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Electrical Fires Declining Because of Materials Like Vinyl

Jan 2011

Each year, just over 40,000 residential fires are started by electrical distribution equipment such as wiring, cords, fuses and plugs, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Those 40,000 fires cause more than 300 deaths and over $600 million in property damage.

10 Tips for Fire Safety

  • Install smoke detectors
  • Keep an eye on smokers
  • Cook carefully
  • Plan your escape from fire
  • Give space heaters space
  • Matches and lighters are tools,not toys
  • Cool a burn
  • Use electricity safely
  • Crawl low under smoke
  • Stop, drop, and roll

Source: National Fire Protection Association

Although these numbers may seem high, they’ve been steadily declining over the past several decades. New technologies and the development of fire-retardant materials for electrical distribution have helped to make that decline possible.

Today, one of the leading materials used as a protective sheathing for wires and cables is vinyl, a durable, fire-resistant plastic. The U.S. military first discovered vinyl’s superior performance in electrical applications during World War II, soon after it was developed as part of a quest for “synthetic rubber.”

After the war, vinyl wire jacketing moved rapidly into commercial use, replacing the fabric braid coverings commonly used at the time. Fire retardance and reliability were two of the most significant advantages vinyl held over fabric; vinyl’s chemical makeup makes it inherently flame resistant, and its durability resists moisture and abrasions that could disrupt electrical service.

“Some people are surprised when they hear that the same vinyl used in their house siding, toys or car upholstery is also used to provide safe and reliable electrical service,” said Tim Burns, president of the Vinyl Institute, a trade association for vinyl manufacturers. “What all these different applications have in common is that they must be durable and reliable, and that’s what vinyl provides.”

In the past 50 years, vinyl has moved into commercial, industrial and residential telephone systems, power cables and rigid indoor and outdoor conduit. Today, more than 615 million pounds of vinyl are produced each year for electrical and electronic products alone, and vinyl commands about half the market for these products.

It has gained such a market share due to its combination of crucial performance qualities, important to both electricians and homeowners. Fire safety, of course, is one of the most significant benefits. Vinyl resists ignition and contains flame spread, which could prevent a fire from starting or contain its scope. It is also valued by electricians for its good dielectric performance (meaning that it does not conduct electricity), as well as its versatility in a variety of applications – flexible or rigid, thick or thin, and in nearly any color.

“Vinyl helps to ensure that we can continue to enjoy all the conveniences of modern day life – from our computers to our microwaves – safely,” said Burns. “Homeowners should feel good about having vinyl electrical components in their homes.”