From The Leviton Institute

Reprinted from Leviton Institute

Vol. 2

Table of Contents

Click here for PDF version of this news letter

Home Office Lighting Can Improve Productivity

An adjustable desk lamp will illuminate the desktop without reflecting glare on to the computer screen.
If youíre looking for ways to be more productive in your home office, one solution may be right at your fingertips: the light switch.

A recent study found a clear link between lighting, job performance and job satisfaction. For example, when workers were able to adjust lighting levels in and around their work areas, the work was perceived as being less difficult.  But in many home offices ó especially those that have been converted from dens, basements or bedrooms óthe lighting wasnít designed with the worker in mind. The result may be eyestrain, blurred vision, fatigue or headaches, as well as lower productivity. 


 Fortunately, itís easier and less expensive to improve home office lighting than to change the lighting in a commercial office building. Here are a few easy-to-do lighting tips from the Leviton Institute that can make a big difference.

In a home office, there are generally two types of illumination to consider: ambient lighting and task lighting. Ambient light ó including daylight as well as ceiling fixtures ó provides general room illumination. Youíll want to be able to control and balance these two ambient lighting sources to achieve glare-free illumination and the right atmosphere for the entire space.

To control natural light, many people choose window blinds or shades because they are easy to adjust for varying outdoor lighting conditions. Look for solutions that help diffuse the light coming into the room, so you wonít have glare or hot spots. And, if you can, take advantage of north-facing windows. The old masters set up their painting studios with northern exposures because the lighting is even, soft and indirect.

For artificial light, you have a lot of options, from ceiling fixtures and floor lamps to track lights and table lamps. Fluorescent lights are a good choice for home offices because they provide even lighting with less glare.

But you donít necessarily have to install new fixtures; instead, consider replacing incandescent light bulbs with the newer types of fluorescent bulbs that screw into regular light bulb sockets. They last up to 13 times longer and use a lot less electricity than standard incandescent bulbs. These modern fluorescent bulbs also use electronic ballasts, which eliminate annoying problems of light flicker and noise associated with older fluorescent fixtures.

In an office building, workers usually canít adjust the ambient light. But home office lighting can be a lot more flexible. For example, to maintain a good balance between natural light and artificial light, consider installing a dimmer switch.

Adjustable controls, such as dimmer switches, also allow you to tailor the lighting levels if different people use the office. Thatís important, because as we age, our need for room lighting increases. People in their fifties, for example, need three times more office light for reading than people in their twenties.

While ambient light provides good general illumination, task lighting provides direct illumination for activities such as reading, writing and computer work. Since the furniture layout in most home offices is designed around a computer and workstation, the Leviton Institute recommends an adjustable desk lamp. It will illuminate the keyboard or another area on the desk, without reflecting any glaring light onto the computer screen.


Countdown to Convenience: New Digital Timers for the Home
Have you ever walked through your house in the morning and discovered that a light has been left on all night? Or come home after work to find that an exhaust fan has been running since early in the morning?

New digital timers remember to shut things off when you forget. The latest generation of digital timers can be installed right in the wall, wherever you would put a regular wall switch. Some of the new timers even come from the factory with specific time intervals already preset.

A digital timer with factory presets is perfect for bathroom exhaust fans and heat lamps. The Leviton Institute offers these suggestions on how you can use these devices to add convenience and save energy:
  • In a bathroom, consider a timer with preset time intervals of 5, 10, 15 and 20 minutes to control a heat lamp or an exhaust fan. Simply push the button for the length of time you want the lamp or fan to be on; the timer will turn it off automatically.
  • Timers with longer preset intervals of 10, 20, 30 and 60 minutes are also available, as well as timers with 2, 4, 6 or 8 hours. These timers are ideal for controlling the heating units and motors in hot tubs and spas, or for a lawn sprinkler system.
  • To control outside lights, you might consider another type of digital timer that can be programmed for even longer time intervals. Once you set the time of day and length of time you want the lights to be on, these timers will automatically manage your outdoor lights every day of the week.
  •  For added convenience, look for digital timers that have a built-in battery-powered memory backup. In the event of a power failure, the battery continues to power the timer, so there is no need for you to reset the timer once power is restored.
"Digital timers are an inexpensive investment for the homeowner and add a lot of convenience," says Anne Marie Grady, a spokesperson for the Leviton Institute. "And because they are digital, these new timers are more reliable than the older types of timers that are plugged into a receptacle."

Wall-mounted digital timers can be purchased at home centers and hardware stores. Be sure to match the timerís electrical rating with the device it will be controlling. For example, some timers are designed for exhaust fans and indoor room lights, while others are rated for heavy-duty motors and heating units, such as those used in spas and hot tubs.

Digital timers are easy to use and easy to install, although some homeowners may prefer to have them installed by an electrical contractor.

The Leviton Institute is the educational arm of the Leviton Manufacturing Company. Its mission is to educate consumers, specifiers and others about the benefits of todayís electrical wiring devices and systems, and to promote the safe use of electrical devices in the home


Special Precautions Required for Older Aluminum-wired Houses
If youíre living in a house that was built between the years 1965 to 1973, thereís a good chance your home is at increased risk for electrical fires if it has aluminum house wiring. During that period, about 1.5 million homes were wired with aluminum wiring because copper wire was too expensive.

Unfortunately, this older aluminum house wiring proved to be a poor substitute for copper. Research conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach "Fire Hazard Conditions" than a home wired with copper.  After 1973, copper once again become the predominant wire used in new house construction, renovations and rewiring.

For those homes that have aluminum wiring, a few simple steps can help prevent some of the potential hazards. The Leviton Institute recommends that homeowners consider calling in a qualified electrician to inspect all the switches and receptacles in their homes and, if necessary, replace them with devices made specifically for aluminum wiring. These devices carry the designation of CO/ALR, which stands for copper/aluminum.

Underwriters Laboratory lists CO/ALR devices primarily for use with aluminum wire because they use special metals at the terminal areas that are compatible with aluminum wire.

Aluminum wiring has "Al" or "Aluminum" marked every few feet along the length of its insulating jacket.

CO/ALR wiring devices, like the one shown above, have special terminals designed just for aluminum wiring.

How can you tell if your home has aluminum wiring? One way is to visually inspect the bare wiring at the circuit breakers in the panel box. Look for the silver color typical of aluminum wire. You can also identify aluminum wire by visually inspecting any exposed house wiring, such as the wires in an attic, garage, or unfinished basement. Aluminum wiring has "Al" or "Aluminum" marked every few feet along the length of its insulating jacket.

Also watch for the warning signs that typically precede a serious electrical problem. These signs include faceplates on outlets or switches that are warm to the touch, lights that flicker on and off, circuits that no longer work, and the smell of burning plastic at outlets or switches. Because of the potential dangers posed by aluminum wiring, the Leviton Institute advises homeowners not to open, disassemble or touch any electrical panels, devices, or components if you are not familiar with aluminum wiring.

Other areas in the house that should be inspected include lighting fixtures, such as chandeliers and outdoor porch lights, and appliances that are wired directly to a branch circuit, such as an air-conditioning unit.

If you suspect that your home has aluminum wiring, have a qualified electrician conduct a thorough home inspection. Even room additions or circuits rewired or added between 1965 and 1973 may contain aluminum wiring.


Tips on Plugging into Greater Outdoor Electrical Safety
With each passing year, it seems there are more electrical tools and appliances designed for outdoor use. From leaf blowers and lawn mowers to electric grills and car vacuums, more devices are being plugged into outdoor receptacles than ever before.

The Leviton Institute recommends that homeowners replace standard outlets with GFCI outlets in outdoor locations, where damp and wet conditions can create a risk of electrical shock. Protective rain covers offer added protection, ensuring that cords and receptacles stay dry.
Although the National Electrical Code (NEC) now requires Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) for virtually all outdoor receptacles, homes built before 1980 may have had standard receptacles installed outdoors. If that is the case in your home, the Leviton Institute recommends that you upgrade those receptacles with GFCI receptacles. Installation of GFCIs isnít complicated, since theyíre the same size as standard receptacles and are wired in exactly the same way.

Some homeowners may question the need for GFCI receptacles, believing that the circuit breakers or fuses in their electrical panel box provide all the protection they need. But thatís not the case. Circuit breakers are designed to protect homes from an electrical fire caused by overheated electrical wires. They shut off the power if too much current is being carried by the house wiring, or if there is a short circuit.

GFCIs, on the other hand, are designed to protect people from potentially fatal electrical shocks. They work by comparing the current on the "hot" lead (the wire carrying the current into the receptacle) and the current on the "neutral" lead (the return wire). If the currents are mismatched even by a tiny amount, it means current is leaking somewhere along the circuit. When a leak is detected, the sensitive circuitry in the GFCI will shut off the power almost immediately, virtually eliminating the risk of electrocution.

Dear Editor: All of the articles and photography/illustrations in this supplement are available electronically for your use. Simply go the Leviton Manufacturing Website at and click on the button for the Leviton Institute.


Motion Detectors Are Key Part of a Home Security System
One of the simplest and smartest precautions you can take to make your home less appealing to a thief is good outdoor lighting. Nothing deters a thief more than the possibility of being seen by you or a neighbor while trying to break into a house.

Yet keeping outdoor floodlights on all night may be inconvenient and expensive. The solution: Install a motion detector to the outside of your house to control your security lights.

Motion detectors are programmed to react to body heat. When they detect the presence of a person, they automatically turn on the outside lights they control. They also shut the lights off when they no longer detect the presence of body heat.

Since motion detectors monitor a specific field of view, their location on the outside of the house should be thought out carefully. Here are some guidelines from the Leviton Institute for selecting and installing motion detectors.

Field of View:
Two basic types of motion detectors are generally available. One type has a narrow field of view of 110 degrees. The other has a wide field of view of 200 degrees.

If you want to monitor a large area in front of your house choose a detector with a wide field of view. To monitor a more limited zone, say the side of the house, choose a motion detector with a narrow field of view.

Because motion detectors are activated by body heat, they tend to work more reliably when it is cold outside, and less reliably in the summer months when thereís less difference between air temperature and body temperature. However, the latest generation of motion detectors use temperature compensation technology that allows the device to detect a person, regardless of the outside temperature. When shopping for a motion detector, the Leviton Institute advises that you look for this new feature.

Where you install your motion detector will also affect its performance. Most devices are sensitive for distances up to
50 feet when installed at a height of 10 feet. This is enough coverage to adequately monitor a driveway and front walkway. Typically, motion detectors come in a rain-resistant, thermal plastic housing, and are mounted under the eaves for maximum effectiveness and protection from the elements.

Look for motion detectors that will allow you to adjust both the angle of view and sensitivity. This will help prevent false triggering. For example, if you donít want your outdoor lights to go on whenever your neighbors pass by your house, you can decrease the detectorís field of view.

How many motion detectors are needed to provide a comprehensive security blanket? The Leviton Institute recommends that you consider installing two detectors: one to monitor the back yard and one for the front of the home.

Motion detectors can be purchased at home centers and hardware stores, and are easy to install, though some homeowners may prefer to hire a qualified electrical contractor to do the work.


Easy Way to Save Dollars on Your Electric Bill
Electric utility experts estimate that more than 20 percent of all electricity generated in the United States is used for lighting. And half of that energy is wasted. So what can you do about saving some of that energy in your own home?
You could ask everyone in the family to turn off room lights when they arenít needed. But if you have young children, active teenagers or forgetful adults in the house, itís one thing to ask, and another thing to get them to cooperate.

Hereís a better idea from the Leviton Institute: Install occupancy sensors. They could help save a few dollars each month on your electric bill.

An occupancy sensor automatically turns lights on when someone enters a room, and then turns them off once the person leaves the area. In the home, theyíre ideal for closets, basements, garages and hallways.
Theyíre inexpensive devices and can be purchased at home centers and hardware stores. Since theyíre designed to replace a regular wall switch, theyíre easy to install and inexpensive. Occupancy sensors do more than save electricity. For older or disabled people, they can make it easier and safer to get around the home and help prevent falls. Recent studies indicate that unintentional injury, which most often results from a fall, ranks as the sixth leading cause of death among people over 65 years of age. Thatís why the Leviton Institute recommends the use of occupancy sensors in hallways and bathrooms for older and disabled people.

The Leviton Institute is the educational arm of the Leviton Manufacturing Company. Its mission is to educate consumers, specifiers and others about the benefits of todayís electrical wiring devices and systems, and to promote the safe use of electrical devices in the home.

Occupancy sensors provide hands-free lighting control and can save electricity. They also make a home safer and more convenient for older and disabled people.


New Study: Many Installed Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters Donít Work

Lightning, power surges take their toll and can put people at risk

A new study from the Leviton Institute found that a high percentage of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) installed in homes didnít work when they were tested, and might not protect people from an electrical ground fault.

A ground fault can occur when current "leaks" from an electrical circuit Ė for example, through damaged wiring or a defective appliance. GFCIs are designed to detect ground faults and shut down the circuit if they occur. 

The GFCI Circuit Breaker Field Study, sponsored by The Leviton Institute, reviewed data from 13,380 building inspections and found that 15 percent, on average, of GFCIs were inoperative when tested.he study looked at both GFCI circuit breakers and GFCI receptacles, and found similar failure rates for each. The data suggested that lightning strikes are one likely culprit in many inoperative GFCIs. The study found a much higher incidence of failure in areas where lightning is prevalent. In those regions, as many as 58.2 percent of GFCIs were found to be inoperative.  


If your home is equipped with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter receptacle, the Leviton Institute advises that GFCIs be tested monthly to ensure they are functioning properly. To conduct the test, simply follow these steps:

  • Plug a lamp or appliance into the GFCI receptacle.
  • Turn on the lamp or appliance.
  • Push the "TEST" button on the GFCI receptacle. If the GFCI is working properly, the procedure should turn off the power to the lamp or appliance.
  • Push the "RESET" button on the GFCI. This should return power to the GFCI receptacle and re-illuminate the lamp. If the power did not go off when you pushed the TEST button, there is an electrical problem that should be corrected by a licensed electrical contractor.

"GFCIs donít last forever," said Steve Campolo, lead investigator in the study. "Voltage surges from lightning, utility switching and other sources all take their toll on the units. Thatís why Underwriters Laboratories requires that GFCIs be tested monthly."However, the study suggests that many homeowners either arenít conducting these tests or are ignoring the results.

New "Lockout-Action" GFCI Offers Greater Protection
The RESET button will not operate if the GFCI trip mechanism is damaged. Power cannot be restored when the GFCI does not provide ground fault protection.
Traditional GFCI designs may compound the problem. For example, as indicated in the study, most GFCIs will continue to deliver power even if ground fault protection has been compromised. "Itís natural for users to assume that all is well if the GFCI is still delivering power," Campolo said.  New "lockout-action" GFCI receptacles now coming on the market offer greater protection. If the GFCI is tripped, it canít be reset unless itís working properly.

The study used data collected by home inspectors who met membership requirements of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

The Leviton Institute is the educational arm of The Leviton Manufacturing Company. Its mission is to educate consumers, specifiers and others about the benefits of todayís electrical wiring devices and systems, and to promote the safe use of electrical devices in the home


How To Choose a Replacement Electrical Cord

If you need to replace the electrical cord on a lamp or appliance, youíre likely to find a bewildering selection on display at your local hardware store or home center. To help you select the right cord for your needs, the Leviton Institute offers the following four guidelines:

Guideline One: Determine the gauge of the copper conductor used in the cord. This is easy, because the gauge is shown right on the cord as a number followed by the letters AWG. AWG is the abbreviation for American Wire Gauge used by the electrical industry as a standard measurement of electrical wiring.

For example, typical house wiring is 12 AWG, while lamp cords are usually 16 AWG. The lower the number, the thicker the wire. Thinner wire is used for lamps and smaller appliances that donít draw much current. Thicker wire is used for power tools and appliances that make heavier electrical demands.

Why is this important? If you were to use thin lamp wiring for an appliance that draws a lot of current, such as an electric space heater, the wire would quickly overheat and could potentially start an electrical fire.

Guideline Two: Pick a replacement electrical cord with the same number of conductors as the one being replaced. Lamps and other smaller appliances typically use cords with two conductors. Larger appliances and power tools use cords with three conductors, one of which is the ground wire.

An easy way to tell how many conductors you need is to check the plug on the wire being replaced and match the new wire to the number of prongs. A three-prong plug requires a cord with three conductors and a two-prong plug needs a cord with two conductors.

Guideline Three: Choose a replacement cord with the same type of insulation as the original cord. Electric space heaters, for example, are required to use cords with a thermosetting insulation, which prevents the cord from melting. Look for the letter "H" on the cord, or simply ask the salesperson for special heater cord.

Guideline Four: Your replacement cord should have the same construction as the cord you are replacing. Lamp cords are usually flat, and the individual conductors parallel to each other. This type of cord is limited to indoor use and light duty.

Appliance cords are usually round and have larger diameters because they are made using two layers of insulation over the copper conductors. The individual conductors are insulated and a second layer of insulation, called a jacket, is also applied.

If you have any questions about selecting the right replacement cord, the Leviton Institute recommends that you bring in a section of the original cord and ask for the assistance of a knowledgeable salesperson.


Electrical Contractor Network