Question: I think there is a widespread problem that might be worth your attention. We recently purchased a Black & Decker toaster oven equipped with a 20-inch cord. It is hard to imagine what executive decreed that a toaster must be used within 20 inches of an electrical outlet, but he must live in a different house than most of us. Because my wife is quite mechanically minded, and we were willing to put time and money into it, we took the device apart and modified it to provide a cord of usable length, as the manufacturer should have had the decency to do.
I wrote what I considered a polite letter to Black & Decker, suggesting they consider equipping electrical devices with removable cords, as, for instance, coffee pots have, so that consumers have the option of using whatever length of cord is appropriate. And I told them what means we had used to solve the problem they created.
In response, a spokesperson for the company said under no circumstances should any modification be made, and use of an extension cord was questionable, although she did concede that if one were so rash as to use an extension cord it should be one purchased from their service center.
It seems to be presumptuous for some executive to decide where an outlet should have been installed and to be so rigid in his thinking that he permits no flexibility in the use of his product.--J.M.
Answer: The spokesperson for Black & Decker wasn't the only one who cringed at the modifications that you made in the toaster oven's wiring. So did Wayne Menuz, associate managing engineer for Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in Santa Clara, Calif.
Do-it-yourself wiring on home appliances is very, very low on UL's list of advisable things to do--like not being on it at all. The potential fire and/or shock hazard--whether you're handy with wiring or not--is simply not worth the risk.
Quite apart from the fact that it's considerably more expensive to equip a home appliance with a removable cord (because instead of only one terminal it needs two, one on each end of the cord), the real reason your toaster oven has a 20-inch cord, Menuz says, is because that's the maximum-length cord that this sort of appliance can have if it's going to meet UL's standards. Why?
"When you have appliances with longer lengths, or when you have extension cords, there are just too many accidents, because the homeowner drapes the cord over a stove's burner or into the sink," Menuz explains.
"It's also been part of the electric code for several years that new homes being built have to have at least one standard electrical outlet every three feet around the perimeter of the sink. The appliances are also supposed to be accompanied by a safety-instruction leaflet that gives the reason for the cord length."
And just as there are maximum permissible lengths on cords for appliances such as toaster ovens and coffee makers, Menuz says, so are there minimum cord lengths for such appliances as vacuum cleaners--"about eight feet, as I recall." And the building code for several years has also specified that new housing has to have one baseboard electrical outlet at least every six feet.
Our contact with Black & Decker's household products consumer service department in Shelton, Conn., flushed forth the very same spokesperson for the company that you had contacted earlier, Gloria Fusco. And while she thought that she had explained to you the role that Underwriters Laboratories' approval played in these cord decisions, she concedes that something, apparently, fell through the crack in her response to you.
"Naturally, we certainly have to have the UL seal on our appliances, and we follow their standards to the letter. I'd be happy to explain it to the gentleman in more detail, though, if he wants to give me a ring" at (800) 323-1946.
Although a private testing laboratory, UL's standards are so highly regarded that the absence of the UL approval can effect a manufacturer's insurance rates. Some states and municipalities, a UL spokesman said, require the UL seal before an appliance can be sold.
If all of this fussiness about adequate wall and sink outlets sounds like a UL plot against the lowly extension cord, you're right on target. It is.
Q: When my husband died several years ago, I became sole owner of our home, which was, and still is, free and clear.
My widowed sister has come to live with me, however, and as a protection to her--I have no other heirs--I am considering having the house put in both of our names. Is the paper work very difficult and would a lawyer be necessary?--A.C.
A: The paper work itself, according to Debra Fink, a staff attorney for the California Assn. of Realtors, isn't all that big a deal. Virtually any title company can provide you with a "grant deed" form on which you designate your sister as the joint tenant with you.
The title company, for a nominal fee, will handle the whole thing, including the notarization and the filing of the deed with the county recorder.