15 Tips to Prevent Appliance Fires

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Data from the federal government shows there are more than 8,000 appliance fires a year, and a new study from Consumer Reports shows that half are caused by human mistakes. Here's how to keep your home safe without spending much money or time.

While worrying about the remote chance of your dishwasher catching fire may seem like a low priority, recent research shows that appliance fires are still a big risk.

Currently, most safety standards for appliances are voluntary. “When it comes to appliance fires, experts question whether the current standards are rigorous enough,” says Consumer Reports.

The magazine’s recent analysis of fire statistics from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) revealed some startling figures…

  • Since March 2011, consumers have reported more than 850 appliance fires to the CSPC’s SaferProducts.gov website.
  • FEMA data for 2002 through 2009 (the latest year available) showed more than 69,000 fires caused primarily by appliances. That’s 8,625 fires a year.
  • In the past 15 years, the CSPC has recalled more than 15 million appliances for defects that could cause fires.
  • Human mistakes account for about half of appliance fires. Other causes include faulty refrigerator compressors, defective dishwasher control boards, and even appliances that turned on by themselves.

Fortunately, appliance fire prevention doesn’t cost much time or money. Consumer Reports and FEMA offer these tips – most of which won’t cost you more than a few minutes of your time…

  • Check for recalls. Search SaferProducts.gov and Recalls.gov to make sure that your appliances haven’t been recalled.
  • Register new appliances. That way, the manufacturer should contact you in the event of a recall. To protect your other sensitive info, just provide what’s relevant: your name, contact information, and appliance model number.
  • Install a smoke alarm on every floor of your home and in every bedroom. According to Consumer Reports, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths occur in homes that lack working smoke alarms.
  • Install a fire extinguisher on every floor of your home.
  • Inspect power cords. Replace frayed cords and don’t run cords under carpeting or rugs, which can contribute to appliance overheating. Don’t let furniture sit directly on power cords, either.
  • Inspect extension cords for the same dangers, and never overload extension cords or use them as permanent wiring.
  • Inspect wiring. “The electrical wiring in older homes can’t always handle the demands of modern appliances,” says Consumer Reports, which suggests having your home inspected by a qualified electrician. “They might recommend arc-fault circuit interrupters, which detect dangerous arcing of electrical currents caused by damaged wires, faulty appliances, and other problems. The upgrade might cost several hundred dollars, but considering that 30,000 fires are caused each year by arcing faults, it may be worth the expense.”
  • Don’t leave cooking unattended. It’s a fire hazard and endangers children.
  • Keep burners, stove tops, and hood ranges clean and clear of grease and other flammable debris.
  • Keep the inside of ovens clean, and keep the door and all seals clear of debris.
  • Unplug small appliances when not in use or when you are on vacation. This will also help reduce your electrical bill.
  • Clean dryer lint traps regularly. Consumer Reports found that lint buildup played a roll in many fires.
  • Clean lint out of the vent pipe once a year (or more often if you notice that clothes take longer to dry). There are lint removal services that can also do this for you.
  • Use rigid metal dryer ducts instead of foil or plastic ones. Because the latter is more flexible, it can sag, allowing lint to accumulate.
  • Don’t let your dryer run unattended, whether you leave home for errands or just go to bed.

For more tips to protect your home, be sure to read The Most Important Thing You Can Do Today.

Karla Bowsher runs our Deals page and covers consumer, retail, and health issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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