Fires and Appliance Safety

The weather has definitely gotten colder and heating systems are being put to the test. There are different kinds of systems; electric resistance, gas-fired forced air, hot water, and steam to name a few.  Regardless of the type of system, the potential for accidental fire is part of all heating systems.   During this time of year, it not uncommon for problems to develop which, when left unattended, can result in significant damage to homes and businesses.  For example, furnaces, both gas and electric, should be cleaned at least once per year; at the beginning of the heating season.  Some people think that just because they change their air filters every once-in-awhile maintenance is complete.  NOT SO!  Depending on the efficiency of the filter in use, some dust particles will pass through the filter media and accumulate on blower blades, motors, and heat exchanger surfaces.  The burning smell often detected when the furnace is first started is the result of dust accumulation.  If the furnace is never cleaned, dust accumulation can ignite and spread outside of ductwork.  Similarly, if the controls area is never cleaned, burners can become clogged resulting in poor combustion and sometimes, delayed ignition.  Delayed ignition of gas/air mixtures can become explosive and when ignited, can release a tremendous amount of heat with deadly force.  Poor combustion can also produce carbon monoxide which when inhaled can be deadly, especially to elderly people and young children with respiratory problems.  Similarly, electric heating systems such as heat pumps should be checked for proper operation as well as components that are in good working condition.  One of the biggest problems that should be guarded against is the wiring insulation that becomes brittle with age and cracks.  Exposure of conductors can result in short circuiting leading to a fire which can then spread to the structure.  Just because a circuit is protected with a circuit breaker doesn’t mean that a fire can never develop.  Circuit breakers are current limiting devices NOT thermal limiting devices.  Heat exchange coils, motor, fans, and blowers in heat pumps should also be kept clean.  Heat pumps come in different configurations such as air to air, air to water, and air to ground.  In the last two configurations, a fluid such as water or glycol is circulated to transfer heat to or from the heat pump.  In order to do so, a pump is used to circulate the fluid and must also be serviced at certain times.  Failure to do so can result in pump motor burnouts that could result in fire.  Remember, the pump and its motor are usually two separate components unless intentionally manufactured as a single unit.  Lastly, there is not much that can be done with hot and steam boilers except to make sure that the wiring is in good condition, stack temperature is not excessive, and piping is also in good condition.  Also, remember that piping can also be a source of ignition.  Hot piping can ignite combustibles if contact is maintained long enough.  Maintenance is the key to preventing fires in heating equipment.


Happy Holidays

R. J. Hill Consulting would like to wish everyone a very Happy Holiday season.

33 Years and Counting

Thank you to all who have expressed their congratulations on our completion of 33 years in business.  This milestone would not have been possible without the support of our clients.  Thank you for placing your trust and confidence in us.


Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

R.J. Hill Consulting would like to wish everyone a very

Happy Thanksgiving.

Deep Fryer Fires due to Lack of Maintenance

We recently investigated the cause of a deep fryer fire in a restaurant setting.  As you probably know, these appliances are everywhere, not just in commercial food establishments, but in homes as well.  They have been in use for a number of years and are tried and tested dependable pieces of equipment.  However, there is just one problem which seems to be constantly ignored by owners.  That is, a thorough cleaning!  It’s one thing to clean the surfaces that are easily reachable and say that the fryer is clean.  It’s quite another to clean the areas where grease accumulates and is ignored because these areas are hard to get into.  I’m talking about the places around the burners and controls.  I’m talking about the area where the gas line comes in and the connections are made.  Many people are afraid to get into the cabinet where the guts of the fryer (and stoves and grilles) are located.  And if you don’t know what you are doing, you’re probably better off leaving the cleaning to a professional.  That doesn’t mean that the cleaning should be put off until absolutely necessary, or as in this case, after a fire occurs.  Deep frying food causes cooking oil to splatter onto exterior surfaces.  Whether onto an exhaust hood or other appliances, the residue that accumulates becomes fuel for a potential fire.  In the recent case mentioned above, greasy residue was allowed to accumulate on the rear side of the fryer as well as the exhaust hood wall.  Greasy residue also accumulated inside the fryer’s exhaust duct enclosure and this was where the fire originated.  The fire started here because the heat from the exhaust was insulated by the greasy residue, raising the temperature of the exhaust gases to the ignition temperature of the residue.  As a reference, cooking oil ignites between 750 F and 800 F depending on the oil.  If the fire hadn’t been contained as quickly as it was, the fire would have eventually reached those grease laden areas behind the fryer and inside the control and burner area.  The fire would also have spread to the stove and grille which were also under the same exhaust hood as the fryer and in need of the same type of cleaning.  If you have to set aside a day to clean inside your cooking appliances – Do It! I promise you that the time and money you spend doing a little maintenance will be significantly less than spending days to clean up, if not rebuild, after a significant fire loss.  Just think about the lost revenue over one day as opposed to several weeks if not months.  Remember, you have control over your schedule and therefore you can plan for your downtime.  Your customers, employees and those close to you will all appreciate it.

To show you what I mean, the following photograph shows how dirty the burner and control area can get if not kept clean.


This is the back of the fryer after it was removed from its place under the exhaust hood.  The burn pattern was created by the heat produced from burning on the inside the exhaust area of the fryer. The residue on the lower back was never touched and is therefore an example of how bad the accumulation can be if not cleaned regularly.


The last photograph shows what the floor area looked like when the fryer was removed. The gas line, which is barely recognizable, was buried in the residue.


Toro Lawn Mower Defective Carburetor

Toro brand lawn mowers have recently come under attack by consumers for producing bad products.  Usually I am on the other end of a defective product but, this time I happen to be one of those consumers.  I purchased a Toro “Personal Pace” lawn mower last year and used it with good results all spring and summer.  This year, however, we started having problems. Although I could get the mower started, it would visibly shake and shortly thereafter, cut out.  If it kept going long enough for me to start cutting grass, no more than a minute into cutting and the engine would die.  It just would not continue to run.  The mower was taken to a Toro dealer, Southern Lawn and Equipment, where they supposedly cleaned the carburetor and it ran fine for them.  Once back home and in the grass, it didn’t take long before it started idling roughly and cutting out again.  The mower was returned to the dealer and this time they noticed that the choke was sticking.  The choke was adjusted and the mower returned.  Once again, after attempting to cut grass, the engine started cutting out again.  The third time that the mower was taken to the dealer, the dealer decided that the carburetor had to be replaced and that it would NOT be repaired under warranty.  It should be noted that Briggs and Stratton warranties the engine for three years and Toro would NOT stand behind the warranty.  The mower in question is shown in the photographs below. So, now we have a useless mower. Buyer Beware!

DSC02949 DSC02954 DSC02951

Ceiling Fan Recall

A recall for Casablanca Ceiling fans has been discovered for a simple yet dangerous fault.  30,000 fans have been recalled because the fan motor and blades can separate from the adapter when it is used in updraft mode.  This won’t come as a surprise to many but, the fans were manufactured in China.  This is yet another example of the kind of poor manufacturing process that results in the erosion of public confidence.  How does something like the separation of the fan motor from its adapter escape scrutiny from quality control (assuming they have a quality control department) so as to put the consumer in danger?  Adding insult to injury, the recall affects 12 fan styles and 43 different models of Casablanca ceiling fans that were manufactured between 2013 and 2014.  The recalled styles are: Aris, Bel Air, Bullet, Caneel Bay, Heritage, Isotope, Riello, Stealth, Tecera, Trident, Whitman, and Zudio.  The recalled models are: 59018, 59019, 59020, 59021, 59022, 59023, 59057, 59059, 59060, 59061, 59062, 59064, 59065, 59068, 69069, 59070, 59076, 59077, 59078, 59081, 59082, 59083, 59090, 59091, 59092, 59093, 59094, 59105, 59106, 59107, 59109, 59110, 59111, 59113, 59114, 59119, 59121, 59123, 59124, 59164, 59165, 59527, 59528.  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there have been eight reports of falling fan motors and fan blades with one report of a minor injury and one report of minor property damage.  Consumers should stop using the fans and contact Casablanca for a free in-home and repair.  Casablanca can be contacted by calling 1-855-800-3789.  Consumers should also be aware that the recalled models are associated with certain date codes.  The date code can be found on the top of the motor housing near the center where the vertical support rod attaches to the motor housing.  The date code is a four digit code with the last two digits being a “13” or “14”.  The recall specifically applies to those fans manufactured in 2013 or 2014 and with a catalog number of “A01”.  For Isotope models 59018, 59019,, 59020, 59021, 59022, and 59023, the canopy ring has to be removed in order to identify the product. These particular products also have a green dot that is part of the identification of the recalled units.

After having said all of the above,  the procedure that a consumer has to go through is not only time-consuming and troublesome but, can be frustrating.  Keep in mind that because the manufacturer is a Chinese company, holding the company responsible might be very difficult. The consumer has to depend on the American distributor, in this case, Casablanca, to make good on the inspections and repairs.  For many, this means relying on Casablanca’s representative to be truthful and honest about their findings.  If things don’t go as expected, the consumer could end up with a useless fan.  Unless there is a substantial amount of damage or injury involved, filing a lawsuit is usually not a practical option.  Consumers can file complaints with the CPSC and Better Business Bureau which could affect the company’s business reputation but, usually not enough to cause any significant change.  Another way to hit a manufacturer where it counts is to post unfavorable reviews on social media.  Enough of a following can affect sales, negatively!  The last recourse is to replace the fan at the consumer’s expense, chalk the whole thing up to a bad experience and go on with life.



%d bloggers like this: