Tuesday, August 28, 2012

In Hot Water Again

After the news of the last few days, I would very much love to hear about a zillion people taking purveyors of Shabbos hot water urns to a din Torah, or filing suit in secular court.  It is not exactly a secret that the vast majority of the hot water urns sold for Shabbos/Yom Tov use are not under the UL--Underwriters Laboratory.  And yes, I'm not going to be l'chav z'chus and say that the owners of these stores have no idea what the UL is or that there are UL certified urns.  If you sell electronic items you need to be knowledgeable about those items--ignorance is no excuse.

News of three accidents that happened with non-UL urns.  One urn overheated and shorted out the electrical system in the owner's kitchen, leaving them in the dark and with no hot water for Shabbos. Sparks from the shorting out urn also put burn marks into the kitchen counter.  Also cost a small bundle to repair the shorted out system.  Two urns with the bottom spigots that were overturned and had no reliable safety feature to keep the top closed when someone applied pressure to the spigot handle to get hot water into a cup.  In one case an adult got scalding on his body; in the other case a young child got scalded from the head down.

A lot of the stores selling these urns don't carry any UL urns.  Generally, those white urns with the flowers on them are not under the UL.  One brand that is UL certified is made by Innovative Consumer.  It's a brushed stainless steel outside and inside finish.  There are a few stores in Brooklyn which sell this model.  Call first and save yourself a trip to a store that won't have a UL urn.

You could also try querying UL--Underwriters Laboratory--for a more complete list of the urns they certify.

Note: one of those injured by a non-UL urn actually knew that UL urns existed but mentioned that she was waiting for her old urn to wear out and then she would replace it with a UL one.  Please, there is being money conscious and then there is taking an unwarranted risk with your safety.  With Yom Tov coming in a few weeks and all the added hot water use, now is the time to prepare for the new year with safety in mind.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Last time you posted about the urns I asked my shul to include some info on the safer urns in the shul monthly bulletin. Didn't happen until early this summer when someone's kid got hurt by one of the unsafe urns.

Why does it always seem to take a disaster before groups in our communities will do something sensible?

JS said...

First, it's l'kaf z'chus. Not sure why people think it's l'chav, that's not a word.

Not sure what you mean by shorted out the electrical system. Kitchen outlets should be ground-fault protected and trip on their own if there's an electrical problem. Further, the breaker/fuse itself should trip before there's any damage. What happened exactly? Is this a really old house with electrical problems?

Also, being in the dark without hot water isn't so bad when you considering the house could have caught fire.

I think the larger issue is to make sure your house is wired properly and is done to code. We found all sorts of problems in our house that we had to repair.

I hope the people injured are OK.

I refuse to buy any "frum" electrical products. I've heard similar horror stories about electric "platas"/warming trays. There are "secular" versions of these products made by reputable companies - they're often cheaper and work far better. Orthodox Jews aren't the only people who like hot water and hot food.

Finally, for yom tov you can just use the stove top. :)

Miami Al said...

I love my instant hot water system for making tea and instant coffee... For Shabbat, we use an "urn" we bought at Walmart, it's a percolating coffee urn with the percolating part removed... It was < $20 and has lasted a few years, and it's fully UL certified.

But JS is right, if the device shorted out, the ground fault should trip. Ideally, the ground fault is handled at the circuit breaker (does on newer homes), but most homes have those GFCI wall jacks. Having a normal wall jack and a normal breaker in the kitchen is asking for trouble.

Yes the outlets are $15-$20 (vs. $1-$3 for normal ones), but it makes a BIG difference.

Modern code requires Arc Fault breakers in bedrooms. If you use a bunch of plug-in devices (like floor lamps), give serious consideration to having an electrician bring your bedrooms up to code as well.

Oh, and have a smoke detector/fire alarm in every bedroom. You can buy a $20 one with a 10 year battery life in it.

It's the 21st Century, ships of inexpensive consumer goods come from China every day. There is zero reason to buy an expensive electronic item that is only sold in Brooklyn. Seriously, that's a REALLY bad idea.

The "plata" has some Halachic advantages, but since nobody uses them and people tend to Blech them since Rabbis who never saw a physics text book have overridden University educated Rabbis on the matter, there is zero reason to use one...

Miami Al said...

I love my instant hot water system for making tea and instant coffee... For Shabbat, we use an "urn" we bought at Walmart, it's a percolating coffee urn with the percolating part removed... It was < $20 and has lasted a few years, and it's fully UL certified.

But JS is right, if the device shorted out, the ground fault should trip. Ideally, the ground fault is handled at the circuit breaker (does on newer homes), but most homes have those GFCI wall jacks. Having a normal wall jack and a normal breaker in the kitchen is asking for trouble.

Yes the outlets are $15-$20 (vs. $1-$3 for normal ones), but it makes a BIG difference.

Modern code requires Arc Fault breakers in bedrooms. If you use a bunch of plug-in devices (like floor lamps), give serious consideration to having an electrician bring your bedrooms up to code as well.

Oh, and have a smoke detector/fire alarm in every bedroom. You can buy a $20 one with a 10 year battery life in it.

It's the 21st Century, ships of inexpensive consumer goods come from China every day. There is zero reason to buy an expensive electronic item that is only sold in Brooklyn. Seriously, that's a REALLY bad idea.

The "plata" has some Halachic advantages, but since nobody uses them and people tend to Blech them since Rabbis who never saw a physics text book have overridden University educated Rabbis on the matter, there is zero reason to use one...

abba's rantings said...

PROFK:

just last week i went to a local popular frum electronics store to buy an urn. remembering your original post on UL, i looked for it. the only one with UL was the old fashioned one. all the others were not marked UL. i asked the sales guy and he said they are not UL but they are ETL. i didn't know what this is and in any cases the boxes were not marked (at least on the outside) ETL. i googled it at home and got this:
http://www.intertek.com/marks/etl/
not sure what it is or how good it is.

abba's rantings said...

JS:

"it's l'kaf z'chus. Not sure why people think it's l'chav, that's not a word."

1) the mobile sheva under the lamed renders it an open syllable, hence the kaf that follows must be fricative "kh" rather than plosive "k." so technically, proper dikduk dictates that the good professor is correct with l'cha (and l'ka would be wrong). of course none of this really matters either way, as it is very rare that substituting obstruent speech sounds in hebrew produces a real qualitative lexical shift.
2) wrt f vs. v at the end of the word: note that v and f are both labiodental fricatives. in english the distinction is that the former is voiced and the latter is unvoiced. in certain european languages, e.g., german, the v is actually voiceless, and hence in transliterations one finds v and f interchanged. even in popular discourse the two sounds are used interchangably. e.g., most people say rifky rather than rivky. (as an aside, this caused a problem for me when i studied german and anatomy at the same time. as i was frequently in german mode, i made a lot of mistakes on anatomy exams, e.g., writing vemur instead of femur.)

abba's rantings said...

JS/AL:

the neighborhood i live in was built mostly in the 1920s; much of the city as a whole is that old or older. unfortunately, outdated electrical work is is standard. i don't think most people realize this or understand the implications.
we spent about 5k on electrical work when we moved in (really the only work we did). nothing fancy, mostly just new wiring, upgrading the panel, etc. we probably could/should have done more.
i asked my lawyer at the time if we could "force" the owner to replace (or pay to replace) the federal pacific panel, which is a known safety risk (google it). he laughed and said i can ask for anything i want, but generally only issues particular to the house are negotiable. but federal pacific panels are in every other house in the neighborhood. i thought to myself, wonderful, the whole neighborhood is one big fire trap. and did it really matter that i upgraded my electrical if the very neighbor that i share a wall with still has the 1920s wiring, panel, outlets, etc.

JS said...

Abba's,

Thanks for the information! Was very interesting. I has a suspicion it was "chaf" and not "kaf" and thought maybe there was some beged kefet thing going on (as that is the only Hebrew grammar knowledge I semi-possess - thank you yeshiva education!). As for "f" and "v" when I see transliterated Hebrew, "f" is a "phey" and "v" is a "vet" so I assumed the thought was the word is spelled lamed-chaf-vet and not lamed-chaf-phey sofeet.

We also had a Federal Pacific panel and immediately replaced it when we bought our house. Of all the things to do in your house, making sure your electrical wiring is safe is paramount in my mind. The previous owners did a lot of shoddy work with lousy contractors. It's amazing to me that people will put in a new bathroom, but not give a second's thought to basic electrical safety.

ProfK said...

Abba,
From what I've been able to discover the ETL designation is no longer being used since the company is now officially Intertek, not ETL. Of course, reading any government documents can make you dizzy enough to doubt you understand the English language.

At http://www.osha.gov/dts/otpca/nrtl/its.html,
the page for Intertek, the listing shows that no matter how old this company says it is--claiming its beginnings with Thomas Edison--it's first OSHA certified site was in 1989, other sites being certified well after that.

In addition, the site shows which standards Intertek is meeting for certification for its various products, and I found it funny that for most of its products OSHA shows that it is meeting UL standards. If UL is the acceptable standard that the government uses for these products, why not just get a UL product? I suppose you could argue that it's a question of competition and pricing, but I haven't noticed any real price difference between UL urns and the non-UL urns, so why not go with the "brand name" here?

I wonder, do they give special courses to government employees to teach them how to write in "governmenteese"? No one learns how to write English the way government documents are written.

Observer said...

Anyone who tried to sue a retailer would lose, unless the retailer claimed that the item was UL (or otherwise rated) when it wasn't. These items are legal to sell. It's the responsibility of the purchaser to be careful of these things.

You can be sure of one thing - purchasing pressure works on Frum establishments of all sorts, just as for non-frum establishments. If consumers stop buying non-UL (or equivalently rated) products, then the retailers won't carry them. It's that simple.

Frum Engineer said...

First off, you should be aware the the UL certification generally has to do with electrical safety.

Any hot pot can be tipped over unless you bolt it to the table.

Regretfully, once tipped over, the hot water can, G-d forbid, burn people, short out electrical items and ruin non-waterproof furniture.

What UL requires is that when the pot starts to overheat, either from using up all the water (by cheating by tipping to get the last cup or two) or from it tipping over and the water spilling out, that the pot automatically shuts off.

All of the Shabbos urns that I have had over the years (both spigot and pump varieties) have had this feature. They have also all had lids that locked on so that a tipped pot shouldn't have all of the water come out at once.

Whether the frum brands have the same quality as common brands is an entirely different question.

As for the ETL mark, it is very much still in heavy use. The original company was acquired, but is very much alive and well.

ETL does not develop standards, which UL does. In both the case of UL and ETL, their mark indicates that an item has been tested as being in conformance with the appropriate safety standards.

ETL is a major certified testing laboratory used by many mainstream companies.

I hope this clarifies some of the misunderstandings posted above.