Why Are Utility Poles Made of Wood?
As the kids' endless summer vacation enters its final days (pretty soon, the ever-shrinking school year will be just a few weeks in October, January and May), my offspring were hanging out at home the other day during the rains of Ernesto when suddenly, they heard a loud bang.
The sound came from out in front of the house and when they looked out the window, they saw flashes of fire shooting off the electrical wires, live wires flopping down onto the sidewalk, and the utility pole across the street engulfed in flames. This was more live action than anything espn.com could possibly provide. My daughter called 911 and was pleased to find that actual D.C. fire engines responded in just five minutes, which is pretty good considering the extremely low expectations we've come to have in the years since our local fire station was shut down. (Neighborhood historic preservation radicals bent on keeping remnants of an outmoded fire station have combined with incompetent contracting officials in the city bureaucracy to deprive the area of a firehouse for more than four years.)
The fire was put out quickly, police cordoned off the dangerous area within minutes, and eventually Pepco showed up to deal with the downed wires. But the question remained: Why is it exactly that the utility poles that hold up electrical distribution wires are made of wood?
There are 134 million utility poles in this country, and the great majority of them are made of timber that has been painted with chemicals that supposedly prevent or retard fire. Judging from the big flames outside our house, it's hard to say that that system is terribly effective.
Wood's primary competitors in the utility pole industry are steel and composite materials that can include wood, plastic or concrete. Steel is lighter and sturdier and more fire-proof, but carries concerns about grounding and conductivity. Environmental studies have concluded that despite the intial attraction of alternatives to wood, as well as worries that the utility pole industry is a bad guy in the depletion of forest resources, it may well be that wood poles use less energy over time than do steel poles.
Some cities and utilities have moved toward steel poles, primarily to hold down costs. But wood remains the industry standard and some linemen remain suspicious of steel because of conductivity questions. Bottom line: Wood seems to be here to stay.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: John | September 5, 2006 8:51 AM
Posted by: Ffx | September 5, 2006 9:15 AM
Posted by: MLBR | September 5, 2006 10:21 AM
Posted by: de nada | September 5, 2006 10:27 AM
Posted by: Dan | September 5, 2006 11:16 AM
Posted by: h3 | September 5, 2006 12:26 PM
Posted by: SJM | September 5, 2006 12:27 PM
Posted by: Hugh Price | September 5, 2006 1:02 PM
Posted by: NW | September 5, 2006 1:37 PM
Posted by: Carol | September 5, 2006 1:53 PM
Posted by: Mark | September 5, 2006 2:14 PM
Posted by: Me | September 5, 2006 3:27 PM
Posted by: JF | September 5, 2006 3:28 PM
Posted by: CW | September 5, 2006 4:17 PM
Posted by: MJM | September 5, 2006 4:25 PM
Posted by: Mark | September 5, 2006 4:32 PM
Posted by: hogboss | September 5, 2006 4:34 PM
Posted by: James Buchanan | September 5, 2006 4:47 PM
Posted by: dynagirl | September 5, 2006 5:09 PM
Posted by: Mia Edwards | September 5, 2006 5:11 PM
Posted by: No thought too trivial for this blog | September 5, 2006 5:15 PM
Posted by: Mark | September 5, 2006 5:34 PM
Posted by: athea | September 5, 2006 6:12 PM
Posted by: Fisher | September 5, 2006 7:34 PM
Posted by: tallbear | September 6, 2006 10:15 AM
Posted by: MoCoDC | September 6, 2006 11:22 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | September 6, 2006 11:26 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.