neighborhood safety conundrum

  • Active since 1995, Hearth.com is THE place on the internet for free information and advice about wood stoves, pellet stoves and other energy saving equipment.

    We strive to provide opinions, articles, discussions and history related to Hearth Products and in a more general sense, energy issues.

    We promote the EFFICIENT, RESPONSIBLE, CLEAN and SAFE use of all fuels, whether renewable or fossil.

RustyShackleford

Minister of Fire
Jan 6, 2009
1,338
NC
I'm come across a serious issue, and I don't know what I should do. Penny for your thoughts ...

We bought a vacation house in a small mountain town. There are a number of houses here built by the same builder with a more or less identical floorplan. (Fortunately it's so steep and wooded here that it's not at all obvious).

I've been doing a bunch of work on it. The other day I went to replace a ceiling fan. I was astonished and horrifed to find that the only thing holding the fan up was the flimsy sheet metal trim piece that's meant to cover the mounting bracket, the ball at the top of the downrod, and the wiring. Needless to say there was no bracket at all. The trim piece was simply secured with 3 tiny sheet metal screws, with the ball hanging in the opening in the trim piece. Unsurprisingly, the box was not a fan-rated one. I replaced the box and installed the new ceiling fan properly.

I was hoping this was a one-off thing. But I posted this to a neighborhood chat room, and already someone else has reported finding the same thing (in one of the more-or-less identical houses). So it's not a one-off, and I think this strongly suggests that the same thing will be found in ALL the similar houses. I think it's a serious safety issue. The room has a vaulted ceiling with the fan mounted very near the top. I think it could kill a person if the fan fell on their head. I assume this was done by the builder's electrician; oddly, the electrical wiring appears to be well done (there is no relationship between this house and the one for which I reported a bunch of crazy electrical wiring stuff I found, a few months back).

What should I do:

(1) Nothing.

(2) Talk to the building inspector (the town straddles a county line, so it'd actually be two building inspectors).

(3) Report this to the building inspectors anonymously. (I've been doing a bunch of work for which I probably should've gotten a permit, so I'm not that eager to get on the inspectors radar in a major way).

(4) Talk to the guy who's kind of a de-facto mayor; he knows everybody, he was the seller's real-estate agent when we bought the place, he mentioned that he knew the electrician (when he was showing us the place).

(5) Call the press.

(6) Something else.
 
How long have they been that way? When was the last earthquake that was strong enough to rattle a fan?

My guess is you are not the first person to find this.

If it were me I’d probably make a little flier with my name address and what I found saying they might want to check theirs and stick in everyone’s doors. I’d sleep better knowing i did something.

From your description I’m guessing the most likely failure mode is probably the screws backing out.
 
  • Like
Reactions: fbelec and tlc1976
Bought a house in 1994. Built in 1990. Foundation not built to code. Other issues. Developer was going bankrupt. Houses built when ours was had issues.

My attorney wasn't returning my calls. Another attorney looked into it for me. My attorney's brother was the city inspector that signed off on the house.

Another attorney said town wil go into delay mode making me accumulate attorney fees until I give up. Will be better just to get foundation repaired. Small town politics. Ugh.
 
  • Like
Reactions: MJSullivan56
Well, I don't need to get any money from the town or anything.

Sounds like there's a suggestion the building inspectors might not want to hear about this - if they're like many bureaucrats, and don't want something that creates more work for them and/or causes them to need to acknowledge that they did something wrong.

Maybe the best approach is simply to try to get the word out to as many homeowners as possible - with the leaflets suggested above, or perhaps via social media.
 
Is there even a building inspector in your town?. When I did a 20 million dollar project in eastern NC in a town that was a county seat about 15 years ago, there was no building inspector and definitely not an electrical inspector. Many resort type communities in western NC are rural towns and my guess is no inspection/no certificate of occupancies. On the same project, only one licensed electrician needed to sign off on the overall project even though we had a lot of electricians on site doing 480 volts 3 phase with a bit of 4600.

Odds are its an apprentice that is long gone. Best to let the neighbors know and be done with it.
 
yeah, the less the bureaucrats know, the better. I'd just print up something and tuck it in the neighbor's
doors. (there are still a LOT of people that don't do social media).
 
  • Like
Reactions: tlc1976
How many houses? If a dozen, I'd take the approach of just letting neighbors know about it, personally. If four hundred, I'd be calling the building inspectors. You want to let people know about the issue, but don't need to make it your life's work.
 
I'm come across a serious issue, and I don't know what I should do. Penny for your thoughts ...

We bought a vacation house in a small mountain town. There are a number of houses here built by the same builder with a more or less identical floorplan. (Fortunately it's so steep and wooded here that it's not at all obvious).

I've been doing a bunch of work on it. The other day I went to replace a ceiling fan. I was astonished and horrifed to find that the only thing holding the fan up was the flimsy sheet metal trim piece that's meant to cover the mounting bracket, the ball at the top of the downrod, and the wiring. Needless to say there was no bracket at all. The trim piece was simply secured with 3 tiny sheet metal screws, with the ball hanging in the opening in the trim piece. Unsurprisingly, the box was not a fan-rated one. I replaced the box and installed the new ceiling fan properly.

I was hoping this was a one-off thing. But I posted this to a neighborhood chat room, and already someone else has reported finding the same thing (in one of the more-or-less identical houses). So it's not a one-off, and I think this strongly suggests that the same thing will be found in ALL the similar houses. I think it's a serious safety issue. The room has a vaulted ceiling with the fan mounted very near the top. I think it could kill a person if the fan fell on their head. I assume this was done by the builder's electrician; oddly, the electrical wiring appears to be well done (there is no relationship between this house and the one for which I reported a bunch of crazy electrical wiring stuff I found, a few months back).

What should I do:

(1) Nothing.

(2) Talk to the building inspector (the town straddles a county line, so it'd actually be two building inspectors).

(3) Report this to the building inspectors anonymously. (I've been doing a bunch of work for which I probably should've gotten a permit, so I'm not that eager to get on the inspectors radar in a major way).

(4) Talk to the guy who's kind of a de-facto mayor; he knows everybody, he was the seller's real-estate agent when we bought the place, he mentioned that he knew the electrician (when he was showing us the place).

(5) Call the press.

(6) Something else.
Heck, not only should you call the building inspectors, but code enforcement and sewage enforcement as well.
I bet your septic systems are just leeching toxic waste into the watershed and local environment.

If you want to have your entire community hate you, do the above.
Or maybe do the human thing and reach out to the people suggesting they have a good home inspections because you've found a few things that may or may not be because of the builder or previous home owners "unconventional" construction methods.

There isnt a single home that I have seen from oldest to newest that doesnt have some sort of stupidity built into it.
Then you can get into the actual building materials themselves. Lead paints, asbestos flooring, toxic chemicals in OSB, Plywood, Carpets, Furniture....
 
  • Like
Reactions: tlc1976
I wonder if rental agencies would want to know? They probably don’t have any liability but might want to contact owners.
 
The reality is that the fan install was just as likely completed by a clueless painter, as by the electrician. This might explain why the electrical work looks Kosher, but the fan was installed in such a stupid manner. The electrician could have been told to leave all ceiling fans in a corner of the room, to be installed after taping and painting was completed.

The same could have happened with recessed light trims, and any other ceiling fans in the house.
 
I would leave the lawyers and bureaucrats out of it. Like you, others have probably done odds and ends to their house and don’t want inspectors digging around when not asked.

Either put a little something in people’s doors, saying several of us found this ceiling fan safety issue and you should check yours. Only thing is with watchful eyes and doorbell cams, they will know it’s you.

If you want to remain anonymous, mail them out with no return address, but that would be a lot of work and cost.

Another option would be through the neighborhood chat room, perhaps you could get enough people aware that people start talking and a neighborhood busybody decides to spread the word. If they want get bureaucrats involved, at least it’s not you who sent them.
 
when ceiling fans first came out their was no such thing as a ceiling fan box they were just mounted to the normal box with some small screws... Never seen one come down im assuming when those places were built how they were hung they were to code or to manufacturer specs.. The only time you really have to worry about that not holding if the fan is really out of balance. I live in a older home and my ceiling fan has been up for over 10 years with no signs of coming down
 
The reality is that the fan install was just as likely completed by a clueless painter, as by the electrician. This might explain why the electrical work looks Kosher, but the fan was installed in such a stupid manner. The electrician could have been told to leave all ceiling fans in a corner of the room, to be installed after taping and painting was completed.

The same could have happened with recessed light trims, and any other ceiling fans in the house.
hey another thing I see ALOT in 'the woods'.
1. It's just a camp excuse. I hear that so many times. SO what, you just went ahead and built a deck off the back of your house ten feet off the ground using nothing but 4x4s for support 12 feet away from your house holding up all that dead and potentially live weight? Ok well tell the 20 people that just broke their legs/backs that, 'it's just a camp'.
2. The local hardware store can be an hour away, closed by 3:45, and people tend to scrounge around and use stuff they just have available to them, because after all - it's just a camp.
 
  • Like
Reactions: fbelec
I'm convinced. There's a Facebook group and a Nextdoor group here. Will post to both of those.
 
  • Like
Reactions: EbS-P
I'm convinced. There's a Facebook group and a Nextdoor group here. Will post to both of those.
Do that at the most and then forget about it. There is zero reason to approach the AHJ, they’re not responsible for things missed on inspection.
 
There is zero reason to approach the AHJ, they’re not responsible for things missed on inspection.
What ?!? Isn't inspections there whole reason for being ?

But, I am not trying to assess blame - I'm just trying to prevent someone from getting hurt.
 
  • Like
Reactions: fbelec and EbS-P
What ?!? Isn't inspections there whole reason for being ?

But, I am not trying to assess blame - I'm just trying to prevent someone from getting hurt.
No, the inspector is not responsible for things he missed. I've actually been a building inspector for a short time until I could hire a new one. The contractor/owner who made the mistake is responsible.
 
  • Like
Reactions: MJSullivan56
Moot point, if the goal is simply to prevent injury, rather than assign blame.

How many houses affected, Rusty?
 
Do that at the most and then forget about it.
Why "at most" ? Do you think it could be problematic to bring this up on social media ?

How many houses affected, Rusty?
Really not sure - I'm guessing fifty.
 
I would be concerned about other short cuts that might have been taken in your house.
 
  • Like
Reactions: NHWS and fbelec
@RustyShackleford kudos to you for giving a damn and actually doing something about it.
There's too much of the opposite going on nowadays.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ashful
Really not sure - I'm guessing fifty.
Number is low enough that in the right kind of neighborhood, you could just spread the warning word-of-mouth. Let the half dozen neighbors in your daily circle know about it, tell them to spread the word.
 
Why "at most" ? Do you think it could be problematic to bring this up on social media ?


Really not sure - I'm guessing fifty.
why would it be problematic? Because your bringing up something that may have been code when the homes were built, Not to mention their are 10000's of ceiling fans installed with the same boxes and manufacturer hardware with never any issue. You want to fix yours then go ahead but no reason to pannic other people because their fan is installed like so many others without failure.
 
You want to fix yours then go ahead but no reason to [panic] other people because their fan is installed like so many others without failure.
"More than 19,700 people a year are injured by ceiling fans that are improperly mounted or incorrectly sized, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International, an organization that focuses on electrical safety in the home and the workplace."

... or if you prefer specific cases: https://www.osha.gov/ords/imis/accidentsearch.accident_detail?id=14317457

This isn't really a situation of debatable practice, it was installed without the proper bracket, and into a box not rated for fans atop that. If his neighbor's child is killed by a fan falling on their head, he's going to feel mighty terrible and partly responsible for not at least saying something, no matter how many thousands of other fans may or may not be improperly installed elsewhere in this country.
 
Last edited:
"More than 19,700 people a year are injured by ceiling fans that are improperly mounted or incorrectly sized, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International, an organization that focuses on electrical safety in the home and the workplace."
Thanks for this. I think some people (including my wife) think I'm being a bit alarmist. Like many gov't wesbites, I find this one incredibly difficult to navigate. Could you send me a link to the lust of ceiling fan accidents, if it's in your history somewhere ? The link you sent is for one incident.