Why your Crock Pot won't kill you...(sorry, Jack!)
Updated: Jan 25
If you are a fan of This Is Us, and you have already seen the previews for tonight’s episode after the Super Bowl (GO EAGLES!!) – then you are probably already aware that the plot line will take a dark twist tonight.
A house fire is started by a faulty switch on a Crock Pot and it seems that this is what leads to Jack’s untimely death. As a fan of the show, I am sure it will be gut wrenching and amazing…this is one of the best shows on TV right now, and maybe ever.
People are REALLY into this show, and many fans got very worked up over the underlying cause of the fire. So much so, that the Crock Pot manufacturers had to wage a social media campaign to keep their good name, and Milo Ventimiglia (Jack Pearson in the show) had to shoot a promo, publicly burying the hatchet with the slow cooker.
The thing is, as a home inspector, it occurred to me that the REAL tragedy is: this death should not have happened at all!
The GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets in the kitchen should have tripped off at the first short of the switch, which would have disconnected power from the circuit and prevented the ignition of the wires, hand towel, and curtains…..
One of the most common issues I identify for correction on home inspections is the need to upgrade countertop outlets to GFCI protected outlets. Most older homes were built before these important safety devices were invented, or at least before they were required at kitchen countertops. They are also recommended to be upgraded in all bathroom locations, exterior outlet locations, garage and unfinished basements, and at laundry outlets. These outlets are designed to disconnect power to the circuit if current starts to flow through an unintended path (like water or people).
Most people are aware of the primary safety feature GFCI outlets provide to protect you from electrocution if you drop a hair dryer in the sink, but this episode underscores another major potential safety feature. Although it is not the original design, GFCI outlets can provide some measure of fire protection by tripping off when there is arcing or a short fro man appliance plugged into the outlet. This is what could have saved Jack.
This episode is set in 1996 (This Is Us timeline). The Pearson kitchen was remodeled a few years prior (exact date unspecified) but it was after episodes where the kids were 10 years old (so, 1990 or later). If done properly, all outlets within 6 feet of the sink should have been upgraded to GFCI outlets to meet code requirements at the time (required in the National Electric Code as of 1987). Jack is a builder – he would likely have known this – so it’s possible Pennsylvania didn’t require them yet (PA has a history of being pathetically behind the times in adopting code), and/pr he figured he would get around to it.
But they SHOULD have been there.
Now, there are new breakers – AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters) – that are specifically designed to protect against wire fires in living areas, offering an even greater level of protection in even more areas of the home. They are not yet as common as the GFCI outlets, but they have proven so effective that the rate of electrical fires in homes that use them has fallen dramatically.
No one expects to be the victim of a home fire. Maybe you're handy, or even a builder (or an inspector), and you know you really should change the batteries in the smoke detectors, or upgrade the outlets....but it’s inconvenient and not an urgent priority. You’ll get around to it.
Or maybe, you won’t. Just ask Jack Pearson.
Precision Home Inspection