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Wolfkamp's Villa Reno

Switchboard safety with AFDDs

Builder Peter Wolfkamp is best known for dispensing DIY wisdom on popular tv show The Block NZ – but when it came to his own renovation he was only too happy to take some advice on how best to protect his new investment, and those living in it, from electrical fires.

Wolfkamp’s latest project is an historic cottage in Devonport, a seaside suburb in Auckland where he and his family also live. The 95 square metre cottage dates from around 1905 and sits in a row of similar houses, all fairly close together in a tree-lined street. With its original sash windows and delicate fretwork now restored it’s easy to see the beauty of the home, but Wolfkamp says it was in “a fairly sorry state” when they bought it, with plans to renovate and rent it out.

While the experienced builder took on the repiling, strengthening, re-roofing and insulation, he called in the experts when it came to the electrical.

Outside of older home

View from older home

Front door of older home

PDL switchboard

The game-changing AFDD

Paul Sievers owner of Devonport Electrical and a licensed electrical inspector himself, checked out the property soon after its purchase and recommended new wiring throughout, given the building’s age and lack of maintenance, along with a new PDL switchboard.

Having worked with PDL products on The Block NZ, Wolfkamp visited the PDL Vision Studio Showroom in Auckland, where Home Solutions Consultant Robert Knight explained all the electrical safety options available.

“This house is in a heritage area and when you do have a fire in an old house it tends to spread really quickly,” says Wolfkamp. “I wanted to be absolutely sure that I was using the latest and best technology to ensure the safety of this house and everyone in it.”

Already familiar with circuit breakers and residual current devices (RCDs), he was intrigued to learn about PDL’s Arc Fault Detection Devices (AFDDs) – essentially an early warning system that can be installed into new or existing distribution boards to help prevent electrical fires.

PDL Switchboard

AFDD's

Circuit breakers and RCDs can protect against short circuits, overloads and fatal electric shocks, but an AFDD detects electric arc faults before they ignite and will trip to disconnect the power to that circuit.

Arc faults are one of the most common causes of electrical fires and can occur in damaged cables, poor connections or old wiring. Insulation in a cable that is damaged or old can let current leak out, generating heat and carbonizing the material around it, which in turn becomes more conductive and generates a bigger arc.

Even in new houses, squashing a cable underneath furniture, overloaded multi-boxes behind a desk or pushing a bed up against a plug in the wall can all increase the likelihood of dangerous arcs that are invisible to us until the cable and socket eventually catch fire.

“As builders, we can become complacent and think we know everything, but there’s new technology coming out all the time,” says Wolfkamp. “The fact that there are now devices that you can readily install into your existing distribution board to ensure that (an electrical fire) doesn’t happen seems like a really sensible solution… so that’s been a really good discovery for me.”

Electrician Paul Sievers

Who needs AFDDs?

rc Fault Detection Devices are ideal for homes of any age where a number of devices are left plugged in, where there may be squashed or damaged cables, locations with higher probability of rodents, or simply where the wiring may be old.

PDL’s AFDD Product Manager, Martin Scottorn, says they are particularly useful for those renovating, or for rental properties.

“New Zealand has a high number of older homes that contain old cabling. Renovations or even earthquakes can disturb these cables causing higher risk of electric arcs. To rewire a home can be costly, depending on the construction of the home itself. An alternative to a total re-wire can be the use of AFDDs, which have been approved by many insurance companies as a way of mitigating risk.

“They’re also good in rental properties where a landlord has no control over what tenants are plugging in, or the condition of the equipment or multi-boxes that are in use.”

Scottorn also recommends considering the use of AFDDs in other locations such as where there are irreplaceable goods or emergency evacuation could be difficult or slow.

Peter Wolfkamp agrees that AFDDs provide great peace of mind for those renovating. “If you’re in a house that’s had a renovation or a series of additions over time and you don’t know everything about all of those electrical circuits, then adding these AFDDs to the distribution board will give you some security around the safety of those circuits.”

As an electrician Paul Sievers recommends discussing AFDDs with your electrical contractor early on, as the installation is straightforward but AFDDs do require extra space in a switchboard.

Bringing the past into a new future

For Wolfkamp, the discoveries along the way on his renovation project have ranged from the historic (uncovering the original chimney and finding pieces of old timber that he plans to use for shelving) to the modern-day, with AFDDs now a key part of the new switchboard and a must-have for future projects.

He says it’s been incredibly satisfying to see the Devonport cottage brought back to life after 100 years of history. “This place was pretty neglected, so to bring back some of the heritage elements, to be considerate of its environment and where it’s located in the street and in the community means I feel pretty proud that we’ve done something to restore this old house.”

And with Arc Fault Detection Devices now a part of the home’s electrical solutions, it’s set up for many more years to come.

Arc Fault Detection devices are branded as Schneider Electric, and can be purchased through your electrician or electrical wholesaler.

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