One of the unintended consequences of state-by-state legalization is an increase in the number of fires and explosions. In the main, these incidents relate to facilities that extract hash oil using solvents such as butane. Sadly, it is no surprise to learn that DIY extraction attempts have ended in tragedy.
In May 2019, a college student was watching TV at his home in San Diego. Suddenly, he heard several explosions that also rocked his house. He witnessed flames coming from a neighbor’s garage and a man running down the street who was on fire. The blaze occurred due to a botched attempt at illegally making a concentrated form of cannabis with butane.
By now, most readers think that they are safe. After all, they only want to grow cannabis plants, a process that doesn’t involve solvents. However, we’re here to tell you that a marijuana grow is not 100% safe. If you fail to follow the right procedures, there is a chance of starting a fire.
While many fires involve people with illegal grow operations, there are plenty of incidents where people cultivating for personal use were affected. Not only do they lose their weed and equipment, but they also lose their home. In a few cases, they lose their lives as well. When you use a lot of electricity, there are always dangers attached. In this guide, we outline 5 quick and easy ways to keep your grow room safe.
1 – Don’t Take Chances with Electricity
One of the biggest dangers is the overloading of electrical circuits and the stressing of power points and cables. It pays to understand the basics of wiring safety. Those who need to splice wires should invest in a proper connector. It’s also a good idea to buy durable extensive cables that have circuit breakers built-in.
Every plug in the house is on a ‘circuit,’ which can only handle a certain amount of electricity. Check out your power box and locate the breaker for your grow room. Take note of the number of ‘amps.’ The majority of modern residential circuits are 15A or 20A. Experts recommend a maximum of 1800 watts for 15A circuits and 2400 watts for 20A circuits.
However, and this is crucial when growing cannabis, you must reduce the wattage by 20% for continuous loads. This means when you are drawing amps from the circuit for more than three hours. As a result, you can draw a max of 12 amps from a 15A circuit and 16 amps from a 20A circuit. This new information means the following for wattage:
- 1440 watts (maximum) for a 15A circuit.
- 1920 (maximum) watts for a 20A circuit.
- 2880 (maximum) watts for a 30A circuit.
Another tip is to fix ballasts and extension cable blocks to pieces of timber. Next, attach the wood to the ceiling or walls. As much as possible, keep your electrical components off the floor. It is excellent for fire safety and also prevents you from tripping over cables. The latter is a common issue when stoned!
2 – Invest in a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)
Hundreds of Americans die from electrocution each year. Before the adoption of GFCIs, there were 800 deaths per annum from electrical shocks in the home. Now, that figure has fallen to around 200. The purpose of a GFCI is to protect you from an electrical shock, and it differs from a house fuse.
A fuse protects a structure from an electrical fire. If a hot wire touches a neutral wire, the fuse heats up faster than the wire and burns out before a fire starts. A GFCI, in contrast, is integrated into the outlet. When you plug in any electrical appliance, the GFCI outlet monitors how much power is going into the device. Let’s say you drop your hairdryer into a container of water. The GFCI will detect the interruption in current and turn off the power.
You should purchase one for your grow room. A GFCI will instantly halt the flow of electricity when there is ‘current leakage.’ This term is used when the electricity goes somewhere it isn’t supposed to. A usual result is a person getting electrocuted, or a fire starting.
One option is to install an outlet with a GFCI capability built-in. Alternatively, you can buy power strips with GFCIs built-in already, so you don’t need to change your outlets. Should you choose a power strip, invest in one with an amperage of at least 15. A GFCI with a lower amp capacity can’t handle several grow lights and other electrical devices at once.
3 – Remember That Water & Electricity DON’T Mix!
Aside from electricity via your grow lights and other things, you also regularly water your plants. There is also a danger of water ‘pooling’ in certain areas because of excess humidity. Ultimately, allowing water to remain on the floor is exceptionally hazardous. Aside from causing you to slip, it can herald the breeding of mold and bacteria. Water also conducts electricity.
Dripping water is an even bigger issue. It can get into your electrical outlets and wiring systems. It is the condensation from humidity that is arguably the most significant threat. Here’s how to control humidity in your grow room. When you are running cables in the room, make sure you include a drip loop. This is a ‘bend’ in the cable. This process ensures that condensation will gather at the cable’s lowest point. It prevents the water from running down the wire and reaching the bulb or plug.
Once water gets into electrical outlets, you face a severe problem. Let’s say you knock water over your smartphone charger. It seems like a disastrous scenario, but it isn’t that bad. The wire in the charger contains a live wire, a neutral wire, and a copper ground wire. If the water doesn’t hit any of them, your charger is likely okay. You can unplug it and allow it to dry. However, you may want to invest in a Portable Appliance Tester to ensure the charger isn’t damaged.
It is a different story when water reaches an electrical outlet. The plastic coating that covers the wires can break easily. When it comes into contact with liquid, it creates rust and exposes the wiring. Water can also produce short circuits to any electronic device that gets in its way. Any appliances without fuses will start a fire because the wire can heat up without anything to stop it.
4 – Fire Prevention
The first thing you can do is ensure your cannabis grow room remains neat and tidy. Get rid of any trash that’s lying around inside. Also, DO NOT keep a bin inside the room! A good tip is to buy a large number of cheap garbage bags. Bring a fresh one with you into the marijuana garden, and take it with you when you leave.
Do a thorough scan of the room to see if there is anything that can catch fire, or will burn quickly. It sounds obvious, but your grow room should serve one purpose! However, it astonishes us to learn how many people also use it as a storage space!
Another simple piece of advice is to install a smoke alarm and test the batteries regularly. Make sure you also check to ensure you can hear it from every room in your property, with the grow room door closed.
A lot of growers seem to use a heat-regulated thermostat to keep the temperature of the room down. In reality, it can cause a huge problem. Let’s say a fire breaks out. The fans will activate automatically and draw the fire through your ventilation system. The fire will feed off the oxygen and grow larger. Imagine all of the above happens when you are no longer in the house.
5 – Preparing for a Fire
Although prevention is better than cure, it pays to have a plan in place if the worst happens. The first step is to devise an ‘exit plan’ if the fire gets out of control. Make sure you clearly outline how to get out of the building. It is normal for people to become confused amidst the smoke. The ensuing hesitation is potentially fatal. Also, make sure you know how to alert others in the area, as well as the emergency services.
Invest in a durable fire-resistant door for your grow space. This is especially important if it is one of the rooms in your house. This door can severely slow the fire down. With this extra time, you can try to put it out (if it is small) or implement your exit strategy.
If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, shame on you! It is best to keep at least two in your growing room, and another one or two in the home. Check it regularly to ensure it is full, and take note of the ‘use by’ date. We also recommend keeping a powerful torch next to it. You’ll be glad to do it if the fire happens when your lights are off, or it cuts the electricity. In this scenario, you are in a dark space filled with smoke!
Types of Fire Extinguishers
There are three main options to choose from, including:
- Extinguisher Balls: Place them in the grow room close to where a fire is most likely to start. When it senses high heat, it immediately bursts open and covers the area in fire-retardant power. Choose balls containing ABC Dry Chemical. It is among the most effective substances for putting out fires.
- Handheld Extinguisher: This is the ‘classic’ and is still useful today. You can hang it on the wall, or in a secure location, and grab it when necessary. Most of these extinguishers contain ABC Dry Chemical, and will make a huge mess! There are also new versions that leave minimal residue.
- Aerosol Extinguisher: This is a fire extinguisher in a can! It is the same size as a bug spray can, and provides around 20 seconds of material. You should only use it for tiny fires as soon as they happen.
Also, handheld extinguishers can contain one of five things:
- Water: Suitable for fires involving wood, paper, and textiles. Not a good option in a grow room if the most likely cause of a fire is electricity.
- Dry Powder: You can use it on almost everything, including live electrical equipment.
- Foam: Helpful for most fires, but is unsuitable for electrical fires.
- CO2: Useful for flammable liquid and electrical fires only.
- Wet Chemical: This is a specialized extinguisher best used on cooking oil fires, paper, wood, and textiles.
Final Thoughts on Preventing Grow Room Fires
Whether you are a novice or an experienced grower, it is essential to implement safety protocols in your cannabis growing room. The legalization of cultivating the herb in many states is excellent news for marijuana enthusiasts. It gives them the freedom to grow a moderate amount of weed at home.
Cultivating cannabis is supposed to be liberating and joyful. However, lax safety practices could cost you a lot more than your crop! Follow the safety tips above for a safe and stress-free growing experience! Also, have the right equipment and exit strategy ready in case the worst happens. If the fire starts to gather size and momentum, don’t try to fight it. Get out of there while you can!
If you are new to marijuana cultivation, check out our beginner’s guide to growing cannabis indoors.