My wife Vicki is a registered nurse and, as such, is very aware of expiration dates on fresh and canned foods, and especially on medication. She regularly goes though the refrigerator, pantry and medicine cabinets and
purges anything out of date. (Thankfully, husbands don’t usually have expiration dates tattooed somewhere, or I might find myself with a real problem.)
Vehicles and appliances have warranty dates that are necessary as part of a maintenance program that starts when we buy them. Appliances and vehicles are very tangible assets, and most people will follow the warranty requirements, since regular maintenance will extend the lifetime of the asset.
What most people do not think about is the regular maintenance of their most expensive and long-term asset—the home. Gas and electric water heaters require maintenance at least once a year to drain the water and replace the anode. Air conditioning and heating units require maintenance at least twice a year, usually before each major season change (winter and summer), and filters should be changed monthly.
Smoke alarm batteries require replacement at least annually or when that chirping happens due to low battery levels. The chirping is designed to be the most annoying sound in the world to draw your early attention to battery replacement. Many smoke alarms are now being sold with worry-free, built-in batteries, where the entire unit must be replaced every 10 years.
Most people don’t recognize that regular maintenance of their home’s electrical system is critical to everyday operations. We certainly recognize when a lamp burns out, a fluorescent fixture fails to come on or a receptacle is not providing power.
Annual maintenance and checkup by a licensed electrical contractor on the most important parts of the home seldom happens. Out of sight, out of mind—at least until the power goes out, and then we panic. This usually happens at the most inopportune time, when we are already late for work, a meeting or a family gathering, or during the hottest or coldest season.
Asset expiration dates
People also don’t think about the possibility of a fire in an electrical system and the reason for having properly installed and maintained smoke alarms. After smelling—or worse, seeing—smoke in the house and realizing the electrical system may have been overloaded or failed in some catastrophic manner, only then do we realize we should have properly maintained the home’s electrical system. The critical parts of this system can have an expiration date attached to them (not physically, but their lifespan is not eternal).
Most people don’t realize that an electrical panelboard and the circuit breakers inside require periodic maintenance. The 2023 NFPA 70B, Standard for Electrical Maintenance, provides technical substantiation for maintenance of the electrical system and equipment. It’s a good idea to have a licensed EC do a visual check of the overall general condition of the panelboard enclosure, circuit breakers, terminations, connection tightness, conductor insulation and busbars for any visible damage, corrosion or colorization of the insulation. Periodic exercising of the circuit breakers (about once every year and a half) is a good idea and based on the recommendation instructions of the breaker manufacturer.
A panelboard has a certain life span of 25—40 years, depending on its location and overall use. The home’s inside wiring also has a life span of about 40–50 years. The electrical systems for most homes have an overall anticipated end-of-life at about 50 years, depending on the location, condition of use and actual seasonal temperature of the wiring system.
Operational temperature is a major factor since high heat over a long period of time affects system components, including the insulation on the conductors, and determines the system’s duration of life. Copper has a long-term life span of about 100 years, but the insulation on the conductors will have a much shorter one.
Switches, receptacles, ceiling paddle fans and luminaires will have a much shorter life span and may require more frequent replacement, depending on use. For example, a frequently used receptacle may show signs of a loose cord cap during insertion or removal or a switch that periodically fails to turn on or off.
Always contact a qualified, licensed electrical contractor for maintenance issues in the home.
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