Causal Argument- LBirch

Smoke Detectors: The Source of Fire

Smoke detectors are an essential tool for your household safety, just like a lock on your door. Detectors play a huge role in fire safety, alerting an occupant when there is smoke in a building or house and allowing them enough time to exit without harm. Detectors seem to be easy to install, and are thought to require little to no care or attention. But with that belief, most detectors can become faulty and do not operate, or can even lead to a risk of starting a fire itself. Shorted wires or bad batteries can all be leading causes of these detectors catching fire, and both of these people do not check regularly. Without the appropriate maintenance of the detectors in your home, it is possible that the thing that alerts you of a fire is actually the cause of the fire.

The smoke detectors in your house are either hard-wired, meaning their main power source is from your house, or a battery-operated  detector, which gets its power from a battery. There are many battery options for a detector, but the most common and efficient battery is the lithium battery. According to Arthur Lee’s report for the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission,  “In recent years, the market has offered battery-powered residential smoke alarms with long-life batteries of up to 10-years. The batteries are lithium 9-volt batteries…” But what is not known is the dangers of these long-life, lithium batteries. Lithium batteries do have a history of shorting out, causing a fire. In an article by Battery University, the author discusses safety concerns of lithium batteries and times where they have failed. “In 2006, a one-in-200,000 breakdown triggered a recall of almost six million lithium-ion packs. Sony, the maker of the lithium-ion cells in question, points out that on rare occasion microscopic metal particles may come into contact with other parts of the battery cell, leading to a short circuit within the cell… Quality lithium-ion batteries are safe if used as intended. However, a high number of heat and fire failures had been reported in consumer products that use non-certified batteries, and the hoverboard is an example”. Of course a hoverboard is not a smoke detector, but if the batteries are the same in the two, there is certainly a risk of a fire.

On the other side of battery-operated detectors are hard-wired detectors. As it should be noted, hard-wired detectors also use batteries, but only as a backup power source. The main source of power, however, uses wires. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), home electrical fires account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year. It is also stated that electrical distribution systems are the third leading cause of home structure fires. In an article published by CRM Risk, lists many ways a fire can be started due to wiring. Physical damage to wires or other electrical equipment can cause a fire and installations can also become damaged or deteriorate with age. Overloaded circuits used with large fuses and circuit breakers can result in overheated wires, breakdown of insulation and eventual short circuits. These circuits will produce high amounts of heat, which can lead to fire.

Structure fires are already a concern for homeowners and to add to their worries, an safety device that has been known to help may turn into a time bomb. The wrong wiring or a bad battery could possibly turn this safety device into a fiery piece of plastic. People should not need to worry about this device along with the many other things in a home. But you may need to be concerned about even the most object, like a smoke detector.

 

References

BU-304a: Safety Concerns with Li-ion. (2018, January 4). Retrieved February 27, 2018, from http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/safety_concerns_with_li_ion 

Common Causes of Electrical Fires. (2012, December). Retrieved February 27, 2018, from http://cmrris.com/news-manufacturing-details/20/common-causes-of-electrical-fires.html

Home Electrical Fires. (2015, February 4). Retrieved February 27, 2018, from http://www.esfi.org/resource/home-electrical-fires-184

Lee, A. (2002, June 28). Preliminary Test Results on Lithium Batteries Used In Resident Smoke Alarms. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/lithiumfinal.PDF

 

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2 Responses to Causal Argument- LBirch

  1. davidbdale says:

    This is strong work, LB, and reasonably argued. A rational person who wants to protect his home, believes in caution, appreciates a level-headed consideration of the facts, and has the money to spend on fire protection, would likely be persuaded by your essay to proceed with care in selecting, installing, and maintaining smoke detectors in good working order.

    That’s a pretty small audience for your message. 🙂 I wonder if you would consider being a little more of an alarmist on one side or the other if it meant saving some lives?

    Too many red flags might discourage readers from using detectors at all. But too few precautions increases the chances of an undetected house fire. How can you best advise your readers?

    P1. Your first paragraph compares a smoke detector to a door lock. But a better analogy would be a comparison to a home security system (burglar alarms). Locks might prevent entry (fire detectors don’t prevent anything), but burglar alarms (like smoke detectors) alert residents to a problem. Right?

    P2. You’re very much back-and-forth on the perils and benefits of batteries, LB. In one paragraph you switch from: They’re efficient, to They last 10 years, to But they Short and Cause Fires, to They’re subject to Recall, to They’re Safe when used right, to However Non-Certified Batteries suffer heat and fire failures, to But that wasn’t in Home Use, to But There’s Still a Fire Risk.

    My suggestion is that you start with a very clear and categorical claim that:
    1. The biggest danger of undetected fire is in a home without detectors.
    2. After that, a home protected by detectors with old or faulty non-certified batteries.
    3. After that, the safest home is protected by detectors using fresh, intact, certified batteries that are regularly inspected.
    Once that hierarchy is known, the rest of your claims will be easier to place on the spectrum.

    You can emphasize both the positives and negatives here, LB. The fire danger of bad detectors (battery or hard-wired) are real and serious. But they can be mitigated by careful selection, installation, and maintenance. And in no case are they WORSE than just “taking chances.”

    One more thing about batteries. For anyone who has forgotten, the lithium batteries that burst into flames could do so on a bedside table, or downstairs in the foyer, or in the overhead compartment of an airplane (and they did so in all those locations). To really grab the attention of a casual reader, you might want to lead with that Causal Chain of events as a way to emphasize the importance of not cheaping out on non-certified batteries.

    P3. The other way you can build some drama into these paragraphs is to run through the chain of events that leads to a hard-wired failure. Do you want to warn inexperienced homeowners against installing their own wired detectors? They’d be more likely to wire them poorly or overload circuits. Don’t you have an anecdote about a particularly nasty house fire that resulted from one of these frayed wires, stressed circuits, or “cheat fuses”? Homeowners who install only one set of detectors probably don’t locate them well, either, further arguing in favor of professional installation.

    Ironically, self-installation probably contributes to another reason for detector failure. Too many false alarms resulting from locations too easily triggered by cooking smoke cause residents to disable the very devices they installed to keep themselves from burning in their beds.

    That might be enough feedback for now. I don’t want to discourage you. This is a fine first draft with great promise. Let me know if you find anything of value here, or if you need clarification.

    You may also put the post back into the Feedback Please category after responding and revising.

    Like

    • lbirch141 says:

      Thank you for the feedback, Professor. It is not discouraging, just showing what I need to fix and improve on. I will continue to improve of this and ask for feedback after revising.

      Like

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