This story wouldn’t have happened without a bomb shelter oceans and continents away. Almost 30 years have passed since I was 15 years old. At present, I live in San Diego which is so similar but also so different from where I grew up, a Kibbutz in north Israel, next to the Lebanese border. One such difference: the occasional rain of bombs falling from the sky, which required the use of shelters. A new one was built in my Kibbutz and a decision was made to give it a secondary purpose, to be a nightclub for the local teens.
I was an electrician’s assistant during the day and happy to handle the after hours unsupervised electrical work needed for the installation of a sound system and lighting. GFCIs were required in all residential breaker boxes because the voltage there is 220V, but I didn’t know that bomb shelters were an exception, so I came to work barefoot.
I was attempting to attach a splitter to the wall when my thumb touched a wire. My hand locked itself onto the splitter. I lost my perception of the surroundings, yet I could still think. It was terrifying. I was later told that I jumped 10 feet into the air, but I don’t remember that. When I gained back my awareness, I learned that even though I felt no pain, a hole almost an inch long and almost as deep as the bone was burned into my thumb. Later I discovered that the nerve endings in that place were completely burned too and I permanently lost the ability to feel. Today, I have a large scar on my left thumb.
My father took this very seriously and thanks to his persistence, making telephone calls, and sending letters, the regulations were changed to include a GFCI in every shelter’s breaker box.
Regulations are often in place to protect us from mistakes made by someone doing something really DUMB, just like I had. Another example could be the reason we can’t replace broken plugs on power cords. If one day someone replaced a plug carelessly then, now no one is allowed to replace plugs anymore, unfortunately even if they do it properly.
Needless to say, safety is very important to me now and as someone who repairs restoration equipment, I get to see the inner workings, wiring, and every design flaw that isn’t visible nor obvious to the user.
A few months ago, I was hired by a very big company to replace power cords on equipment with grounds
broken from the plugs. This sometimes happens to help the plugs fit into outlets on a job where the house is old and the outlets are not grounded. Plugs can’t be replaced so the whole power cord needs to be. They had so much equipment that the job took me two days and the cost, including labor and parts, was close to $2,000. I didn’t really enjoy the work because most restoration equipment isn’t really made for easily replacing the power cords. This, of course, wasn’t the first time I replaced power cords, but the quantity of equipment made me wonder about the quantity of equipment used on water jobs without grounding and without any other form of protection.
The day I finished the job, another company owner called me after hours because an adjuster told him about a dehu that burned a whole building down, and he was worried about his dehu acting weird. We did some troubleshooting over the phone and it turned out everything was fine.
I decided to reach out to Gerrett Stier, the owner of GMS Distribution. He is an electrician and I was a guest on his podcast once. I spilled my guts about the lack of protection in the industry and asked to talk to him on his podcast again, but this time about the technical issues plaguing this industry. One of the issues is air movers not protected by their own built-in GFCI outlet. Air movers usually have a GFCI outlet built into them, yet a few of them are not wired to be protected by it. Even some from the most respected brands. I’m writing this article before the podcast is recorded, so we’ll have to see how that goes.
Meanwhile, I wanted to see how the restoration community feels about this. I made a video of the two most respected brands of air movers; one protected by its own GFCI and one not, and how to tell the difference. Before I fell asleep, I posted it on my social media. When I woke up just a few hours later, the video had 13,000 views and 125 likes on Instagram. This is a lot for my account, the most I have ever had in such a short time.
Naturally, I shared it to the Restoration Rebels Facebook group and I got a lot of support. Of course I got some comments from people who don’t really understand electricity and tried to make fun of me. I expected those responses. But overall I was convinced the community wants to feel safe, and it would be nice if the manufacturers of our equipment take the initiative and offer the protection we would like.
In the next paragraph, I’m going to explain the technicality of the protection I was referring to. If you don’t care, just skip it.
A GFCI, or sometimes known as a GFI, is a mechanism that protects from leakage of electricity. If you unplug a device with wet hands and some electricity leaks out of the system and goes through your body, the GFCI will pop and will cut the electricity off.
There are two ways to wire a GFCI together with another internal component, like a fan motor for example. One is to split the power coming from the power cord in two, to the fan and to the GFCI. In this case in air movers, both the power cord and the fan will be connected on the same side of the GFCI (the
LINE) and everything plugged into the GFCI is protected but the fan isn’t. The other is to wire the fan in a row after the GFCI, the GFCI is connected to the power cord on one side (the LINE) and then the fan is connected to the GFCI on the other side (the LOAD). In this case, the fan will be protected too, and if electricity flows from the fan to the ground or to something else, like water or someone’s body, the GFCI will cut off the electricity. It will offer protection to the fan as well as anything plugged into the GFCI. Both ways to wire a GFCI cost the same to the manufacturer and are just as easy to execute.
Safety issues are not brand specific nor are they model-specific. The same item can be wired differently in different batches or dates of production. One manufacturer already took responsibility for their models of air movers that were not wired to include protection to the fan motor after being accused of starting electrical fires. They recalled them and offered a solution with no cost to the owners of the equipment.
I commend that company and highly encourage all manufacturers to make sure that, moving forward, the protection offered by all their products is something to be proud of. Sometimes mistakes happen, but let’s not wait for another individual to do something really DUMB and get himself seriously hurt, like I have. Overload breakers and GFCIs are relatively inexpensive and can, or dare I say, should be installed in dehumidifiers and other pieces of equipment made for wet jobs too, even if they are not yet required by the regulations.