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"Espresso! My Espresso!"
An Ongoing Internet Novelette
by Randy Glass - Copyright 2012 - All rights reserved

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Electrical Safety and Consequences of Ignoring It

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

      Electricity is so ubiquitous in our loves we often (mostly) take it for granted. "Haven't died yet," is the basic underlying theme. But that can come back to bite you. Hard. Where it hurts. I recently had an event that, while somewhat embarrassing, is worthy of sharing to illustrate a point that might save you.
      For the warranty, the importer requires that the Vibiemme Double Domobar be plugged into a surge supressor to protect it. Whether that is a CYA reflex or a way to get the insurance coverage of the protection device to cover the damage from a surge doesn't matter. In either case, it's a good idea. I had my DD plugged into a "Prime" brand unit with pivoting outlets that was purchased as a two-pack from a warehouse membership store. It was rated at 15 amps which one would assume should be able to handle the DD. You could think that.. I did. Wrong. As it turns out, the rating that this device offers seems to be for the entire device, and so one might, without thinking assume that it could handle an appliance rated for 15 amp service. Let's take a look at where that assumption got me:

      Here is the outlet into which the DD had been plugged. As you can see, even though the supressor was rated at 15 amps, the individual outlets are not at all capable of handling that load. This happened on the first time I had decided to leave the machine on for the day because we had a guest coming over in the afternoon, about three or four hours after our morning cappa, so I just left it on. The heat in the outlet built up and melted the plastic. As you can see, the outlet is fused to the case.
      The real damage was done when this heat, over the four of five hours the machine was running, transferred into the digital timer which was plugged into the outlet. The heat melted the current-carrying wires inside.

      I have disassembled the timer (more on that in a minute) but above is the portion of it showing some of the damage. What to do?
      First step was to get a "real" protection device. I settled on the Tripp Lite Ultrablok. With a 15amp rating, its metal enclosure and standard NEMA type outlet, it is advertised as having an "Indestructible all-metal housing [that] won't crack, burn or melt." As you can imagine, that caught my eye, along with, "10,000 Dollar Ultimate Lifetime Insurance and lifetime product warranty." It plugs directly into the wall outlet and comes with a bracket that keeps it from being accidentally unplugged. It was one of the few I found rated at 15 amps. It also leaves the other wall outlet available as seen here after I installed it:

      But what to do about the damaged timer. I had bought two when they were being closed out at our local Grocery Outlet, so I plugged the spare into the wall until the Tripp Lite arrived. But the base of the damaged timer where it plugs into the outlet had melted so badly it was no longer usable. I opened it and there was quite a bit of damage and the odiferous aftermath of toasted wires filled the air. Hmmm... But it was still working- at least the timer and clock were. So here's what I did:

      I took the main board which held the battery backup as well as the relay and related electronics that operated the circuit to turn the controlled device on and off and mounted that in an old multi-outlet, industrial two-gang box seen above.
(A) is the 5-lead control wire from the main board to the control head
(B) is the power feed and plugs into the Tripp Lite Ultrablok
(C) is the DD's power cord plugged into a switched outlet
(D) I removed one of the duplex outlets and that left plenty of space inside for the electronics and wiring. The hole left from the removed outlet was covered with something I had saved and seemed quite appropriate.
      But how to deal with the control unit? It was off to the thrift store.

I found a gooseneck reading lamp,
removed the lamp portion at the end of the neck,
and here's what I ended up with.

      I stripped the works out of the timer's case and took a "slice" out of the middle to remove the melted areas of its plastic enclosure. I superglued it back together making a more compact "head" to hold the display and control buttons. Sitting up on the coffee cart it is now more easily accessed and the red power light can be seen from across the room. Functional and unique.

      So, a moral - It should be obvious. If you are using a high current-draw appliance, it is not only best to isolate it on its own circuit if possible, but be sure that if using extension cords or a surge supressor of any type, be sure that they are rated to handle the current. I got lucky in that there was no fire, and when it failed I was home to deal with it. Don't rely on luck.

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