Monday, August 2, 2010

In Hot Water Once Again

I have three times before posted about those hot water urns that are used on Shabbos and the fact that the majority of them, particularly the ones sold in the "frum" stores, don't have the UL on them.

I tried being a good samaritan and sent some letters and emails to the various anglo-Jewish publications, asking that they inform people that most of the urns are not UL approved and why they should buy only UL urns. In addition, I wrote to the company that manufactures many of those urns that you see for sale in the frum stores.

So far the response to my correspondence is zero. Not one paper decided this was important enough to even put in a small boxed item in their publication. The manufacturer never replied. I can almost understand why the manufacturer didn't reply--sales are brisk on urns and it seems obvious that people are buying them without the UL, so why bother changing.

Here's what my next step is: it's time for the smaller publications. Does your shul have a newsletter or bulletin or Internet site? Does your area have a news list? Please ask them to put in a small announcement to check that any urns have the UL and to urge people to only buy the UL urns. If you're in one of your local stores that carry the urns, and they don't have any with the UL, tell them you won't be buying from them until they start carrying UL urns, and that you'll be telling your friends not to buy either. Social networking sites are always so full of chatter--why not do your friends a good turn and post something that warns people that they are taking their lives into their hands if they buy the non-UL urns? Wondering whether you should tweet and twitter about your upset stomache or your hemorrhoids? How about a brief warning instead to only buy UL urns. And yes, please, if you are a blogger, regardless of the subject matter of your blog, please post a public service message for the frum olam about the urns.

We've got three-day shabbos/yom tov coming up. Those urns are going to be plugged in and on for three days at a shot. Sure, the non-UL urn you have now has never blown all your circuits, has never shorted out, has never had its thermostat malfunction so that it heats water above a safe temperature. Sure, the outside has never gotten so hot that it could burn you if you touch it. Sure, the circuitry seems perfectly insulated and protected. Aren't you lucky--and how unlucky others have been.

Here's the thing--Jews are forbidden to rely on miracles, and that's what you're doing when you use those non-UL urns. If you enjoy playing Russian roulette, I've got a Colt 45 to lend you. But please, stop playing the game with those urns. Please help to get the word out that urns need a UL.


frum single female said...

wow, i never realized that many of the hot water urns are not UL listed. thank you for the alert.

Trudy said...

What I don't understand is why our government doesn't require that all consumer electronic products that mix water and electricity be UL certified. Even those dummies in Washington have to have heard that mixing water and electricity is an accident waiting to happen unless some real precautions are taken.

Back when you posted the first articles on this I just couldn't believe that a hot water urn of all things wouldn't have the UL--and sure enough mine didn't. It does now.

Anonymous said...

Our urn comes from Wal-mart, it is UL Certified. The outlet it goes into is a GFCI outlet. Safety first.

Lion of Zion said...

i assume non-UL listed products are cheaper, so consumers don't care.
i also assume that the profit margin is much higher, so why should retailers care.

(do you really have a colt 45?)

Robbie said...

There are a few issues here Lion. Go to a frum store that sells the water urns you see in most houses and you'll discover that the non UL ones are all made overseas, in areas where cost of production is low. Even with shipping to the states, the profit margin on these urns is stupendously high. Now look at the few UL urns that only some of these frum stores sell. The price is at least double in these stores. The profit margin is all on the retailer's side, not the manufacturer's side. Most of those urns are made overseas also. Same low production prices. But the cost of getting the UL does not double the price.

Here's the other thing. Frum Jews are going to buy those urns, no matter what the price. So if a store carried only UL urns they would have no trouble selling them, even if they kept the price double (which is a real rip off on their part).

Lion of Zion said...


"The profit margin is all on the retailer's side, not the manufacturer's side . . ."

what you say is logical, but do you know this is so for a fact?
i don't know anything about electronics, but i work in a different area of retail where the wholesale cost for a branded product is higher (even 20 times higher) than the non-branded product. in some cases the brand and non-brand look identical and are even made in the very same factory, with literally the *only* difference being the label.

(on the other hand, although it's still early for my annual arba minim rant, my understanding is that the etrog importers pay by the unit not by quality. so they pay the same for the $10 chinuch etrog as they do for the $500 super mehudar)

Robbie said...

Lion I worked in a large appliance store while in college. All the urns sold were branded--there is no generic or non-name brand urn. Some of the urns carry the name of manufacturers that may be better known out in the secular world. Some of those urns were actually manufactured in the same plants overseas but with a few cosmetic changes to make them look different enough from the others and with different names attached. There were some color or material differences. But they basically all came to us at about the same exact wholesale price and the markup is incredible, even on sale.

A few of the UL urns are made of heavier materials with added protection for the consumer. These urns did charge more wholesale, but not so much more that a price of $60 and up should be charged for them.

Lakewood Falling Down said...


Lakewood Falling Down said...

Seriously, that's terrible. I'll post it in my RW shul and let you know how long it takes someone to scream at me about damaging the frum stores parnasah this close to yom ha-din.

rescue37 said...

Before (actually it's already to late) you go crying wolf, how about some statistics. How many fires have been started, how many more injuries have their been with the non UL vs the UL certified? There are enough of the non UL all around the different comunities that if there was such a major problem we would have heard something by now. All UL means is that the produce has been tested and is know not to catch fire during normal usage. I think there has been more than enough usage of the non UL urns to aleviate most of your fear.

Anonymous said...

I worked as a nurse in pediatric surgery for over 9 years. I can't tell you about electric malfunction of shabbat urns, but I can tell you that most burns we encountered were caused by the urn being knocked over. Not surprising, since until relatively recently, most Israeli model urns were tall and narrow with spindly legs holding the base, which made them particularly unsteady.

My electrician husband strongly recommends having the cord shortened so the unit has to be close to the wall with little cord to be pulled. You also might consider attatching it to the wall with hoops.

Unsafe at any speed.

ProfK said...

Rescue 37,

Interesting choice of words you used--"I think there has been more than enough usage of the non UL urns to aleviate most of your fear." Only MOST of my fear? I am personally knowledgeable about 3 incidents with the non-UL urns.

In one case a woman had damp hands, touched the outside of the non-UL urn in just the "right" place, and got electrical shock necessitating medical care for electrical burns. Another involved a two-year-old--yes, our communities have plenty of those and in most homes access to the urns is not difficult for that two-year old. He quite easily managed to pull over the urn on top of himself (as mentioned by the nurse above, a lot of these non-UL urns have a design flaw of being too tall for the size of the base supporting them) which immediately poured its contents over his head and upper torso--the top had no safety lock to prevent the contents from forcing the lid open as soon as water pressure hit it. He required skin grafts and spent a year in and out of the hospital. In the hospital they also discovered burns on his palms inconsistent with hot water burns but consistent with electrical burns. The pattern on his palms indicated that he must have placed his palms on the rounded side of the urn and received an electrical shock. The third case was of a man who made himself a cup of coffee using the water from the urn. He took a large sip of the coffee and burned his tongue sufficient to raise a large blister on it. The thermostat on the urn had malfunctioned and was heating that water to a temperature way above boiling.

So no Rescue, not dozens of stories, just 3 that I personally know of,(and who knows how many of the incidents with the urns do not end up in the burn unit of the hospital but are treated at home or in a regular doctor's office and are not heard of outside?) and that's three too many. My tolerance for burns is zero. If there exists something like the UL to warrant that the electronics are safe in usage, why take the chance of becoming a statistic? Throw the dice often enough and you just might come up a winner--or a loser in the case of the urns.

Allen said...

This should be a plain matter of common sense. If two products exist that do the same thing and one of them has the UL and one doesn't, buy the one with the UL. No, your non UL urn might never cause you any harm---but it could, so why take the chance? Do there have to be hundreds of examples before someone lets common sense take over?

There is no electrical appliance in our home that is not UL. Why would I make an exception for the urn? Because some jewish company is producing those non UL urns and they might have to spend a few pennies extra to get the UL?

Maybe there aren't all that many people who got injured with the non UL urns and maybe there are lots but the burns were small and not reported, but I wonder what those who did get injured would say about those non UL urns now? Would they also say the possibility is small to get injured so why pay more? Or would they learn from their experience that playing russian roulette with an urn is not the way to go?

Anonymous said...

I was in a cousin's house yesterday and saw that her urn was not UL so I mentioned that the UL ones are safer. Her husband chimed in that it's just another government ploy to get control of us and make us pay more to them and that there has never ever been one time that an urn without the UL has injured someone so would I please shut up and stop shilling for the government.

I could add that this person is very much to the right and that her husband and therefore her family thinks that all things secular are suspicious and that the government is out to get us in everything. I'm wondering if some of this is not playing out in other homes where there are no UL urns. Could this be being done b'dafka?

Lion of Zion said...

i think RESCUE37 raises a fair question. what percentange of injuries by non-UL products would have been prevented if they were UL? but my instinct is with PROFK.


"would I please shut up and stop shilling for the government."

a) i think UL is independent of the government
b) what's wrong with shulling for a government that props up so many of our families?


thanks for clarifying