Is the Focal Point of Your Room A Fire Hazard?
By: Delores Gempel Lekowski
Imagine yourself in an interior designer's impeccably decorated home. You express the
usual ooohs and aaahs of approval as you move from room to room. Everything is perfect and pleasing to the eye. You enter the family room
and in front of you is the focal point of the entire room - a flat panel television hung above a beautiful fireplace. Who would ever think
a TV could look so attractive? Then you start to wonder, "Is this safe?" We have all heard the rules of fire safety. We know not to put
furniture or other flammables near a heat source, but we are ignoring this rule with the combination of televisions and fireplaces. A
fireplace is definitely a heat source.
Flat panels, including plasma and LCD televisions, are new and for now, costly. In the near future, they
will become more affordable for consumers, and just as the computer became a permanent fixture in the home, so will these televisions.
Because the televisions are not yet affordable for many of us, the general public isn't too concerned with the safety of these products
and hasn't given it much consideration. I discovered this when I began asking questions about the placement of these televisions, especially
I learned that people love the idea of a flat panel television being a part of their fireplace,
and their only concern is the potential damage to the TV set. In contrast, every burn survivor I asked expressed the same concerns I had,
and I would hear the question of safety echoed over and over again. I asked, "Would you worry about the placement of a wide screen TV over
a fireplace?" Their reply was a resounding, "Yes!" Not a single burn survivor expressed concern over the potential harm that could be done
to the TV. Their main concern was the risk of fire and the potential for injuries to themselves and their families.
Given the information I already had, I called the local fire chief to ask him if he had
any concerns about the placement of flat panel televisions above fireplaces or in wall enclosures. He told me he was not aware of any fires
caused by these televisions in his district. He said common sense should always prevail, and that he would never place any TV close to a
heat source. Admittedly, he knows very little about flat panels and their growing popularity. Owners need to adhere to manufacturer's
instructions and safety warnings, he said. He also said the television sets should always be installed and wired by a professional, and
that fireplaces should be in compliance with existing safety codes.
Next, I called a fire restoration company, charged with professionally cleaning homes
after fire damage. I asked them if they had cleaned any homes that had experienced fire damage caused by flat panel televisions. He said,
"No, we haven't seen any, but we have done jobs caused from TV fires." I asked him if he would place a flat panel above a fireplace, and
he said, "I personally wouldn't. My brother-in-law has a flat panel television, and they do get warm."
Finally, I called a fireplace store, which wouldn't give any advice on the placement of
a flat panel to avoid liability.
After talking to these individuals, I decided to search the web to see the type of guidance
manufacturers provide on hanging flat panel televisions above fireplaces. I was shocked to find out manufacturers don't stress the fire
risks. They suggest thinking twice about doing it, but for all the wrong reasons, such as discoloration of plastic housing from heat/smoke
and height and wiring issues.
My flat panel research uncovered other decorative trends that concern me. For example,
the practice of placing candles on the mantelpieces of fireplaces with flat panel television hung above them. One decorator suggested hanging
a two-way mirror over a flat panel television to hide it. When the TV is on, you can watch it through the mirror, and when it is off you can
only see the mirror. I am uncertain whether the manufacturer thinks this is a good or safe idea. I know I don't. I would be afraid of
overheating, and this is never a good thing.
Some electronics manufacturers are trying to find ways to ensure fire safety of their
electronics. I have to say that I am impressed that companies, such as Dell and Philips, are using a fire retardant chemical to manufacture
flat panel units. The Consumer Products Safety Commission announced the recall of 12,000 plasma flat screen televisions due to "arcing by
capacitors" that could pose a fire risk. There were no injuries reported, and fires were contained as a result of the fire retardants used
in manufacturing. The use of a fire retardant in these products is good news and kudos should be given to the manufacturer who decided to
use it when so many in the current market do not.
Manufacturer's warnings and safeguards must always be followed. Warnings like 'Do not
block the ventilation or openings on your television set' are communicated to keep the appliance from over-heating. Should you enclose your
flat panel television? If the manufacturer says not to, then don't do it. Manufacturers test the product, and know the safeguards that
should be followed to achieve the desired performance. Listen to them.
These manufacturer warnings are helpful, but don't guarantee safety. The National Association
of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) has raised concerns about flat panel televisions being hung above fireplaces with committees charged with
developing safety requirements for consumer electronics equipment. NASFM has approached the Underwriter Laboratories Standards Technical
Panel for Audio, Video and Similar Electronic Apparatus, better known as STP 60065, and the International Electrotechnical Commission's
U.S. Technical Advisory Group, US TAG, responsible for formulating the United States' position relating to all matters within the scope of
Technical Committee 108. NASFM hopes its concerns will result in research to determine the actual risks of placing flat panel televisions
above fireplaces or close to candles and, ultimately, tougher flammability standards for these TVs.
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