Safety Minute: Preventing House Fires 2—Cord and Appliance Safety

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Electrical safety tips from Safety and Environmental Compliance Specialist David Young

In the last Safety Minute, we discussed preventing home electrical outlets from becoming heat sources. In this issue, we’re focusing not on the wiring in your walls, but on what you plug into outlets.

I have family members who experienced a house fire because of a dehumidifier plugged into an outlet with an extension cord. The extension cord had a rug placed over it to prevent the cord from becoming a tripping hazard. However, the rug held in the heat of the extension cord, which started the fire.

In that case, part of the issue may have been with the cord itself. When you use an extension cord, it needs to be clear of anything that could trap heat, and it needs to be the right size for the job. White or brown indoor cords are fine for a lamp, but they’re not appropriate for a heavy electric load. For powerful devices, and certainly for any outdoor use, you need to use a cord rated for that purpose.

There are two other common electric causes of house fires. The first is electric heating appliances. Heating appliances must be installed and serviced correctly, clear of combustible items. It is a good practice to vacuum dust off from heaters and inspect wiring. Wood or pellet stoves need to be serviced at least annually and the stove pipe needs to be clear.

The second is often overlooked: dryer vents. If you use a clothes dryer, keep your lint traps clear, and for the lint that inevitably gets stuck anyway, you can use a big brush that looks like a bottle brush to clear it out. I know a few people who bring their battery powered leaf blowers in the house and use those to blast the lint out of the dryer vent.

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Inspect your extension cords before you use them and make sure you’re using one suitable for the energy you’ll be using. If you’re using one outside, make sure it’s intended for outside use.
  2. Don’t put anything that could catch on fire over a wire or heat source.
  3. Make sure wood stoves, pellet stoves, furnaces, and other heat sources are professionally serviced at least annually. Most people wait until fall, so for the best availability, schedule your service around May.

Members can request safety presentations from David Young for their school, organization, or community group. Contact him at 802-224-2340 or