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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Many Ways to Avoid an Appliance Fire in Your Home

7/17/2020 (Permalink)

Firemen and a women stand near a burned clothes dryer Read these tips for the many things you can do to prevent an electrical appliance fire from starting in your home.

Every year in America, firefighters respond to around 370,000 home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and those household fires are responsible for billions of dollars in property damages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 85% of fire deaths happen in the home.

Of these house fires, approximately 34,000 or about 9% involve electrical equipment—and electrical fires in the home account for approximately 10% of annual fire deaths.

Taking a closer look, it’s our electrical appliances, such as clothes dryers and water heaters, that cause 7% of home fires and 4% of deaths. The biggest culprits in appliance fires are lint in dryers and combustible materials near gas water heaters.

Home appliances make all of our lives easier, but the fact is they are also potential fire hazards. By following safety tips and staying on top of regular maintenance and cleaning, homeowners can operate their appliances safely.

Your Home’s Electrical Infrastructure

Since electrical appliances are connected to the home’s electrical system, preventing an appliance-related fire disaster begins with making sure the home’s wiring and electrical infrastructure is operating safely. Overloaded extension cords, hidden electrical shorts, bad connections and oversized bulbs and fixtures can melt wire insulation and ignite nearby flammable items and materials, potentially burning down your house.

Let’s look first at signs of impending danger, then at the parts of the home’s electrical system that can malfunction and cause a fire—and what to do to keep your home safe.

Beware These Signs

Shorts, overloaded circuits and bad connections generate heat that can ignite combustibles such as wood framing, rugs or the insulation around a cord or wire. These are some of the signs of dangerous concealed wiring hazards:

  • Electrical cords that are warm to the touch can signal overloading.
  • Charred or plastic burning odors may indicate oversized bulbs and light fixtures.
  • Warm switches or receptacle plate covers may mean a poor electrical connection.
  • Frequently tripping circuit breakers may be caused by a defective breaker or a short in the cables buried in walls or ceilings.

When to Call a Qualified Electrician

When you see these signs of electrical trouble, hire an expert to make the necessary changes that will prevent a fire.

  • Warm-to-the-touch wall outlets or switches.
  • Fuses that regularly blow or circuits that often trip.
  • Appliances that smell rubbery or as if they are burning.
  • Lights that dim, flicker, are unusually bright or have bulbs that regularly burn out prematurely.
  • Appliances that spark.

Other Safety Tips

  • Never place anything that can burn—such as towels or scarves—over a lamp or heat-producing appliance.
  • Make sure bulb wattages don’t exceed the fixture’s recommended maximum. Prevent overheating by checking all the light bulbs in your home and changing them if necessary.


If you plug in an appliance and the cord slips out of the electrical outlet, it may mean that the blades inside the outlet have loosened. Unfortunately, loose blades can generate intense heat that can lead to fires. You’ll need to replace electrical outlets as soon as you notice that plugs don't fit snugly in them.

Homes built before 1965 typically have ungrounded two-pronged outlets, while newer houses usually have three-pronged outlets. If your home is older, consider upgrading wiring to accept three-pronged outlets, particularly if you are replacing older outlets that may be cracked, damaged or covered in paint.

Follow these good practices when plugging in appliances to minimize fire risk:

  • Turn off appliances before unplugging them to avoid creating an arc inside that could create a fire hazard.
  • Plug only one high-wattage appliance into a receptacle outlet at a time.
  • Plug only one heat-producing appliance, such as a toaster or coffee maker, into a receptacle outlet at a single time.

Call an electrician to make your outlets as safe as they can be:

  • Install tamper-resistant (TR) receptacles in outlets near where children will be present. These outlets contain an internal spring-loaded shield that requires even pressure on both sides of the outlet to access the electrical contacts.
  • Help prevent shocks by installing ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, basement, garages, outdoor areas and other places where electrical equipment is near water or can get wet. (A GFCI can either be installed in your electrical system or built into a power cord.)
  • To help prevent fires, have a qualified electrician install arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), which can help protect against arcing and sparking.

Power Cords and Extension Cords

Damaged power cords pose a great fire risk, so check the cords in your home:

  • Make sure electrical cords are not trapped against walls or under carpets where heat can build.
  • Never use electronics with frayed or exposed wires. A short circuit can result in a spark, which can cause a house fire.

Extension cords are intended for temporary use but are often used more permanently. Consider having a qualified electrician add more circuits or outlets so you do not have to use extension cords.

  • Stay within the electrical limits of extension cords and power strips. Each are rated for heavy, medium or light duty use, and exceeding the recommended power rating can be dangerous. Replace undersized cords with larger-gauged ones.
  • Don’t use an extension cord with major appliances. Plug them directly into outlets.
  • Don’t run extension cords under carpets.
  • Replace extension cords that are undersized or frayed.

Use Electrical Appliances Safely

In general, when using any electric, gas or heat appliances:

  • Regularly clean, inspect and maintain appliances, especially those 15 years or older.
  • Only run appliances when you're at home.
  • Look for appliances with a UL mark, proving that Underwriters Laboratories has vouched for the item's safety.

A Note on Vintage Appliances

Old-fashioned plug-in appliances—a decades-old fan or vintage coffeemaker—may still run, but they were made according to outdated safety codes and may have frayed or damaged wires. If you are determined to use an antiquated electronic appliance, have it rewired by an electrician.

Bathroom Appliances

  • Don’t overload outlets. Use GFCI outlets in the bathroom.
  • Don’t use hairdryers or other electrical appliances near the sink, bathtub or shower.
  • Keep curling irons, hairdryers, straighteners and other hot equipment away from combustible materials.
  • Unplug electrical appliances, such as curling irons and hairdryers, when not in use.

Kitchen Appliances

Cooking fires cause 23% of home fires and 9% of home-fire deaths. Every year, an average of one out of every eight homes will have a kitchen cooking fire. Cooking fires mostly occur on the cooktop, usually in the first 15 minutes of cooking.

But not all kitchen fires start because of cooking hazards. Non-cooking related fires commonly involve refrigerators, freezers or dishwashers. Follow these guidelines to help prevent non-cooking related fires from starting in your kitchen.

  • Plug all kitchen appliances, including microwaves, toasters and coffee makers, directly into a wall outlet. Never use an extension cord.
  • Use the appropriate outlet for each appliance. For larger appliances, such as ovens and refrigerators, be sure to only use properly grounded outlets with circuits that match the rating plate on the appliance.
  • If you have older two-prong outlets in your kitchen, have a qualified electrician replace them with properly grounded three-prong outlets. Do not use an adapter.
  • When moving kitchen appliances, be careful not to roll over or pinch power cords.
  • Unplug small appliances when not in use.
  • Check and clean stove hoods, filters and vents.
  • Never use a gas or propane oven to heat your home. 


One common way a kitchen cooking fire starts is when a pot or pan is left unattended on a hot burner. Oil, grease and butter are highly flammable, so if a fire does start on your stovetop, turn off the burner and place a lid over the flame (throwing water on a grease fire may cause it to spread and intensify). If the lid does not stop the fire, use a fire extinguisher.

Follow these guidelines for safe cooking:

  • Keep a three-foot zone between flammable material, such as oven mitts, paper towels and napkins, and the stove. Keep fabric (such as dishcloths) away from heat and flame.
  • Clean your oven and range thoroughly at least once a month. Built-up food splatter or grease can ignite when the stove or oven is turned on for cooking.
  • Never leave food cooking on a stovetop unattended.
  • Don’t hang dishtowels on the oven door.
  • Keep aerosols far away from flames.
  • Cook on back burners and turn pot handles inward to prevent spills and burns.
  • Turn gas stovetop flames off before reaching above the stove.
  • Dress appropriately when cooking; avoid blousy clothing and keep sleeves rolled up.
  • Keep an operating fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
  • If you own a gas stove, periodically check its pilot lights. A pilot light that is unlit for an extended amount of time can leak gas into your home, eventually causing a fire disaster.


  • Use only microwave-safe containers.
  • Don’t heat food or materials that are flammable, such as aluminum foil, Styrofoam or some plastic containers.

Toaster/Toaster Oven

  • Clean the appliance regularly. Accumulated crumbs can build up on the bottom of the toaster and catch fire.
  • Never use these appliances unsupervised, because the heating elements can become faulty over time and may not turn off.

Water Heater

Since water heaters are often in the same room as the laundry, clothes can get piled up against the water heater near the flame.

  • Keep paint and other flammable liquids in their original, labeled containers with lids and store them away from heat sources.
  • Don’t keep anything flammable near a furnace or water heater, such as debris, combustible materials and rags. Mark a “combustible-free” zone three feet away from your water heater with masking tape.
  • Keep burner/element access doors on the water heater closed.
  • Keep protective water heater combustion chamber covers are in place.

Clothes Dryer

Even if you empty your lint tray every time you dry clothes, the lint still builds up inside the dryer cabinet, which holds its heating element. A blaze can start if the burner or heating element comes into contact with this accumulated lint. Especially dangerous are dryers that are vented with flexible vinyl hoses, which can easily catch on fire.

  • Keep vents and filters clean by removing lint after each use.
  • At least once a year, clean the lint from the exhaust hose at the back of the dryer, from the dryer cabinet, from around the drum and from the vent line.
  • Don’t place items stained with combustible fluids like gasoline or furniture polish in the dryer.
  • If your furnace is close to the laundry room, don’t hang clothing or drop dryer lint near it.
  • Replace vinyl vent lines with smooth-walled metal ducts.

To minimize the risk, hire a professional to clean the cabinet every two years. Or follow these steps to avoid lint build-up in your clothes dryer.

  • Lint trap: Pull out the lint screen and push a snorkel brush straight down into the trap. Twirl the brush to clean out any lint at the bottom of the trap. (A long crevice tool on a shop vac also works.) Shine a flashlight down the trap to make sure it's clean.
  • Ductwork: Disconnect the duct from the dryer exhaust and the exterior vent. If the duct is plastic or ribbed metal, replace it with a smooth metal one. Take the duct outside and clean all the parts with a round dryer-vent brush.
  • Outside vent: Working from inside, spin the vent brush a few inches into the duct, then pull it back and clean off the bristles. Repeat until the bristles reach as far as the exhaust hood on the outside wall. Then go outside, check the vent hood and clean it if necessary.
  • Reassemble the metal ductwork and seal the joints with aluminum tape. (Don't connect the sections with screws, which snag lint.)

When you have suffered a fire or other disaster at your home or business, call SERVPRO of Glastonbury/Wethersfield today at 860.633.8791

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