Sparks can fly when working with electricity

Electricity is the phenomenal servant of modern civilization. We plug an appliance in and it dependably completes the task it was designed for.

Electricity is the phenomenal servant of modern civilization.

We plug an appliance in and it dependably completes the task it was designed for.

Worst case scenario: it quits working.

Typically, we do not see any kind of spectacular failure.

Occasionally we hear of electrically-caused fires in the news, but like traffic accidents, we go along thinking that it will never happen to us.

Having spent a very large portion of my working career dealing with the generation of electricity, the use of electrical machinery and electronic controls, I have seen catastrophic failures with truly spectacular consequences, great displays of sparks, fire balls, and flashes of light, with forces powerful enough to melt 3/8-inch solid steel plates.

The reason most people are unaware of electricity’s spectacular side is largely due to the Canadian Standards Association’s Canadian Electrical Code.

This code mandates the design, and installation of all electrical products used in residential and commercial installations, and dictates the safeguards that have to be implemented to protect the working and general public.

Amid additional specifications, the code stipulates unexciting things such as the size of the wire conductor that must be used to safely transport specified amounts of current over defined distances, as well as proper grounding, bonding, fuse size, type and position.

These standards are designed to build in redundant protection to keep us safe; allowing us to sleep soundly and secure at night, knowing there is little possibility of having to escape an electrically caused inferno.

The Canadian Electrical Code is what governs the electrical trade and the journeymen it employs.

Although customarily a condition of a mortgage, it is not a law that can be enforced on the do-it-yourself aficionado.

A lot of ordinary people have the ability to wire a home.

Fewer know the requirements of the electrical code, and when it comes to mixing high-voltage alternating current and low-voltage direct current, most people know even less.

With adequate reading, the typical person can wire in a solar panel from the roof of his RV to his battery and from his battery to his inverter.

Two of the biggest mistakes encountered when a system like this is examined by a professional are the size of the wire being too small between battery and inverter and a lack of fuses.

Wires that are too small in low-voltage, high-amperage DC to AC inverters not only cause operational problems but pose a fire hazard.

The smaller an electrical conductor is, the more resistance it has to current (amperage) flow. If the current flow is too high for the size of wire, overheating will occur.

Red-hot electrical conductors next to combustible materials, well, that should not require explanation.

The fact is, if you plan to do any electrical wiring, your family’s safety depends on the job being done right.

At minimum, thoroughly educate and familiarize yourself with the task at hand.

But it is strongly recommended that you hire a competent professional, a journeyman electrician.

Lorne Oja is an energy consultant, power engineer and a partner in a company that installs solar panels, wind turbines and energy control products in Central Alberta. He built his first off-grid home in 2003. His column appears every second Friday in the Advocate. Contact him at:

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