Defective appliances blamed for house fires

February 2, 2012 3:55:15 PM PST
Consumer Reports study finds defective appliances to blame for many house fires

Home appliances cause an estimated 150,000 fires a year, resulting in 150 deaths and more than $500 million in property damage. A new Consumer Reports investigation has turned up disturbing findings. While many of those fires are due to human error, a troubling number are caused by faulty appliances.

A fire that spread through Beverly Uberti's home started in the kitchen. The cause -- a toaster, according to fire officials.

"It was just horrendous, just horrendous," she said. "What wasn't destroyed by fire was destroyed by smoke and water damage."

Another fire, homeowners say, started in their dishwasher while they were out of the house. According to fire officials, in another example, a fire started in a microwave, even though the homeowners say it was not in use.

Consumer Reports reviewed 69,000 reports of house fires blamed on appliances between 2002 and 2009. Its investigation found a significant number were not caused by human error.

"We found at least 23 percent are clearly attributable to problems with the appliances -- mechanical, electrical, or design flaws," said Dan DiClerico with Consumer Reports. "In some instances, the appliances turned on by themselves."

Faulty appliances causing the most fires were ranges, followed by dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators, and dishwashers.

DiClerico said, "In the last five years, more than seven million dishwashers have been recalled due to defects that could cause a fire. And nearly eight million other appliances have been recalled for fire risks."

To check if an appliance you own has been recalled, you can go to Why are there so many recalls due to fire hazards?

"Appliances have gotten a lot more complex, so more can go wrong," DiClerico explained. "And many recalled products are being manufactured abroad, the majority in China."

Consumer Reports says until appliance design and quality are improved, homeowners are left to wonder if the appliances in their homes are safe.

In response to Consumer Reports' investigation, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers said, "designing and manufacturing safe products" is a top priority of its members.

You can try to protect yourself by registering new appliances with the manufacturer so you'll receive recall notices. And don't run your clothes dryer or dishwasher overnight or when you're away.