PRANKS OF ELECTRICITY.
AMONG a certain class of electrical men there exists a prevailing impression that the underwriters are unjustly prejudiced against electricity. The impression is a false one, and has originated from the fact that it has fallen to the lot of the insurance companies to see that wiring is safely and properly installed, and, when it has been found defective, it has been condemned. In justice to the insurance companies, I will say that in every case our bureau advocates the use of electricity as being the safest mode of illumination or power—our only condition being that the equipment be installed in accordance with the National Code. The above impression. I am glad to state, is not shared by the superintendents or managers of the large and most important central station plants, for I have known numerous instances where the electric light company has refused to furnish current to equipments that were defective. Such action has materially assisted us in securing an improved standard of work, and, it is needless for me to say, has been greatly appreciated
What was long desired was a uniform set of electrical rules. This we now have, together with a list of approved fittings which is issued as a supplement to the rules, containing devices and materials upon which teste have been made under specifications given in the National Code. It has been invaluable to inspectors as a convenient reference for the names of manufacturers of approved devices, and it has given us that which is more important, a uniformity of opinion that has obviated that difficulty which is bound to arise from a difference in the minds of experts. It is apparent to all that a device approved for use in one State ought to be suitable for use in the entire country, or else it ought not to be allowed at all. Too much cannot be said in favor of a National headquarters, such as the Underwriters’ Bureau of Fire Protection Engineering in this city, for the inspection and test of all devices and materials enter ing into the fire hazard.
The use of the National Electrical Code is now practically universal, and electric light companies and contractors are daily being more impressed with the importance and necessity of doing a high grade of electrical work. It is manifestly most satisfactory from every point of view. It means to the central statiou more modern and economical operation, sis the removal of leakage, due to grounds and imperfect insulation, makes a saving in the coal pile; to the contractor, so that, when current is turned on, the entire equipment is ready for use, instead of having to remove grounds and short circuits. It also puls the contractor’s business on a higher standing, ami has a tendency to keep it somewhat out of reach of the ordinary wireman. who, when getting out of a job, is located in business the next day, competing with his former employer, who has been in business for years and has an expensive office to maintain. Totheconsmner it means that he has less interruption to service and of the consequent annoyance of the lights going out when they are most needed. And, from an insurance standpoint, it means one of the greatest hazards reduced to a minimum.
An evidence of the improved condition of electrical equipments is apparent, that, in spite of the fact that there has been a wonderful increase in the number of installations, the number of fires and the resulting losses therefrom have materially decreased, and in the territory under my inspection practically all of the electrical fires have been on the old wiring, which, in most cases, was done before we provided any general inspection.
There still remains a great deal of old wiring, and there will always be a certain amount of defective work being done. I refer especially to those towns where no inspections have yet been made, and where, outside of the changes from wood to porcelain devices. very little attention is paid to any rules for safe wiring. In Michigan, which is the territory under my inspection, there are about 200 towns that have central station lighting plants in operation. Of these I have visited about seventy-five, taking up new towns as fast as my time permits, and I find that, with very few exceptions, there is hardly one equipment installed in strict accordance with the Code. I notice that a rigid inspection and criticizing of defects in one town has a good influence towards improving the conditions in adjacent towns, so I endeavor to make my visits over the territory as scattered as possible.
There is one important subject upon which I feel something should be said. I refer to lighting and power from railway wires, or trolley current, as it is commonly termed, the use of which is not permitted by the National Electrical Code, except in railway cars, electric car houses, and their power stations. Where buildings have been equipped with this current, an additional charge of one per cent, has been advised, which has prevented its use to any great extent, still, we have to be continually on the alert to keep these equipments from being installed, as some agents will occasionally give permits for its use, and in certain localities some of the companies have not given the matter much attention and have not insisted on the one per cent, additional being collected. New railways are being put in all over the country, providing a means by which those living in close proximity to the lines can secure the current for use in their premises. The current is not a desirable one. and is used, as a rule, only because no other current is obtainable. Under certain favorable conditions, motor equipments might be installed in a reasonably safe manner by buildiDg a small room of brick, tile, or fire-resisting material, locating the motor and current-carrying devices therein, with the service wires entering direct to this room. However, it would not do to allow its general use, as it would be but a short time when the electric railways would be doing quite an extensive lighting and power business, and equipments would be going in all over the country in isolated sections where there is no inspection or fire protection, and there is no doubt that it would result in numerous fires. For various reasons rates have decreased, until the conditions are such that many of the companies will probably do business at a loss, unless the loss ratio is kept down. It would, therefore,seem advisable not to allow this hazard to gain a foothold, and I would respectfully urge that the companies should insist upon the additional one per cent, in every case.
A few words regarding the manner of inspection. I believe that an inspector examining any equipment of importance should, after completing his survey, arrunge to step into the office and explain the conditions to the superintendent or electrician, if they have one. I find, as a rule, that in looking over a large risk, the owners usually have the impression that their plant is in excellent condition, regurdless of the time it was installed, or how it has deteriorated. With but few exceptions I have succeeded in securing the promise to correct the defects at once, and 1 have felt confident that in a great many cases this could not have been done by a formal letter, unless by special pressure being brought to bear by the com panies controling the risk—and that is something 1 avoid asking for, unless absolutely necessary. An inspector’s position may at times be an unpleasant one, as he is continually finding fault, and it is difficult for a fault-finder to get aldng without receiving occasional criticism, and I am sure his path will be smoother if he will spare a portion of his time in making good explanations, instead of leaving it all to an extensive report sent after he returns to his office. I consider that a competent inspector of electrical equipments should have a thorough knowledge of electrical construction, but 1 am sure that a liberal supply of tact and courtesy will beof great assistance to him.
In conclusion, I here add a few more evidences of the “pranks of electricity,” each one of which shows clearly the necessity for the establishmentof a proper standard to which all electrical wiring and apparatus should conform—as 1 insisted upon in my first paper
Prank No. 6 a consists of burned-out wooden rheostats—the larger one being used to operate a motor, supplied by current taken from the trolley wire. These burnouts illustrate clearly why the code specifies that rheostats must be entirely non-combustible.
Prank No. 6 b is a homemade wooden-incased rheostat.
Prank No. 7 consists of burned out rubber insulating joints and fixture canopies—illustrating why joints should be of mica insulation, and why fuses are not allowed in the canopies of fixtures.
Prank No 8 consists of burnouts on gas and steam pipes, the most interesting of which is the piece of gas pipe with the wires attached, which I secured while investigating the origin of a fire which occurred in one of the finest churches in the city of Detroit. The janitor was leaving the building, and thought he smelt smoke, and upon searching the basement he found there was fire in the walls; he immediately sent in an alarm, and the fire department promptly extinguished the blaze, with a loss of but $120 Had the fire occurred an hour later, the loss would have been extensive, and the chances are the origin would not have been ascertained. After concluding my investigation, I found that the wires, as may be seen here, were No. 16 (smaller than is allowed), and they were tapped direct to a No. 6 feeder without any fuse protection. The wire upon which there was no tubing came in contact with the gas pipe, and, there being nothing to protect it but the fuse in the feeder wire, which was too larce, it fused a hole through the pipe and ignited the gas. This illustrates why cutouts should be used at every point where a change is made in the size of wire, unless the cutout in the larger wire will protect the smaller. Also that tubing should be used to protect wires from contact with metal pipes.
Prank No. 9 is a piece of pipe used as underground conduit for fire alarm wires, showing the effect of electrolysis. This trouble was promptly located, but might have been serious had it been necessary to send in a fire alarm from that particular circuit. Electrolysis can be prevented to a great extent by the use of a system of supplementary ground feeder wires connected at proper intervals to the tracks.
Miscellaneous A shows a burnout of weatherproof wire run in moulding (not painted) in damp place
Miscellaneous B consists of a burnout on a metal ceiling, demonstrating why tubes should be used to insulate conductors from metallic contacts.
I am greatly indebted to various electric light managers and superintendents who have from time to time permitted me to secure these evidences of defective construction and devices. Their courtesy is especially appreciated, for to certain people it may seem that the exhibiting of these burnouts could be used in a way detrimental to the lighting business.
[An obvious and regrettable typographical error in Mr Benallack’s article of last week, page 3H4, first column last line, had $90,000,000 lose instead of $90,000.—EDITOR.]