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Home appliances can be fire hazards on or off

February 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Home appliances can be fire hazards, even when they're not turned on. That's the finding of an alarming new report.

While many of these fires are linked to human error, a new Consumer Reports investigation found a troubling number are caused by defective appliances. Home appliances lead to an estimated 150,000 fires a year, resulting in 150 deaths and more than $500 million in property damage.

"It was just horrendous, just horrendous," Beverly Uberti said of the fire, caused by a toaster in her kitchen, that spread through her home. "What wasn't destroyed by fire was destroyed by smoke and water damage."

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, senior editor at 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.

"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," said DiClerico.

So why are there so many recalls due to fire hazards?

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

Consumer Reports said 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 that designing and manufacturing safe products is a top priority of its members.

Consumer Reports recommends not running your dryer or dishwasher overnight or when you're away. And when you buy a new appliance, always register them with the manufacturer so you'll receive recall notices.

To check if an appliance you own has been recalled, visit www.recalls.gov.