The North American Electrical Safety System is made up of four vital components, and they all must be applied together for the system to function successfully. The components are installation codes, enforcement and inspection, product standards, and qualified electrical contractors and electrical workers. If any part of the overall system is left out or compromised, the safety of people and property also could be compromised. As the process of restoring electrical power and rebuilding from the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma continue, every aspect of the electrical safety system is in play.
As owners, insurance companies, contractors, workers and others try to cope with significant loss, and the challenges of rebuilding and repair commence, all elements of the electrical safety system must be included. Here are a few important steps and precautions that property owners and building managers can take to facilitate power restoration efforts and keep their property safe. All recommendations conform with the rules in the National Electrical Code (NEC). Please note, these recommendations are noninclusive, and there are additional references within this article to more detailed information and guidelines.
All electrical wiring, appliances and motors damaged by floodwater should be checked by a qualified electrician or EC before any attempt is made to repair, replace or re-energize them. Motors damaged by moisture and dirt can be burned out by careless starting, and damaged or damp wiring will cause failures.
No one, especially not unqualified people, should attempt to work on wiring, particularly when it is wet, without disconnecting power and establishing electrically safe work conditions.
Where immediate use of electric power is essential, dry temporary lines may be run for some equipment, such as pumps. The NEC provides information about installing temporary power and generators. Building and homeowners should consult a qualified EC and inspector before connecting temporary equipment and generators.
Wiring that has become wet or damaged during a disaster cannot be safely reused, even if it appears to have completely dried. It must be replaced. Identify any wiring that was under water or dampened. If the water did not reach all levels of a building, wiring that was not wet may still be safely used. NEMA has developed a set of guidelines that clearly describe how to deal with water-damaged electrical equipment. Visit https://goo.gl/CGTYZB to obtain a copy. It is important to note that many inspection jurisdictions will be following these guidelines.
Any electrical equipment—switches, receptacles (convenience outlets), light outlets and junction boxes—that has been under water must be replaced. They cannot be safely reused.
If a junction box is filled with mud, remove the screws holding the receptacle or switch in the box. Pull the receptacle, switch and wires in the junction boxes out about 2 inches from the box. Clean out the mud. Do not remove the electrical connections. Leave the boxes open until a qualified EC, electrician or inspector can examine it.
With the power in the off position, remove any fuses and covers from equipment that have been submerged. Clean out any mud. Wires can be moved, but do not disconnect them.
Large electrical appliances that have been under water should be examined by an electrician or a qualified electric serviceperson. Amateur attempts at cleaning and drying appliances often do more harm than good.
An important requirement was added in NEC Section 110.21(A)(2) that requires organizations that recondition electrical equipment to mark the equipment with the name and trademark of the organization performing the reconditioning and the date of the work.
Electricity connects us, and when that connection is severed, it affects everything in our lives. When in doubt about the integrity and safety of an electrical system, building owners and facility managers are strongly advised to contact their local building safety department to inspect water-damaged electrical equipment and wiring.
Many ECs are also small business owners. There are already stories of ECs in flood-affected areas who are scrambling to borrow equipment from out-of-state colleagues so they can get to work in their own communities. Property owners should find an EC familiar with the hazards of post-flood electrical construction and repair.
The losses and hardships created by these natural weather events are devastating enough for society without adding to electrical safety problems through any compromises of a long-standing established electrical safety system. The established electrical safety system has served society well whether it is new construction, remodels and retrofits, and yes, even storm-damage repair and rebuilding efforts. Safety, especially electrical safety, is not a part-time affair; it should be a lifestyle. Live it.