand Wash Single Dishes
If you have a full load then your dishwasher is more water and energy efficient, but if not, wash the few plates or mugs by hand.
10 Untangle Your Drying
If you separate your washing before putting it in the dryer the dryer will be much more efficient.
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61 Turn Off the Porch Light When You Get Home
If you’re the last one home at night, who are you leaving the porch light on for? This is a simple habit to get into when you get home.
62 Leave the Porch Light Off
Chances are your street is lit with street lights so do you really need to leave the porch light on at all? Moonlight, coupled with the street lights or even the light of your mobile phone should be enough to help you find the right key at night for free.
63 Use a Single Power Board
You can use one power board in the lounge, one in the office, one in the bedroom, one for the kids…once you connect all appliances in a room to one power board you can quickly and easily turn off everything at once so you can be sure you’re not wasting any standby power.
64 Separate Your Fridge and Stove
If your fridge is next to your stove, your fridge is going to have to work a lot harder to keep cool with all that extra hot air around – especially if you open the fridge while you’re cooking.
65 Paint Light
Choosing light paint colors can help minimize the need for more lighting as light paint naturally reflects light into dark spaces.
66 Give Your Electronics a Holiday
When you go away on holiday, give your electrical appliances a break too and unplug all the clock radios, DVD players, game consoles and TVs. If you’re leaving for an extended period even try and empty out the fridge so you can unplug that too.
67 Fill Up Your Fridge
If your fridge isn’t full, place some (full) water bottles inside as this leaves less space that your fridge has to work on to keep cool, and the cold items will keep the fridge itself cold too.
68 Collect Leaves Manually
Use a rake instead of a leaf blower and take the opportunity to get a little exercise as you save some electricity.
69 Clean Your Light Fixtures
If your light fixtures are clean, you will probably find you can get away with turning on fewer lights, as there is more light coming from the ones already on.
70 Keep the Pool Pump Clean
Make sure the strainer baskets in your swimming pool pump are free and clean, because when they start to get blocked, the pump has to work harder and use more electricity.
71 Keep Your Freezer Full
If your freezer is full, the frozen items will work to keep the inside of the freezer cold and allow the freezer to use less electricity.
72 Shovel Snow by Hand
Get out there and put your back into shoveling snow by hand, rather than using your snow blower. It might even help you work off those extra winter kilos you put on over the holidays.
Read more at 72 Ways to Save Money with Spending a Cent
51 Computer on Standby
This is a setting you can easily change and you can chose the time-out period before your computer powers down after inactivity.
52 Air Dry Your Hair
Before you blast your hair with the hair dryer, consider whether you really need to – are you going out, are you going to catch a cold? Probably not, so where you have the opportunity to air dry you hair, do – try washing your hair at night and when you wake up in the morning it’s dry, for free.
53 Light Free Day
Get into the habit of using no lights for just one day a week. You can make it into a game or challenge for your family, or simply start a romantic candle-lit dinner tradition – all while saving on your power bill.
54 Don’t Dispose of Garbage in the Sink
If you have a garbage disposal system in your sink, think before you use it – do you really need to or can you just take your rubbish out to the bin?
55 Fill Up Your Dishwasher
Don’t run your dishwasher unless it’s full as you’re going to do more loads in the long run and waste all that power and water on a half load.
56 Unplug the Second Fridge
If you have a second fridge in the laundry or garage for beers and food and other drinks for parties, it doesn’t need to be plugged in all the time. If you can, even try to get rid of it all together.
57 Disconnect the Microwave Light
Your kitchen is likely to be quite well lit so when you (responsibly) unplug the light bulb in the microwave to save on electricity, you probably won’t even miss it.
58 Raise the Fridge Temperature
Don’t raise the temperature so far that your food spoils, but just check the setting now – is it on the coldest setting? Probably. Well it doesn’t need to be, turn the thermostat just a few notches warmer and your fridge won’t have to work so hard.
59 Raise the Freezer Temperature
The same electricity saving idea can be applied to your freezer too because unless your freezer is packed to the brim, it doesn’t need to be on the absolute coldest setting to keep things frozen.
60 Remove One Light Bulb in Your Garage Door Opener
While it’s convenient for your garage door opener to light up when you’ve just entered, most systems will have two light bulbs, so try it with just one and see whether there’s enough light.
41 Put Scanner on Sleep Mode
This means you don’t even have to remember to turn off your scanner after use, and you can still save electricity.
42 Put Printer on Sleep Mode
Using the sleep function means you don’t have to plug in and unplug your printer each time you stop using it, but you can still save on your power bill.
43 Put Fax Machine on Sleep Mode
Leaving your fax machine on full time in case a fax comes through is unnecessarily using power but putting it to sleep mode can combat this waste.
44 Turn Off Your Games Console
Anything like a Nintendo an X-Box or a PlayStation will keep using power even when you’re not playing so if you’ve finished or are taking a break, save and turn it off.
45 Unplug Your Games Console
Even if the console is off it is still using power so unplug your Nintendo, X-Box or PlayStation at the wall.
46 Unplug Your Phone Charger
Even if you’ve unplugged your phone from its charger, the charger is still sucking out power if it’s left plugged in.
47 Manual Gardening
Use manual shears to trim the bushes and hedges in your garden rather than powering up your electric trimmers.
48 Manual Can Opener
If you have an electric can opener, you probably still have a manual one so get it out of the drawer and stop using an electrical appliance when you have a manual one which works just as well and for free.
49 Have Bread Not Toast
Choosing to eat your bread fresh rather than toasted can save a lot of power over breakfast, especially if the whole family gets onboard with bread.
50 Rotate Cordless Phones in One Charger
Instead of having several cordless phone handsets charging at once, use just one charger base on a rotation basis.