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Published on
July 13th, 2023

Fire Hazards in Apartment Buildings: Avoid Danger with These Electrical Upgrades to Pre-War Buildings

In January 2022, an electrical fire at Twin Parks North West in Fordham Heights claimed 17 lives. It was a significant loss and highlighted the risks of outdated electrical systems and inadequate safety knowledge.

Many New York City buildings are pre-war structures with electrical infrastructure that predate current codes. Property owners must prioritize electrical upgrades to prevent fire hazards in apartment buildings. Discover electrical upgrades for your pre-war properties that can prevent future tragedies.

Preventing Fire Hazards in Apartment Buildings With Electrical Upgrades

New Wiring

Many pre-war buildings used copper wiring to supply electricity to units. While copper and other conductor materials can last many decades without issue or interruption, the wiring insulation cannot.

Newer insulation materials are flexible and can handle years of use, but older insulation becomes brittle with even the slightest movement. Without proper maintenance or upgrades, the covering may peel or fall away, leaving exposed wiring — a significant fire risk.

Beyond the risks of poor insulation, a pre-war building may have an undersized electrical infrastructure for existing appliance and consumer demands. To ensure adequate electrical supply, building owners must invest in rewiring. Still, rewiring may not be enough to bring pre-war buildings into the current century and compliance with recent code changes.

New Electrical Panel

A common issue in pre-war properties is the presence of discontinued distribution boards and breakers. While old electrical panels may still operate, they are certainly not up to code and create significant fire hazards in apartment buildings.

An out-of-date panel is likely ill-equipped to handle current electrical demands and unable to regulate electrical flow correctly. An insufficient system creates a risk of electrical overload. When a system demands too much current through a set of wires, it can overheat and melt the wires, exposing the surrounding building materials to excess current and heat.

Upgrading your electrical system most certainly means increasing your panel capabilities. A new panel ensures your property can handle newer circuit demands; it also brings your property current with existing NYC electrical and fire codes.

New Load Capabilities or Transformer Capacity

The electrical demands of the pre-war era, typically from 1900 to 1939, were significantly less than modern needs. It is common to find pre-war apartments that still use 100-volt outlets with limited amperage supply. Modern appliances typically require 220-volt service with a minimum of 120-volt outlets.

Attempting to use high-voltage appliances in low-voltage systems can damage the devices. Also, when systems try to pull more power than provided, there are risks of fires, especially if older wiring is losing its insulation.

Bolt Electric can help you eliminate electrical fire hazards in apartment buildings by upgrading your property’s infrastructure. If you are going to upgrade the old wiring, you might as well replace or upgrade outdated panels.

New Outlets and More of Them

Pre-war apartment buildings typically lack sufficient power outlets for modern tenants. Also, the outlets are often two-prong only, further restricting their usefulness. The buildings may also lack the GFCI outlets typical of kitchens and baths.

While two-prong outlets may work, they can also lead to bad habits. Many tenants have appliances with three-prong plugs, and without a place to plug them in, they may use cheater plugs or adapters, or worse, they may break off the ground plug to make it fit.

A cheater plug does not function the same as the built-in appliance connection. It may not provide adequate protection against an electrical surge, potentially damaging an appliance or sparking a fire. The same issue occurs when tenants break off the ground prong to make a plug fit an outlet; the plug no longer protects against surges and risks fires or appliance damage.

Also, because pre-war buildings may not have enough outlets in each unit, tenants may use a surplus of extension cords and power strips, presenting fire hazards in apartment buildings. To prevent fire hazards, building owners can look into adding outlets to units along with necessary electrical infrastructure upgrades. Upgraded outlets can include GFCI, three-prong outlets, and outlets with USB charging options.

Hardwired Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Every apartment building in New York City must have carbon monoxide and smoke detectors throughout the main areas and within individual units. While battery-operated detectors are adequate, they are not as efficient or reliable as hardwired options.

As you consider upgrading your electrical system, you may want to think about installing hardwired fire and safety tools. Hardwiring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors ensure superior performance. Even in power outages, hardwired devices have a battery backup for continuous monitoring.

Bolt Electric can assess your building to determine compliance with existing electrical codes and help you find the best locations for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If you are planning to upgrade the electrical system, adding hardwired safety features shouldn’t be an issue.

Electrified Door Closers and Emergency Exit Signs

Fire containment and labeled fire escape routes help reduce fire hazards in apartment buildings. While mounted fire escape plans are excellent visuals, in low-visibility situations, lit pathways are best. Hardwired emergency exit signs with battery backups help guide tenants to safety along with emergency lighting.

Electrified door closers help to contain a fire and prevent it from spreading or at least slow it down; the devices also prevent the rapid spread of smoke, maintaining visibility as long as possible. The closers typically attach to fire doors, and they keep a doorway open until an alarm system activates them.

The age of a pre-war building usually means it has undergone extensive retrofits through the years. As a new owner, you must focus on current codes and bringing old, sometimes pieced-together systems into the modern century.

Resolving Fire Hazards in Apartment Buildings

Working With Bolt Electric To Bring Pre-War Buildings Up-To-Code

Outdated and insufficient electrical systems present fire hazards in apartment buildings, and the only way to resolve those issues is with infrastructure upgrades. Contact Bolt Electric at 212-734-5000 to discuss the electrical needs of your pre-war property and schedule an inspection of its current electrical infrastructure.

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