Thus far the damage caused by Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia coastal areas is in the $20 billion-plus range, and flood waters are still high in many parts of North and South Carolina. The hurricane went from a Category 5 level to a tropical storm that hovered over the area for many days, bringing serious rain and high winds that wreaked havoc on power lines and infrastructure and caused serious destruction to electrical systems for homes and businesses.
The recovery and repair phase will take months to complete as the damage is still being assessed, but one pertinent aspect of the recovery is whether new or refurbished equipment should be considered when replacing waterlogged systems, be it for a day or a week.
“Water and electricity do not mix – you’ve got corrosion issues among other things,” said John Allen, President and owner of Product Safety Consulting, Inc., which helps companies obtain certifications and UL marking, as well as preliminary evaluations. “As soon as you open a UL certified product, you void the UL listing. This goes against the copyright laws because the logo is a registered trademark. You don’t know what they’re doing to the equipment, what modifications they made, whether they used materials that might not pass re-testing, and if they went back to UL to get the product re-tested to make sure what they changed or modified still passes? I would be selective with anybody I buy refurbished parts from.”
UL has a rebuilt equipment certification program, which includes circuit breakers, control panels, service panels, and other equipment.
Allen notes that distributors are very good at providing new parts and materials for post-disaster recovery. But he stressed waterlogged parts, even for a few hours, are not safe to re-use, which is why the National Electric Code (NEC) requires service panels to be placed at certain heights above ground level.
“They were not intended to be exposed to water and should not be used again after being exposed for any length of time,” he said, pointing out that most residential and commercial products are not designed to be waterproof.
He pointed out that reliable distributors sell parts with UL and other certifications and that reliable contractors install these parts. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations require employers to provide safe work areas which require electrical parts be listed, labeled, and certified by nationally recognized testing laboratories (NRTL), and that the NEC requires certain products be certified by an NRTL
“Most of your reputable contractors are going to do the right thing – put in good parts that have no liability issues,” said Allen, “and they’ll replace systems with new parts versus refurbished as much as possible.”
Allen’s firm also provides services to firms designing replacement systems following natural disasters, including hurricanes, to ensure they meet code requirements.
“A few years ago, after a hurricane,” he said, “a customer asked about refurbishing and they ended up replacing because we couldn’t get our hands around ‘can we UL this?’ When using refurbished parts, the first thing you have to do is confirm whether UL has a refurbished program for that component. If they do not, then you either need to write one or go to replacement, because to write in a refurbished program might take time and money.”
As most clients need to be up and running rapidly, new parts dominate post-disaster installations. This is particularly true because people want to live and work in safe places.
“Damaged systems pose a danger and I would have a qualified electrician go through the entire electrical system before energizing it,” said Allen. “Refurbished parts might work forever. You don’t know. There is an increased risk of fire and shock. I would have insurance companies involved, and if it’s a UL listed system, product or component, I would get UL involved as well. Regardless of the gap in prices between new and refurbished, you’re creating risks. I would go new.”
Bill Craven, the manager of State Electric Supply Co.’s Raleigh branch, is a strong believer in replacing damaged and compromised electrical components and wiring with new products.
“For anything that has been submerged,” he said, “the manufacturers will always tell you ‘it needs to be replaced.’ Electrical components are just not made to be submerged and the insurance companies I dealt with in the past on commercial properties that have had flood waters, stated that they won’t insure the properties unless the equipment is replaced.
“This covers everything electrical – they’ve all been compromised,” he added. “The ones you first notice are circuit breakers and panels, but what about the wiring in the walls? It’s a big deal as wire corrodes because of the contact it had with oil, sewage and other residues – you don’t know what was in the water.”
For the residential side, Craven explained that refurbished equipment is not an option.
“I’ve never bought refurbished parts – there is not a significant enough difference in price to make that attractive,” he said. “Some people would try to take advantage of the refurbished option, but you’re talking about $100 to $150 panels and circuit breakers from $3 to $10. If I’m a homeowner and making a decision of spending $500 and looking to save $100 to get something that is refurbished and doesn’t have a full manufacturers’ warranty behind it, the risk is too large – the savings are not enough and definitely not worth it.”
For higher amperage equipment in the commercial sector, Craven says there are some legitimate companies that provide refurbished material.
“There can be fairly significant savings from time-to-time depending upon how it’s purchased, what the scenario is, and how long you can wait,” he said. “When Siemens, Square D or GE build something, they’re doing it to a set of specs and they are warranting it. When people are in a hurry to replace something, after a flood or hurricane, some go to a third-party supplier and they might look at refurbished material, and then it’s a case of who do you trust? You will have certification issues and issues with insurance companies.”
Craven noted that labor is the biggest expense in replacing an electrical system.
“Therefore, don’t scrimp on the material because there’s too big a risk in using inferior material – it’s not worth it,” he stressed.Tagged with disaster recovery, hurricane, Hurricane Florence