Bzzzt

Where our children learn

I’ve been pulling wires and connecting circuits in this garage/ apartment I’m building, so I’ve had to learn some things. Such endeavors keep me going, even when the knees hurt on the ladders and the hip aches with heavy loads.

Building inspectors are good guys generally, even when they criticize. They teach. I’m open to learning. I don’t like silly regulations any more than the next guy, but a lot of the work I’m doing will be covered up and now’s the time to do it right.

I had to learn about arc fault circuit breakers, AFCI’s. They are the new item in electrical panels. “New” means in the last twenty years. The National Electrical Code added the requirement in 1999. I remember, ten years or more ago, when the legislature reviewed the new State electrical codes and approved the requirement. Idaho only mandated them in new or updated construction in rooms where folks would be living or sleeping.

Old fashioned breakers detect excessive current. Arc fault breakers detect when there a loose connection and an arc occurs. This can be a source of fires. About 25,000 fires a year, with hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in damage are attributed to bad wiring. But that number is declining, thanks to building codes and inspectors.

We remodeled a house ten years back and had a new subpanel installed. The electricians testifying before our Senate committee had talked about “nuisance tripping”. So, when the renters’ vacuum cleaner kept stopping and starting, I knew the problem. The testifying electricians said the AFCI’s were getting better and there was less of this happening.

But that brings me to the story a good friend told me about her classroom. She’s a schoolteacher. She told me about a student coming up to her complaining of the sound coming from an outlet near his desk. She checked it out. The faceplate was a bit blackened, and there was a distinct “Bzzzzt” sound coming from the socket. No smoke or flame, just that annoying sound. She called maintenance, put some orange tape over the socket and moved the kid’s desk.

I’ll bet none of our schools in this district, old as they are, have AFCI’s.

In my last session in the legislature, I got an update from the State Building inspector about a school in my district. They had found a dangerous problem. Seems a generous citizen had offered to put some extra lights in a hallway where it was pretty dim. Trouble was that the mounting screws had pierced the roof membrane and snow melt was dripping into the fluorescent fixtures. The problem got fixed, but it wasn’t cheap.

I’m trying hard to let my local inspectors help me do things right. I figure it will be cheaper in the long run.

We sure don’t do much for our school buildings in this state. We make any bond funding hard to pass with the 66% approval requirement. It’s not like some in the legislature are not aware of the problem. To their credit, they asked for a study. It told them, among other things, that to get 2/3rds of our public schools up to “good” condition, it will cost about $850M.

It’s pretty clear there’s no stomach to address this issue amongst our current legislators, or our governor. They just decided to cut taxes by $600M. But our conservative legislature did pass a law a few years back requiring schools to spend 2% of their budget on building maintenance. The national standard is 3% for maintenance, and 4% for upgrades.

Further, the Idaho House just passed a bill to limit how often schools can try to run a bond election to try to address their buildings with local funds.

Don’t expect much help from Boise on this issue. But check out the outlets in your kid’s school next time you visit. Listen for the “Bzzzt”.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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