Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dummies, Electricity, and Spray Foam Don't Mix

Dummies, Electricity, and Spray Foam Don't Mix

This is a guest post by my friend, Rebecca Hundt. I had no idea she was such a talented writer! She's graciously allowed me to post it to my blog. Misery loves company and her story sure brightened my day! Thank you, Rebecca!

I hate Scentsy air fresheners. They're made from petroleum solvents and are toxic. They smell gaudy, and I'm allergic to perfumes. They give me a headache and exasperate my hay fever.

My downstairs neighbors have a different opinion. They love the stuff. They love Scentsy products so much that they want to share it with the world. Their favorite scents spill out of their apartment into the stairwell and parking lot.

It also seeps into my apartment.

Building codes state that apartments must be individually sealed as a firestop. However, these aren't well-built buildings. Odors pass through cracks and holes in the walls and into the shared spaces behind the drywall. Volatile organics such as perfume rise as they evaporate. I'm on the top floor and this is where the smell collects.

I complained to the manager. I told her how I couldn't open my windows or use my balcony. I also told her how the smell seeps in, even with the doors and windows shut. She looked at me as if I were a crazed hypochondriac. After all, she's a Scentsy Product Sales Associate, and she would never sell a toxic product to the people in apartment D204, her best customers. How can something pretty be toxic?

Seeing that I would get no help from her, I set about smell-proofing my apartment. I caulked around the windows and doors. I sealed the cracks in the drywall. I got a carbon air filter for my central air system. I bought a can of aerosol spray foam and sealed the holes in the drywall under the sinks from the plumbing.

I was proud of myself. The smell was almost gone. There was only one source of smell left: the outlets.

Armed with foam and a screwdriver, I removed the outlet plate. Sure enough, there was a gap between the drywall and outlet box, so I sprayed. The nozzle straw fell off the can and foam sprayed everywhere. The wet foam expanded in the entire outlet box and hit live wires. Thankfully, the circuit breaker tripped, and I wasn't electrocuted.

But I did panic.

Visions of electrical fires flashed through my mind. Eviction, fines, and costly repair bills followed. Worse of all, I'd lose my deposit.

I ran to the electrical panel and turned the power off to the outlets. I grabbed my vacuum cleaner and sucked out the wet foam with the hose attachment. Not all of it would come out however, but I did the best I could. I put the plate back on and turned the power on. I plugged a fan into the outlet and turned it on.

Nothing happened.


I turned the power back off and pulled the plate from the box and vacuumed again. The foam was now almost dry. Again I put it back together and turned the power back on.

Nothing happened.

It was time to admit defeat. I’d have to call the manager to get it fixed. But first, I'd have to hide the evidence of my spray foam stupidity.

I turned the power off and pulled the entire outlet out of the box. Using an old toothbrush I brushed off what I could of the remaining foam...a task easier said than done. It was in nooks and crannies, under wires and everywhere else. I couldn't get it all, but most of the evidence was gone. I put it back together and turned the power back on.

I went to the kitchen sink to scrub foam off my hands. As I washed, my eyes landed on the outlet above the counter, specifically the TEST and RESET buttons of the GFI, the Ground Fault Interupter. The RESET button was tripped.

I then realized that the foam had indeed shorted the circuit, tripping the breaker as well as the GFI, preventing my electrocution.

I hit RESET and sure enough, the outlet worked.

I'm not sure if dry spray foam is flammable and "electronically safe". The instructions on the can were unclear on what to do in this situation.

My apartment hasn't burned down...yet. My deposit is safe...for now.

My new vacuum cleaner, however, has a clogged filter.

And I can still smell that damn perfume.