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Extension cords -- why do they need to be unplugged after each use?

Extension cords -- why do they need to be unplugged after each use?

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  #1  
Old 02-04-12, 02:26 PM
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Extension cords -- why do they need to be unplugged after each use?

"...the code says extension cords are for temporary use because it's a safety issue/fire hazard to leave them in place or to use them in place of permanent wiring...flexible cords get stiff and hard over a period of just a few years when they remain stapled in place."
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I hope many of you can provide a detailed explanation (as either an electrician, lay man, or both) as to:

-- Why extension cords need to be unplugged after each use

-- Why extension cords for long-term use are in violation of local code

The more detailed the answers the better I'll be able to understand. I've been very pleased this far on the amount of detail many of the users provide in other threads.
 
  #2  
Old 02-04-12, 03:01 PM
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I think you've already said it when you quoted the code. After all flexible cables are used to connect almost everything to the building's wiring so stiffening can't be the issue. Commercial buildings often have code approved flexible cables. But... the minute you grab an extension cord you are by definition holding something intended and approved for temporary use only.

Have a length of SJ cable wired into a building's junction box and it's approved as permanent wiring. Use the same type of cable and put a plug and socket on the ends and you have a temporary device.
 
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Old 02-04-12, 03:25 PM
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Have a length of SJ cable wired into a building's junction box and it's approved as permanent wiring. Use the same type of cable and put a plug and socket on the ends and you have a temporary device.
There are very few instances where ANY flexible cable is allowable as permanent wiring and I can think of none in residential work. Definitely NOT type SJ cable under any circumstances I can recall.
 
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Old 02-04-12, 03:31 PM
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This makes me wonder about a related question... why is a permanent extension cord bad, but a permanently plugged in lamp on an end table okay? Especially when they may be the exact same size and type of wire?
 
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Old 02-04-12, 03:35 PM
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Extension cords are normally made out of stranded wire while permanent electrical cable is a solid wire. If I understand correctly, the solid wire can withstand more heat before it goes bad. Since an extension cord is normally handled every time it's used - you're more likely to notice when the cord is going bad. Making it semi-permanent takes away the inspection process you go thru every time you run the cord out or gather it back up.
 
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Old 02-04-12, 04:43 PM
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Sorry Mark, stranded vs, solid wire has nothing to do with heat. The melting point of copper is almost 2000F degrees and the only time is can get that hot is during a fault. The reason heat can be an issue with wire is due to the insulation. While NM-b is solid wire, you can get MC cable in stranded and THHN stranded wire is used quite a bit in commercial in conduit. The biggest reason that the code only allows extension cords is safety. I don't know the satistics, but I know there have been countless fires caused by extension cords which was one of the big reasons why AFCI's were invented.

Permanent wiring must be protected. Weather it is inside a wall, between framing members, or in conduit, it needs to be protected from physical damage. There is also the tripping hazards of cords laying around, (OSHA will fine you in a heartbeat if they see a cord that appears to be in permanent use in the workplace) them getting damaged by the elements (sun, rain, heat, cold) and likelihood of being run under doors or through windows.

As pointed out, cords are allowed on portable things like lamps, Tv's, computers etc because they are determined to be portable and therefore need a flexible cord. Note that most of the portable items will only have about a 6' cord (thus the 6/12 rule for receptacles in a residence) Also, note that small appliance cords, like you would use in a kitchen, is only 2' (thus the 2/4 rule)

The other exception for use of a cord for an appliance that is fastened in place is for flexibility due to vibration of the like.

The only time use install cords is for cord drops in a workshop from the ceiling. Then we will use hard service use SO cord or similar.

"Unplugged after each use" might be a little strong, although a good idea. The Code just states that cords are for temporary use and may not take the place for permanent wiring.
 

Last edited by Tolyn Ironhand; 02-04-12 at 04:59 PM.
  #7  
Old 02-04-12, 04:49 PM
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Electrically, it's a certain gauge copper wire. Electricity doesn't care whether it's SJ, NM-B or "zip" lamp cord. What tends to happen though is people forget about the cords. Correctly installed NM-B inside a wall should last 50-100 years without any issues. That extension cord that's running underneath your area rug and pinched by the door every time it closes will a last significantly shorter period of time.

The NFPA has stats about fires and injuries from extension cords and plugged in appliances, and they are way higher than anything permanently wired.
 
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Old 02-04-12, 05:08 PM
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Here is what UL recommends (Note this has been copied from another site:
Step 1: Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the device(s) you will be using. These booklets contain important information about your tools, appliances and decorations and will provide instructions on their use. The booklets will also indicate whether these items are suitable for use outdoors.

Step 2: Check the information on your cord. Extension cords are labeled with valuable information as to the use, size and wattage rating of the cord. Cords are offered in many lengths and are marked with a size or “gauge.” The gauge is based on the American Wire Gauge (AWG) System, in which the larger the wire, the smaller the AWG number. For example, a 12 gauge wire would be larger and can power larger wattage appliances, than a 14 gauge wire.

Step 3: Decide whether you will be using the appliance indoors or outdoors. Extension cords that can be used outdoors will be clearly marked “Suitable for Use with Outdoor Appliances.” Never use an indoor extension cord outdoors; it could result in an electric shock or fire hazard.

Step 4: Determine how long you need the cord to be. A cord, based on its gauge, can power an appliance of a certain wattage only at specific distances. As the cord gets longer, the current carrying capacity of the cord gets lower. For example, a 16 gauge extension cord less than 50 feet in length can power a 1625 watt (W) appliance. A 16 gauge cord that is longer than 50 feet in length can only power an appliance up to 1250W.

Step 5: Determine the gauge needed. All appliances indicate how much wattage is consumed when operated; that rating can be found on the appliance itself and often within the use and care booklet that accompanies the product. Other appliances will indicate power usage in amps, rather than watts. Quick tip: if your appliance indicates that it uses 5 amps at 125 volts, then its wattage rating is 625W (5×125). If you are going to use the extension cord with two or more appliances, you must add together the wattage rating for all appliances used on the cord. The total of those wattage ratings will help you determine which gauge size you will need.

Step 5: Place the cord correctly. Extension cords should not be placed underneath rugs or other heavy furniture. They should not be tacked in place to a wall or taped down. Extension cords should not be used while coiled or bent. Match the length of the cord to the length of your needs.

Follow these additional safety tips when using extension cords with any electrical appliance:

Look for the UL Mark on extension cords you purchase. The UL Mark means that representative samples of the cord have been tested for foreseeable safety hazards.
Store all cords indoors when not in use. Outdoor conditions can deteriorate a cord over time.
Never keep an extension cord plugged in when not in use. The cord will still conduct electricity until it is unplugged from the outlet.
Most newer, indoor cords with more than one outlet have covers for the unused openings – use them. Children and pets face serious injury if they chew on unused outlets or stick sharp metal objects into the openings.
Do not use extension cords that are cut or damaged. Touching even a single exposed strand of wire can give you an electric shock or burn.
Never file or cut the plug blades or grounding pin of an extension cord or appliance to plug it into an old outlet.
As a safety feature, extension cords and most appliances have polarized plugs (one blade wider than the other). These special plugs are designed to prevent electric shock by properly aligning circuit conductors. If a plug does not fit, have a qualified electrician install a new outlet.
 
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Old 02-04-12, 07:06 PM
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The definition of temporary usage is 90 days or less. I would hazard a guess about unplugging the cord after uasge to mimimize any potential hazard from tripping etc, not that every time you turn something off it needs to be unpluuged.

Many times the cords are smaller than the size that corresponds to the overcurrent protective device like the breaker.
 
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Old 02-04-12, 07:10 PM
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Kind of off topic, but many people do not know that there authority can fine them for having their Christmas lights up for more than 90 days. This is a violation of NEC.
 
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Old 02-04-12, 07:18 PM
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Now THERE'S a law I wish they'd enforce! LOL
 
  #12  
Old 02-04-12, 07:18 PM
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Using electricity can have dangerous consequences. Electrical fires are pervasive throughout the United States, causing injury, claiming lives, and resulting in large losses of property. Faulty electrical systems cause many fires. Even more electrical fires result from inappropriate wiring installations, overloaded circuits, and extension cords. Based on the latest available data for 2003 to 2005, an estimated 28,300 residential building electrical fires occur annually and cause 360 deaths, 1,000 injuries, and losses of $995 million.1,2,3 Electrical fires accounted for 7% of all residential building fires in this 3-year period.
http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/p...stics/v8i2.pdf
 
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Old 02-04-12, 07:24 PM
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Kind of off topic, but many people do not know that there authority can fine them for having their Christmas lights up for more than 90 days. This is a violation of NEC.
Why is it that the AHJ could fine someone for leaving Christmas lights up over 90 days citing a NEC violation, but the AHJ never, as far as I know, requires a permit to install Christmas lights. Maybe a permit is required in some places, I really don't know.
 
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Old 02-04-12, 08:51 PM
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Kind of off topic, but many people do not know that there authority can fine them for having their Christmas lights up for more than 90 days. This is a violation of NEC.
I tell people this all the time but they never seam to believe me. I guess I need to carry a code book with me at all times!
 
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Old 02-04-12, 09:41 PM
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@Xsleeper,
I agree!!! Some people are simply ridiculous when it comes to duration of time their holiday lights stay-up!!!Some people keep them up all year long, now that’s a fire hazard.
@Casual,
U are correct, permits aren’t required. But, the authority doesn’t need a permit to enforce code. Christmas lights fall under the temp. rule. I somewhat agree with the 90 day limit—seeing that the environment (Birds, sun, etc etc) could take a toll on the lights—which could cause a fire.
@ Tolyn,

I hear ya!! People like to hear what they want to hear……..LOL
 
  #16  
Old 02-05-12, 07:44 AM
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To nibroc, the OP, from your previous thread that was closed.

The breaker was put in about 40 years ago....
Your panel was manufactured by GE. I would be also very concerned with that old GE loadcenter as far as fire is concerned because I believe you'll use the extension cords in spite of what myself and others have cited. The Consumer Products Safety Commission website has similar GE loadcenters that aren't as old as your 40 year old one that have caught on fire. The example I am thinking of was about 30 years old. I personally know of the example and saw the burnt loadcenter a few days before the Federal investigator picked it up to send to the CPSC labs for evaluation. If I were you, I'd be budgeting for a replacement loadcenter with copper busbars ASAP.
 
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Old 02-05-12, 07:58 AM
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I tell people this all the time but they never seam to believe me. I guess I need to carry a code book with me at all times!
I already beat ya to it, I keep the pdf on my computer.

Your panel was manufactured by GE. I would be also very concerned with that old GE loadcenter as far as fire is concerned because I believe you'll use the extension cords in spite of what myself and others have cited. The Consumer Products Safety Commission website has similar GE loadcenters that aren't as old as your 40 year old one that have caught on fire. The example I am thinking of was about 30 years old. I personally know of the example and saw the burnt loadcenter a few days before the Federal investigator picked it up to send to the CPSC labs for evaluation. If I were you, I'd be budgeting for a replacement loadcenter with copper busbars ASAP.
Don't get me started on GE breakers.
 
  #18  
Old 02-11-12, 03:13 PM
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Marksr said:

“Since an extension cord is normally handled every time it's used - you're more likely to notice when the cord is going bad.”

What specifically lets you know it’s going bad? I’ve never had a3 prong extension cord go bad. Thinking back over the past 20 years as an adult, I’ve never even had any 2 prong indoor extension cords or power strip (6 outlet things) go bad. Am I just lucky? Or do I not abuse my stuff enough? I must admit I baby my possessions (unlike my brother who throws his stuff….grrr).


Tolyn said:
“The biggest reason that the code only allows extension cords is safety. "Unplugged after each use" might be a little strong, although a good idea. The Code just states that cords are for temporary use and may not take the place for permanent wiring.”

That makes sense. If I were an electrician and knew the dangers I’d likely be even more cautious than I am. But I’m here to understand the, hhmmm how to say, likelihood of an event. When I was growing up we had no helmet when riding bikes and I fell a lot and bled.

On (most) highways the speed limit is 55 yet most people in the Chicago area go 65 to 70. The safety instructions on most any consumer product are ridiculous. They try to cover every base even obvious ones.

I understand it is DEFINITELY RISKIER using an extension cord over a hard-wired cord. Why? My logic is an extension cord can be kicked, pulled, smashed, cut, etc… While wires in walls in conduit you can’t do that. So if one were to not kick, pull, smash, cut…extension cords, what difference would they make to safety?

Zorfdt said:
“Electrically, it's a certain gauge copper wire. Electricity doesn't care whether it's SJ, NM-B or "zip" lamp cord. What tends to happen though is people forget about the cords. Correctly installed NM-B inside a wall should last 50-100 years without any issues. That extension cord that's running underneath your area rug and pinched by the door every time it closes will a last significantly shorter period of time.

The NFPA has stats about fires and injuries from extension cords and plugged in appliances, and they are way higher than anything permanently wired.

Totally makes sense.

Scenario: extension cord running from an outlet to above the garage door opener where there is no outlet. The garage door opener is now able to be used via an extension cord that is permanently stapled to the ceiling. It will NEVER (unless you move) be handled or get damaged. It’s not under a rug or door. It’s out of the way. So it seems in that case there is little risk involved.

I’m a white-collar worker sitting in an office a billion hours a day. EVERY corporation I’ve worked for has an extension power strip (usually 6 outlets) under each workers desk in their cube. Often two of them. I’ve seen them dangling and banged up. Cleaning ladies vaccum in to them nightly. Yet they remain there often for over ten years at a time until remodeling time.


SeaOn copied the UL recommendation:
“Step 5: Place the cord correctly. Extension cords…should not be tacked in place to a wall… or be used while coiled or bent.”

Tacked to wall makes it permanently which makes it a code violation. If the cord say is 100 feet and is still coiled fully coiled except like 5’ on each side you have 90’ coiled and it gets hot? Can someone chime in here to how hot or some more specific things why not coiled? What’s with the “bent” part? That seems kind of weak. Covering all bases? Extension cords are bent often when being used.

CasualJoe mentioned:
“Your panel was manufactured by GE. I would be also very concerned with that old GE loadcenter as far as fire is concerned because I believe you'll use the extension cords in spite of what myself and others have cited. The Consumer Products Safety Commission website has similar GE loadcenters that aren't as old as your 40 year old one that have caught on fire. The example I am thinking of was about 30 years old. I personally know of the example and saw the burnt loadcenter a few days before the Federal investigator picked it up to send to the CPSC labs for evaluation. If I were you, I'd be budgeting for a replacement loadcenter with copper busbars ASAP.”

The more I learn the more I’m afraid of living in this place! I was brave to take the cover off my breaker box and saw more wires than I’d care to see. Now having found this forum a lot of things here (where I live) seem to be old code or just not installed correctly.

Joe, do you know where they’d talk about my breaker box on their site? God I wish I knew an electrician friend locally. Since I’m in my forties now, I think the next home I buy will be very small but new construction so will last longer than I’ll live.

Justin Smith said:
“Don't get me started on GE breakers.”

Do they catch on fire or something? Was 1970 a bad year?
 
  #19  
Old 02-11-12, 03:30 PM
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I have never really read anything bad about GE breakers. Heck, it was a GE box I used when I replaced my Zinsco box. I used GE because I knew it was the most affordable and very easy to get breakers for. Perhaps if mounted outside the aluminum bus bars under extreme conditions may have a corrosion problem.
 
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Old 02-11-12, 04:56 PM
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I'll try to answer these the best I can.
What specifically lets you know it’s going bad? I’ve never had a3 prong extension cord go bad. Thinking back over the past 20 years as an adult, I’ve never even had any 2 prong indoor extension cords or power strip (6 outlet things) go bad. Am I just lucky? Or do I not abuse my stuff enough? I must admit I baby my possessions (unlike my brother who throws his stuff….grrr).

Prongs falling or being yanked out, loose connections, hot spots, damaged insulation, burns around the prongs or holes on the plugs/connectors, etc.

That makes sense. If I were an electrician and knew the dangers I’d likely be even more cautious than I am. But I’m here to understand the, hhmmm how to say, likelihood of an event. When I was growing up we had no helmet when riding bikes and I fell a lot and bled.

On (most) highways the speed limit is 55 yet most people in the Chicago area go 65 to 70. The safety instructions on most any consumer product are ridiculous. They try to cover every base even obvious ones.

I understand it is DEFINITELY RISKIER using an extension cord over a hard-wired cord. Why? My logic is an extension cord can be kicked, pulled, smashed, cut, etc… While wires in walls in conduit you can’t do that. So if one were to not kick, pull, smash, cut…extension cords, what difference would they make to safety?

Likelihood of an event is pretty high, I've seen many cords "fried" in my short 16 years of life.

The instructions are so extensive, because there's alot of common-sense challenged people on this planet.

Well, stapling the cord damages the insulation and the internal conductors, light will damage the insulation, and the insulation will also dry out.

Scenario: extension cord running from an outlet to above the garage door opener where there is no outlet. The garage door opener is now able to be used via an extension cord that is permanently stapled to the ceiling. It will NEVER (unless you move) be handled or get damaged. It’s not under a rug or door. It’s out of the way. So it seems in that case there is little risk involved.

I’m a white-collar worker sitting in an office a billion hours a day. EVERY corporation I’ve worked for has an extension power strip (usually 6 outlets) under each workers desk in their cube. Often two of them. I’ve seen them dangling and banged up. Cleaning ladies vaccum in to them nightly. Yet they remain there often for over ten years at a time until remodeling time.

The cord will be damaged from being stapled, light will deteriorate the insulation, as well as the insulation drying out.

I had many pictures on my netbook of burned plug strips that were used in those situations. Here is the proper fix :

Tacked to wall makes it permanently which makes it a code violation. If the cord say is 100 feet and is still coiled fully coiled except like 5’ on each side you have 90’ coiled and it gets hot? Can someone chime in here to how hot or some more specific things why not coiled? What’s with the “bent” part? That seems kind of weak. Covering all bases? Extension cords are bent often when being used.

Bent means in sharp corners I think.
Do they catch on fire or something? Was 1970 a bad year?

I've never liked them, but I wouldn't be too worried about a fire.
 
  #21  
Old 02-11-12, 05:48 PM
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Now having found this forum a lot of things here (where I live) seem to be old code or just not installed correctly.
Your home was built and wired under out dated codes, so was mine. The codes are updated every 3 years in a continual effort to make buildings safer so naturally, 30 year old buildings were built under out dated codes.

Joe, do you know where they’d talk about my breaker box on their site?
I'll see if I can find it.
 
  #22  
Old 02-12-12, 05:53 AM
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do I not abuse my stuff enough? I must admit I baby my possessions
If you take care of your things they will last forever. I have guitar cables that are more than 40 years old. I still use them every weekend.

When I was growing up we had no helmet when riding bikes and I fell a lot and bled.
The laws have changed because we bled when we were young, and someone realized that helmet laws would help our children to avoid that particular experience. Which also explains why a house that was built to code 30 years ago does not meet code today: The code changes to improve safety.

I understand it is DEFINITELY RISKIER using an extension cord over a hard-wired cord. Why?
One reason is that it is a temporary connection. Home wiring is connected with screws. The female end of an extension cord has only spring tension to make the contacts, and they can loosen over time. Loose connections can't handle rated current and will heat up. Another reason is the heat rating of the insulation, which is typically below that of permanent wiring.

Scenario: extension cord running from an outlet to above the garage door opener where there is no outlet. The garage door opener is now able to be used via an extension cord that is permanently stapled to the ceiling. It will NEVER (unless you move) be handled or get damaged.
That's not entirely true. Every time you raise and lower the door there is vibration that can help the staples cut into the insulation. This is how my garage door was wired when I moved in (with zip cord, no less!), and how it eventually shorted and blew the breaker.

Can someone chime in here to how hot or some more specific things why not coiled? What’s with the “bent” part? That seems kind of weak. Covering all bases? Extension cords are bent often when being used.
Coiling cords turns them into air-core inductors, and it is the magnetic field that causes issues. (To avoid this, lay them out in a figure-of-eight pattern.)

A right-angle bend at either end can damage the connection to the cord's plug or socket. For the rest of the cable, "bend" should probably be "kink". In order to avoid damge to the insulation, a minimum bend radius of 4 times the diameter should be used.
 
  #23  
Old 02-12-12, 09:10 AM
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A unheated shop I worked in used 120v electric space heaters for personal comfort. We had self-retracting extension cord reels. One of the employees left a heater plugged in to an almost fully retracted extension cord reel over night. Luckily it was setting on a 1/2" thick steel table. All that was there in the morning was a scorched melted lump of mixed plastic, like the whole reel had been put in an oven. The boss' comments to the employee can't be posted here.
 
  #24  
Old 02-12-12, 12:39 PM
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Joe, do you know where they’d talk about my breaker box on their site?
Ok, I found it. It's a bigger panel than yours, but yours is also 10 years older. The GE incident I was referring to is the sixth from the top on the page I am providing the link for. I am giving you the whole page with other problem circuit breaker reports because it's interesting and everyone should be aware of these issues.


SaferProducts.gov | Search Result

I hope I am not violating any rules by posting this link. ray, if I am breaking any rules, please delete this post.
 
  #25  
Old 02-12-12, 03:25 PM
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Interesting link Joe. Thanks for posting.
 
  #26  
Old 02-12-12, 05:34 PM
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ray, what I found most interesting is that GE didn't bother to contact my friend after he had reported it to them till the CPSC contacted them about it. Then, he started getting calls from two separate GE offices, both wanting more information and then asking if they could have the panel back. But, that was about a week after the Federal investigator had picked it up.
 
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Old 02-12-12, 06:34 PM
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I'm not going to sleep well tonight
 
  #28  
Old 02-12-12, 07:40 PM
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hahahaha Justin, do you have a GE panel at home? Hey, a career idea for you Justin, you could do some research and maybe become a Federal investigator for the CPSC.

Sorry ray, we got off the topic of the thread.
 
  #29  
Old 02-12-12, 09:12 PM
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hahahaha Justin, do you have a GE panel at home?
Yup. Installed in June of 1996. I also see discolouration on the buss.

Hey, a career idea for you Justin, you could do some research and maybe become a Federal investigator for the CPSC.

I'm going to have too look into this.

Sorry ray, we got off the topic of the thread.
I don't think it would hurt if this was made a new thread. Or I guess I can just shut up.
 
 

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