Standards to prevent fire
Over the past few years several products and installations have been a burning issue for the Australian market.
Quite understandably, the state regulators have been keen to ‘clear a firebreak’ and provide safe boundaries for electrical contractors to work within.
It’s not hard to know what I mean: downlights and solar isolators.
These have been causing much discussion in our industry and at government level. There has been much to-ing and fro-ing among all stakeholders to find an answer.
There are a couple of other fire-safety products that don’t cause the same sort of ‘spot fires’, but they do need an overhaul. I will provide an update on smoke detectors and a new product in the market, the arc fault detection device (AFDD).
Let’s deal with downlights first. My recent article dealt with the new downlight classifications, which have now been included in our performance and safety Standard.
There is a specific marking that will allow electricians, wholesalers and even the home-owner (that’s probably a sore point) to know exactly what they are buying and for which application.
It’s a terrific move forward for our industry, as these downlights were a huge issue during the federal government insulation grant. Where there was smoke, there was fire!
The Australian/New Zealand Standard is adopted from the European International Standards, but it now has extra requirements that need to be taken into account for our harsh Australian environment.
These products will soon require a Certificate of Approval, meaning they will need to be tested and verified by an independent test laboratory and submitted for approval before they can be sold in Australia or New Zealand.
At last, a way of keeping low-quality products at bay. Look for the regulatory compliance mark (RCM) triangle and tick on the packaging and product.
Similarly, the DC solar isolators have been causing grief for installers, manufacturers and governments alike.
One of my recent articles alluded to some of the problems that these isolating switches have been causing. Again, where there was smoke, there was fire.
Many of the problems came about due to poor manufacture and poor installation of roof-top solar isolators. Put these two together and you are asking for trouble.
Correct installation of isolators is paramount for the prevention of fires in the first instance. It’s all about using the correct ingress protection (IP) rating for the application.
Usually these items are in an exposed position on the roof and it is necessary to ensure that an IP56 rating (fire-hose force of water) is maintained by tightening the enclosure and cover to the correct torques.
Caps must be fitted and conduits must go to the bottom of the enclosure so that any condensation caused by hot days and cold nights is diverted into the conduit rather than the bottom of the enclosure.
Indeed, the installation of a specific IP56 drain plug to the bottom of the enclosure will allow condensation to drip out of the enclosure but won’t allow water from the fire hose to get in.
Anyone who has installed IP56 rated enclosures on mine sites or on farms will know these tricks.
Buying reputable solar isolators is crucial, as many installed units were cheap and of dubious quality.
Simply put, DC current can upset good-quality switching, let alone the shoddy copy stuff that was sold. Once a DC current causes an arc during the switching process it just keeps on arcing, then keeps on carbonising, then keeps on feeding the fire, which leads to major house fires.
There’s good news on this front as well. The European International Standard, which has been adopted, will include specific requirements for environmental considerations in Australia, such as temperature and water ingress testing.
As with downlights, there will be much more stringent marking requirements for the packaging and the product. In fact, this is another product that will require a certificate of approval before being sold in Australia. Again, look for the RCM on the product and the packaging.
Speaking of smoke and fire, there is also a Senate Inquiry into smoke detectors. This is mainly to compile enough evidence on the effects of photoelectric and ionisation types, the issue of battery and permanently electrically connected types, and to further our knowledge of smokies and applications of various installations.
Both types of smoke detectors have their place in an installation. However, with the quantity of synthetic material in a home these days there is probably a strong case for photoelectric, as it responds quicker to the type and size of smoke particles in the event of fire.
Watch out for the results of this inquiry, as this will provide the information that state governments require to set laws and regulations on smoke detector installation.
And to finish, here’s an update on the installation of AFDDs.
In one of my articles I included information on the Wiring Rules revision and explained these product types and their installation.
Essentially they will be written into the Wiring Rules as a recommendation – to consider their installation in vulnerable situations, for example, wooden buildings and museums.
Electrical contractors could consider them for the protection of bedrooms, as these areas are most vulnerable to fire from an extension lead that may have copper cores damaged by misuse or accident.
These leads can create a series or parallel arc that could eventually lead to carbonisation of the surrounding plastic, then a fire.