ComEd Warns Customers that Party Balloons Are Causing Power Outages

Thursday May 24, 2012
Posted at 09:20

How Balloons Can Cause Power OutagesYou know those helium-filled Mylar party balloons that you get at the grocery store for birthday parties? They might light up your kids’ faces, but they could also end up turning out the lights.

According to Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd), Illinois’ largest public utility, Mylar balloons that are released from outdoor birthday parties, graduations and weddings have a tendency to wander gently into the sky — and right into power lines.

In a news release warning customers of the dangers of Mylar balloons released outside, ComEd said that so far this year, the festive floaters have caused power outages affecting roughly 11,000 customers, which is significantly higher than the 6,700 customers that were affected by balloon-related outages during the same period last year.

The utility said the number will rise even more this summer, as the temperature increases and more parties are held outside, unless families take precautions and secure balloons that are used outdoors.

ComEd said that when the metallic skin of a Mylar balloon contacts a power line or a part of substation equipment, it can create an electric surge that may lead to a short-circuit, power outage or even a fire.

To help cut down on power outages from Mylar balloons, ComEd recommends that you take a few precautions:

1. Make sure balloons are tethered or secured and attached to weights or sturdy structures at all times

2. When you’re done with balloons, puncture them to let the helium escape and dispose of them properly

3. You should always assume that power lines are live; make sure that you, your belongings and anything you are carrying are least 10 feet away from power lines at all times

Under no circumstances should you try to recover a balloon or other toy that’s become entangled in an overhead power line; instead request assistance by calling ComEd at 800.334.7661

Sources

ComEd Warns: Balloons Can Cause Power Outages,” Buffalo Grove Patch, May 5, 2012.

Illinois Reminds Electricity Customers to Call 811 Before They Dig

Monday April 23, 2012
Posted at 10:29

National Safe Digging MonthIt might not seem like it, but digging in the yard around your home can be pretty dangerous. Digging can cause power outages and can even be hazardous to your health if you hit an underground power line that’s carrying electricity to your home. That’s why the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), the public utility regulator in Illinois, has passed a resolution declaring April 2012 National Safe Digging Month.

The ICC said it wants to use National Safe Digging Month to remind Illinois excavators and residents to call 811 before they dig. Doing so will connect them with their local One Call Center to request that utility lines be marked anywhere that digging needs to be done. Like the ICC says, “safe digging is no accident.”

Speaking of safe digging, check out our post about electricity safety when working outdoors around the home.

And if you’re planting trees on your property, we’ve got a post about some things you should consider when planting trees near power lines, including how close — or how far away — you should plant them.

Good luck, and don’t forget to call 811 before you dig.

Sources

Illinois Commerce Commission, “Resolution 12-0268: Supports 811 — the Call Before You Dig to Locate Utility Lines.”

Tips for Planting Trees Near Power Lines

Tuesday March 6, 2012
Posted at 11:07

Trees near electric lines

If you’re planning on adding a few trees on your property, it’s important to know where you should plant them in relation to power lines. Tall trees that grow up into overhead power lines have to be continually cut back to keep clear of the lines, which can be expensive and make for an ugly, oddly-shaped tree. And the roots of trees that are planted too close to underground power lines can be damaged if the lines have to be dug up for repairs.

Here are some simple tips to help you figure out where you should plant trees to avoid conflicts with power lines.

Planting Trees Near Overhead Power Lines

Tree experts and electric utilities recommend that homeowners planting trees near overhead power lines choose trees with mature heights of 25 feet or less. Some tree care professionals refer to this as the low zone for planting trees. There is also a medium zone and a tall zone for planting trees. Here’s how they work:

  • Low Zone — This area extends from directly underneath overhead power lines to between 15 feet and 25 feet on either side of the lines. Only low-growing trees with mature (fully-grown) heights of between 20 feet and 25 feet should be planted in the low zone.
  • Medium Zone — Medium-growing trees with mature heights of between 25 feet and 35 feet need to be planted in the medium zone, an area that’s about 25 feet to 50 feet away from power lines.
  • Tall Zone — Tall trees over 35 feet need to be reserved for the tall zone, which begins about 50 feet away from power lines.

Planting Trees Near Underground Power Lines

Because underground power lines aren’t deeply buried, and in many cases can be buried close to the surface, it’s important to plant your trees a safe distance away. Doing so will help prevent problems while digging and can help prevent your tree’s root system from growing around the lines. While trees and underground power lines often coexist well together, your tree could be seriously damaged if roots have to be cut to dig up and repair a line. And remember, before you do any digging you should consult with your utility to help mark and protect underground lines.

Since a tree’s root system is essentially as wide as the tree itself, and in some cases wider, consider following the low, medium and tall zone recommendations when planting trees near underground power lines. However, if you keep the low zone around buried power lines clear of trees, you won’t risk major damage to the tree’s roots if the line needs to be repaired.

Sources

Trees Are Good, “Avoiding Tree & Utility Conflicts.”

Utah State University, “Small Trees for Planting Near Power Lines,” July 2009.

Tips for Safely Using Electric Space Heaters

Friday February 3, 2012
Posted at 09:44

Safety tips for using space heaters in the home

A lot of people use electric space heaters to try and keep a lid on heating costs during cold winter months, especially in older homes that may or may not have efficient furnaces. Space heaters can be a convenient and cost-effective way to temporarily heat a room or a small space, but if used improperly, space heaters can cause nasty burns or worse, create a fire hazard. Here are a few tips for making sure your plan to cut energy costs is a safe one:

  • Make sure that any space heater you buy carries the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Most will, but if you’re looking to buy a space heater on the cheap, you’ll need to double check this.
  • When shopping for a space heater, consider models that come with an automatic shut-off feature and guards for the heating elements. The shut off feature will come in handy and activate if the space heater gets tipped over or when the room reaches a certain temperature. Heating element guards will help protect you, your kids and pets from burns.
  • Even if your space heater comes with heating element guards, don’t leave children or pets alone in a room with an operating space heater. Curious little fingers and stray tails can still get burned.
  • First thing you need to do when you unbox your space heater is read all the instructions and safety materials that come with it.
  • When you’re locating your space heater, make sure to keep it at least three feet from any surfaces or materials that can burn easily.
  • Make sure you place your space heater on a level, hard, non-flammable surface. Don’t ever place it on rugs or carpets.
  • Frequently check your space heater for frayed cords or broken filaments. Both of these situations are unsafe and can lead to fire hazards.
  • Try to avoid extension cords when setting up your space heater and try to keep the heater’s power supply cord away from high-traffic areas so that people don’t trip over the cord.

Sources

Illinois Department of Public Health, “Weathering Winter.”

How to Safely Use Your Furnace to Stay Warm in the Winter

Thursday February 2, 2012
Posted at 13:08

Tips for furnace safely during the winter

If you live in a cold part of the United States, you probably use a furnace to stay warm during the cold winter months. Unfortunately, too many people are unaware of the precautions that they need to take to safely operate their furnaces year in and year out. In fact, the Illinois Department of Public Health estimates that more than 8,000 Americans annually require emergency treatment for injuries associated with furnaces.

To help you avoid problems, here are a few precautions that you should take when using your furnace:

  • Move all flammable materials a safe distance away from the furnace, including things like papers, sawdust, old rags, wood scraps and liquids such as gasoline and kerosene. As an extra precaution, since vapors from flammable liquids easily ignite, you should store these liquids in containers that are tightly sealed.
  • Change or clean your furnace filter every month during the winter, or more often if you run your furnace a lot, smoke or have pets.
  • Have a professional inspect your furnace every year to make sure it’s working well and getting enough fresh air. Ensuring your furnace gets enough air will prevent it from burning improperly, which can end up reducing the oxygen in your home to dangerously low level.
  • Have a professional inspect your chimney and flue at least once a year and have them cleaned if necessary. Carbon monoxide levels in your home can become dangerous if smoke can’t escape a clogged chimney or flue. Additionally, built-up soot, which is highly flammable, can easily ignite and can send a fireball of flame from your furnace into your house.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Make sure to periodically test the alarms and change the batteries every year or more often if needed.

Sources

Illinois Department of Public Health, “Weathering Winter.”

The Inside Scoop on Electric Blanket Safety

Wednesday February 1, 2012
Posted at 01:00

When it comes to the annual winter-time struggle of trying to stay comfortable while lowering the thermostat, saving money doesn’t always win out, especially if icicles start to form on the ends of your toes while you’re trying to sleep. Thankfully, electric blankets and electric mattress pads can help bridge the gap and keep you toasty in bed while you turn down your heat for the evening.

If you decide to use an electric blanket or mattress pad to save a few bucks when it’s cold at night, you are probably familiar with some basic safety tips, like not letting the kids jump up and down on one or not sleeping on top of an electric blanket because it can malfunction or get hot enough to burn you. However, it turns out that there’s a lot more to know about electric blanket and mattress pad safety. According to the Electric Blanket Institute, people ask some pretty serious safety questions that you may never have considered. The five most common questions that the Institute hears are:

  1. Can anyone use electric blankets and electric mattress pads?
  2. Is it okay to use an electric blanket during pregnancy?
  3. Is there a concern about EMF’s (electromagnetic frequency waves) emitting by electric bedding?
  4. Can people with pacemakers use electric blankets?
  5. Why can’t people with diabetes use electric blankets?

Before you go out and buy an electric blanket or mattress pad — or before turning one on again tonight — you should make sure that using one is a good idea. Here’s what the Institute has to say about these more advanced safety concerns.

Who Should Avoid Electric Blankets and Electric Mattress Pads?

First off, the Institute is quick to point out that electric blankets and electric mattress pads are electrical appliances and, as with any electric appliance, things can occasionally go wrong. Maybe a heating control stops working properly or a blanket gets bunched up underneath the folds of your bedding, causing a heater wire to break. Situations like these can cause the blanket to overheat and maybe even burn someone. That’s why it’s important to avoid using electric bedding with infants or small children and anyone who is helpless, paralyzed, insensitive to heat or otherwise incapable of understanding and operating the controls.

Can Electric Bedding be Used During Pregnancy?

Medical websites have different opinions about using electric bedding during pregnancy. Some say “sure,” some say “never” and some say “ask your doctor.” The differing opinions are due to concerns over EMFs as well as concerns about overheating the fetus. While you could certainly ask your doctor about electric bedding safety during pregnancy, the Institute says that pregnant women should simply play it safe, err on the side of caution and avoid electric bedding. An alternative is to use an electric blanket to pre-warm your bed sheets and then turn it off prior to slipping under the covers.

What’s the Concern Over EMFs?

Electric bedding produces EMFs, or electromagnetic frequency waves from AC current, which came under scrutiny in the 1980s and 1990s from scientists and others concerned about the electrical fields produced by overhead power lines and some appliances. Some people wondered if the fields contributed to cancer or developmental problems in children. After studying over 500 peer-reviewed papers and spending $65 million on research, the U.S. Government concluded that there was no conclusive evidence to prove that residential EMFs played any role in the development of medical problems. To help mitigate customers’ concerns, Sunbeam, the only major U.S. manufacturer of electric blankets at the time, started making blankets in 1992 with much weaker EMFs.

The Institute says EMFs aren’t a problem, but if you have concerns, you can buy special blankets that convert AC current to DC current or mattress pads that pass heated water through silicone tubes in the pad and avoid electricity in the pad altogether.

Can Electric Bedding be Used with Pacemakers?

The American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic have said that electric bedding doesn’t damage pacemakers or interfere with their function. However, the Institute recommends that people with pacemakers get the green light from their doctors and pacemaker manufacturers before using electric bedding.

Can Electric Bedding be Used by Diabetics?

The short answer is no. The problem with diabetes is that it causes people who suffer from the disease to be insensitive to heat in some ways, especially if they lose feeling in their legs or arms, and can’t feel the heat from bedding that’s becoming dangerously hot. If you’re diabetic, your best bet is to pre-heat your bed sheets with an electric blanket and then turn off and remove the blanket from the bed before turning in for the evening.

Sources

The Electric Blanket Institute, “Are Electric Blankets Safe or Dangerous?”

Electricity Safety for Philadelphians Working Around the Home This Summer

Tuesday June 28, 2011
Posted at 08:16

Philadelphia residents need to be careful when working outdoorsAs the days continue to warm this summer, Pennsylvanians are starting yard work and home improvement projects that were shelved during the cold winter months.

However, for folks doing things like working in their yards, digging underground, trimming trees or building fences, power lines can be a big problem. After all, contact with a power line can be fatal. If you’re doing some work around the house this spring and summer, we’ve got some tips to help keep you safe.

Make Sure You Call PECO Before You Dig

If you live in the Greater Philadelphia Region or certain other areas in Pennsylvania, PECO Energy Co. distributes electricity to your home, regardless of whether you buy your electricity from them or from an alternative electric supplier. That means, as your residential electric utility, PECO maintains all the power lines, poles, transformers and other equipment that delivers your electricity.

If you’re going to be doing things like working underground, planting a tree or laying a foundation, you should call PECO before you dig so that they can come out and mark all power lines, gas lines and telephone lines for your safety. Call Pennsylvania One Call at 811 at least three days in advance of the work you’re planning to do.

Tips for Working Safely Outdoors Near Exposed Power Lines

Digging around buried power lines isn’t the only danger you need to be wary of. Here are some tips for safely working around exposed lines, such as aerial power lines:

- Even if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you should consider contracting a licensed professional if outdoor yard work, landscaping or other home improvements require working near power lines.
- Aerial power lines, as well as those attached to utility poles and those entering your home or other buildings or structures, are just as dangerous as underground lines. To be safe, keep a distance of 10 feet or more from all power lines — that includes you, your equipment and anything you carry.
- Pay special attention to power lines running through tree limbs and branches if you’re climbing or trimming trees. Consider using a qualified contractor to trim trees located close to aerial power lines.
- If you, contractors or other professionals need to work within 10 feet of a power line, you should call PECO New Business Services in advance at 800.454.4100 so that the electric utility can protect the work area.

Tips for Working Safely Outdoors With Electric Tools

Although avoiding power lines is important, power lines aren’t the only things you need to be mindful of when working outdoors this summer. You should also be mindful of safely using electric tools:

- Be sure to inspect your electric tools — from small tools like jig saws to big ones like drill presses and bench grinders — on a regular basis, including before the first time you use them after the long winter break. Frayed power cords, broken plugs or cracked housings are signs of serious potential trouble and should be repaired or replaced before using the tools. Never use a damaged power tool.
- Never use electrical tools anywhere around water or in the rain and be especially careful not to use electric lawn mowers on wet grass.
- Always use three-pronged outlets and plugs and always remove a power cord from a socket by grasping the plug, not the cord.
- Always use personal protective equipment, such as face shields, gloves, boots and glasses when working with electric tools. The manuals that came with your equipment will have the details on the protective equipment you should use.
Always use the appropriate type of extension cord. When working outdoors, use an extension cord marked for outdoor use. Using an indoor extension cord outside could result in a fire hazard and an electric shock.

Sources

Important Spring Safety Tips from PECO,” PECO Energy Co. press release, May 19, 2011.

PECO Energy Co. website, “Home Energy Safety Tips.”