What the UL label means to you
Most of us do our homework when it comes to purchasing high-ticket items like plasma TVs and automobiles. We read performance reviews and familiarize ourselves with safety and operating features. But many of us don't put the same thought and care into purchasing simple electrical products that could have a huge impact on our family's safety and health. With so many electrical wiring devices to choose from, how can you be assured that the items you purchase will provide years of safe, problem-free performance?
What is Underwriters Laboratory? -- Underwriters Laboratories Inc. is an independent, not-for-profit product-safety testing and certification organization. The UL label indicates that an electrical product satisfies the safety requirements of Underwriters Laboratories, one of the nation's oldest and most trusted product testing organizations.
What does the UL label mean? -- This label is also your assurance that the electrical products you purchase are tested and retested often by their manufacturers to comply with UL safety standards. UL inspectors frequently visit facilities that manufacture electrical components. Typically, the inspectors will walk into a plant unannounced and conduct random checks of products coming off the assembly line.
Where to find the label on household products -- If you're unsure of what the UL label looks like, check your toaster or hair dryer. You'll see the encircled letters "UL" on the device.
According to UL, you should make sure its label appears on every electrical product, fire extinguisher and fuel-burning appliance in your home. UL also tests heating, air conditioning and refrigeration products to make sure they won't pose a hazard to your health and safety.
Do manufacturers test their own products for safety? -- Even though UL has developed more than 800 different safety standards, product manufacturers also subject their products to rigorous safety and durability checks before they introduce them to the marketplace. Often a manufacturer's standard may exceed UL's requirements and those of other industry associations. For these companies the safety of their products is serious business, so they typically design and manufacture products that exceed industry standards.
The Leviton Test Laboratory in Little Neck, N.Y., for example, continually tests new products to ensure that they meet the highest safety standards. In testing a light switch, the switch is turned on and off 30,000 times in succession. It would take nearly a lifetime to duplicate this frequency in a typical home.
In another test, an electrical plug is inserted and withdrawn from a receptacle 200 times in rapid succession. The resulting electrical arc places more stress on the receptacle than it would be subjected to in a typical home environment.
Classifying electrical devices -- Electrical devices fall into one of five specification categories that reflect the environment in which they will be used: Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Federal Specification and Hospital Grade. Homeowners and new homebuyers need not look beyond Residential grade to find a safe, high-quality product, advises the Leviton Institute. As long as a product carries the UL listing, consumers can be assured that it has undergone a rigorous regimen of testing and when used properly, will function effectively throughout its service life.