What are some of the leading causes at the root of most home electrical fires? Could your customers' homes be at risk? These are just a few of the questions being explored by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, which late last year completed Phase I of its Residential Electrical System Aging Research Project. The project's overall goal is to characterize the condition of various age groups of residential electrical systems and document how aging and installation may relate to residential electrical fire experience.

Phase I included three pilot programs in which the researchers developed standards for harvesting electrical components for testing from residences that were being demolished or undergoing renovations. Scheduled for completion in Fall 2006, Phase II will include detailed electrical fire investigations and the study of component samples from approximately 100 residences located throughout the United States, representing different geographic areas and age groups.

In the training sessions and pilot programs for Phase I, six residences of various ages and conditions were surveyed. From these initial studies, along with the effect of aging on the components, researchers noted that improper installation and lack of adequate inspections and maintenance were evident in most locations, such as:

  • Open wire splices behind walls and above ceilings (versus properly placed in approved boxes),

  • Cable damage due to improper installation,

  • Ungrounded grounding-type receptacles,

  • Improperly sized overcurrent protection devices, and

  • The use of cord sets to extend circuits.

As Phase II is completed, the program intends to offer even more valuable information to code writers, especially for NFPA 73 and the NEC, as well as electrical, fire, and building officials.