Is your home safe? Consumer Reports say about half of appliance fires not caused by human error

In the March addition of Consumer Reports magazine is an article about appliance fires and how about half off fires caused by appliances “appear to be due to problems with the appliances themselves,” not consumer error.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, using estimates from 2006 through 2008, says that major appliances caused more than 150,000 residential fires each year, resulting in 3,670 injuries, 150 deaths, and $547 million dollars in property damage.

As product designs become more complex and companies work harder and faster to come out with the next great innovation, the complexity of these appliances can lead to other problems.

“We’ve seen a race to the bottom in terms of cheap parts and disposable products,” says Andrea Gabor, a quality-management expert and Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at the City University of New York’s Baruch College, who has studied the appliance, automobile, and electronics industries.

While manufacturers have already made significant enhancements to improve product safety, such as automatic shutoff on coffeemakers, for example, and the antijamming mechanics on toasters, there is still more that can and should be done.

Consumer Reports lists eight ways to protect yourself:

Register new appliances.That way you should be notified promptly if a product is recalled. Appliances usually come with a registration card for you to fill out and mail to the company, or you can register on the manufacturer’s website or by phone. Worried about junk mail? Then you can just provide your name, contact information, and model number.

Check for recalls. You can find a central website for several government agencies at www.recalls.gov, and some let you sign up for alerts. If you move into a home with existing appliances, record their make and model and check the websites for recalls. Also review consumers’ experiences with those products at www.saferproducts.gov. And if you experience a problem, report it on the same website and let us know at ReportApplianceFires@cr.consumer.org.

Install fire-prevention equipment. Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths occur in homes that lack working smoke alarms. Each level of your home and every bedroom should have one. We recommend smoke alarms having both photoelectric and ionization sensors to provide the fastest response to any type of fire. We also recommend you keep one full-floor fire extinguisher (rated 2-A:10-B:C or greater) on every level, plus a smaller supplemental unit in the kitchen.

Inspect power cords. Look out for frayed power cords and never route electric cords (including extension cords) under carpeting, where they can overheat or be damaged
by furniture.

Check your home’s wiring. The electrical wiring in older homes can’t always handle the demands of modern appliances. Have your system 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.

Practice kitchen safety. Unattended cooking is a common fire-starter, whether you are using a range or a microwave oven. If small children are home, maintain a kids-free-zone of at least 3 feet and use back burners when possible. Unplug small appliances, including toasters and coffeemakers, when they’re not in use or you are away for long periods.

Clear range hoods. Grease buildup in range hoods is another fire hazard, so be sure to clean the vents regularly.

Keep dryer vents clear. Clean your dryer’s lint screen regularly to avoid lint buildup, which was listed as a factor in many fires. Use rigid metal dryer ducts instead of flexible ducts made of foil or plastic, which can sag and let lint build. And check them regularly to remove any lint buildup.

Read the entire article HERE.

-Erin