By Alida Dunning
In January 2005, Lyle Chesley and his family came home from a daylong outing to find their house burned to ashes from a fire caused by an overloaded circuit breaker box.
Chesley had been out shopping when his neighbor called to tell him his house was on fire. He thought the neighbor must be mistaken until he got home to see that the fire had completely consumed his house. The fire was caused by a type of meter base that has since been outlawed. Chesley immediately suspected the meter base as the cause, since he had previously replaced one after it caught fire.
A favorite quotation for Chesley goes like this: “If need was the mother of invention, then devastation must surely be the father.”
The loss of his home inspired Chesley to create the Hot Shot and Sentry electrical fire prevention devices, which plug into the wall. He recently obtained patents on these inventions.
Chesley’s inventions and business idea won first place in 2008 at the biennial Biz Idea Contest sponsored by Homer Public Library. Early prototypes received honorable mention from the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District in 2005. Chesley holds an associate’s degree in electronics, and is an HVAC technician. He says that during his 25 years in the industry, he has received extensive, ongoing electrical safety training and has encountered examples of just about every kind of electrical malfunction.
Chesley has hosted electrical safety survey and informational meetings with the goal of promoting the devices and gathering input and analytical data for use in developing his marketing strategy.
Chesley’s timing is meant to help during a time when fire dangers are at their height. According to the United States
Fire Administration, December is the most dangerous month for home electrical fires, due to increased indoor activities and increased lighting, heating and appliance use. During a typical year, home electrical problems account for 67,800 fires, 485 deaths and $868 million in property losses. Home electrical wiring causes twice as many fires as electrical appliances.
The Hot Shot is a small canister placed inside a wall and connected to an electrical outlet. According to Chesley, if the temperature of the outlet reaches 250 degrees (combustion occurs at 426 degrees), the canister ejects a special foam that cools the wires, displaces oxygen and insulates the surrounding combustible materials.
The foam spills out of the outlet, indicating that a fire has been prevented and that the outlet should be serviced. The foam is nontoxic and doesn’t stain. It dries to a crust that is easily broken down into a powder and vacuumed up.
The Sentry acts in the same manner but is made to be mounted on the wall above a circuit breaker box, or attached to the front of it.
“Unlike other systems, these components do not have to be built into the home during construction, and are far less expensive than a centralized system,” Chesley said.
The Hot Shot and Sentry devices are especially appropriate for single-family homes older than 20 years, owner-built homes, and homes that have had modifications made to the original electrical system, he said.
The service Chesley is marketing includes a stress test of the home’s electric circuits, replacement or repair of faulty outlets, safety recommendations and installation of the devices on the breaker boxes and outlets most at risk for overload or malfunction. Some risk factors include outlets most likely to be used for multiple appliances, and outlets behind beds or other places where a cord plugged in is likely to be subject to crushing. Chesley estimates the total cost for the service, including installation of the devices, to be between $750 and $1,500 per house.
Chesley plans to have the products ready to market within three years. His business plan includes manufacturing the products in Nikiski, to help offset job losses there due to the Agrium plant closure, customer support in Seldovia and corporate headquarters in Homer, where he has a licensed electrical administrator on staff.
He is conducting a brief survey through Dec. 31. Those who complete the survey will be entered to win a fire safety package. To participate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.