The problem about insurance companies balking at covering fires when a non-standard gadget is hooked up to the house's wiring could apply to a wide range of gadgets we cover in Gadget Freak. Most of the gadgets are electronic and many connect to the house's wiring.
Tucsonics raises an interesting point. We've all heard stories of the excuses big insurance companies use to shoot down customers' claims.
The question, then, seems to be how directly the non-compliant gadget might have contributed to a fire (or other accident). Clearly if it is the direct cause then that could be grounds to reject the claim. But what if the device is connected to the house wiring (say in another room) and is clearly not the cause of the fire? What if a non-compliant device is simply sitting on a shelf in the house, not plugged in at all? Any clarification on the rules or conventions on this?
As for my radio fan control, I bought an after-market one and installed it in an exising ceiling fan. It does not switch between windings but uses a phase angle controller (probably a triac) to adjust the AC voltage to the fan whose original speed switch is permanently set to "high." It works quite well and it has a additional channel to switch and dim the light fixture attached to the fan. There is no technical reason why someone could not mount the receiver section in a box with a plug and an outlet to control a table fan.
Putting the learning aspect aside, I'd like to point out that ceiling fans (very popular here in toasty Tucson, AZ) have a UL-approved solution available on most products. Hunter, Hampon Bay, Casablanca are some brands, There is a module inside the fan housing that receives an RF coded signal from the remote control. The module connects power to the fan motor's multiple windings, as well as to the light fixture which are often part of the ceiling fans. I never tried buying the control module separately, but it is worth trying before subjecting yourself to an uninsured loss, should, heaven forbid, your homebrew caused a fire. Using any "not to code" wiring or a home brewed control will void your fire insurance in case of a fire. Better hope you will never need it.
You are quite right that there is fun and learning when you build stuff yourself, but I thought I answered that point in my last line. We do achieve those goals when we build things that we can't get off the shelf and there are plenty of such opportunities. At least for me as consultant I design and build numerous non-standard instruments both for my lab and my clients' facilities.
The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge was a Washington State suspension bridge that opened in 1940 and spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. It opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, and dramatically collapsed into Puget Sound on November 7, just four months after it opened.
Noting that we now live in an era of “confusion and ill-conceived stuff,” Ammunition design studio founder Robert Brunner, speaking at Gigaom Roadmap, said that by adding connectivity to everything and its mother, we aren't necessarily doing ourselves any favors, with many ‘things’ just fine in their unconnected state.
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