Thursday, December 20, 2007

A little something I learned... that might save a life

I recently mentioned that my elder son had had something of a close shave with the heater in his room. I have subsequently learned something about the situation that will certainly change the way I manage heaters in the future and may serve to alert someone else out there.

First off, I discovered (after returning the heater to the store and declaring it faulty) that the problem was with the extension cable rather than the heater.

What you need to know about this cable is that it was one of those very long ones rolled around a reel - usually used outdoors. In fact, ours used to be used for our lawnmower. Since we no longer have a lawnmower (or a lawn, for that matter), we had begun to utilise it elsewhere, expecting that it would be particularly robust, having been intended for outdoor use.

Because the space in which it was being used required nowhere near the full 10 metre length most of the cable was wrapped around the reel, which was stowed away under a chest of drawers and this is apparently where the problem lay.

I have discovered from my stepfather that heaters draw a lot of current and should always be connected to uncoiled, untwisted cables. If not, you could wind up with the situation we had, in that the coiled cable becomes a heat coil, much like a rheostat, which then begins to melt the insulation and can cause a fire.

By the time I discovered the situation, the insulation had melted through, generating a great deal of toxic smoke, and the wires had begun to make contact. Fortunately, this shorted out the whole system, and I discovered it in time to prevent the situation from getting any worse.

If you're using any electric heaters in your home, office or classroom, please do a quick safety check, courtesy of my stepdad.

Quick tribute: My stepdad is one of those wonderful, salt of the earth, unschooled, blue collar people who has become a source of all sorts of wonderful, practical knowledge over the course of a lifetime. It was he who taught me how to service my first car so that I didn't get ripped off by unscrupulous mechanics who (research showed) thought female=ignorant and therefore charged more for their services. It used to cause much hilarity in our street, and it is one of my "claims to fame" that I was even the cause of an accident as a man was so stunned at the sight of working on her car on the front lawn that he drove into a tree. I never did develop the upper body strength to loosen the sump nut for oil changes, though!


rlubensky said...

Sump nut: spanner (or tyre iron) + rubber mallet. Or big-soled boot :-)

Karyn, best wishes for a safe and flameless holiday! Keep up the exemplary blog too!

Karyn Romeis said...

Thanks for the tip, Ron! The problem for me was that I didn't have either a pit or a ramp and with the limited space under the car, I couldn't get enough leverage.

Mind you - there's so little that an amateur tinkerer can do on modern cars that I tend not to bother any more. However, it is useful to know enough to be able to tell when someone is trying to pull a fast one. I can't be fooled with talk of overhead swivel shafts, splashfeet wipers and hypergroliums!-)