We’ve all seen those films where characters come into a large sum of money, sometimes illicitly, and they try to keep it safe in a makeshift, fireproof safe — like the fridge or freezer. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wondered how effective this is. So, are refrigerators fireproof?
Refrigerators aren’t fireproof, though they’d burn slower than other appliances. They can potentially catch fire or explode due to faulty or burned-out internal mechanisms. While they may last longer than other household items during an external fire, they’ll eventually combust.
This article will discuss the causes of most fridge fires and include tips to increase your home’s safety and fire protection. So, before you take all of your money out of the bank and create your makeshift safe, let’s talk about these hot topics!
What Causes Refrigerator Fires?
Kitchen fires are one of the most common types of household fires. Of course, this makes sense when you think about the number of electrical appliances in nearly every nook and cranny of your kitchen space. Still, fridges are cold, and freezers are full of ice, so it’s logical to think they’re immune to flames.
Unfortunately, though, as cold as they are, fridges are just as capable of starting a fire as your oven.
Have you ever placed your hand on the exterior sides of your fridge? Notice the temp? Yup, it’s likely warm to the touch. While this isn’t a concern, it’s the reason why your fridge has the potential to catch on fire.
Refrigerators are made of coils; the internal coils keep the contents of your fridge cold, thus why your fridge is nice and cool on the inside. But the external coils are warm. So, your fridge is keeping cold temperatures inside while pushing out hot air through the vent underneath your fridge.
You see, your fridge is constantly running to maintain the proper food safety temperatures inside the unit. They’re created with electrical components supported by plastic and metal coverings and pieces. So, if one of those electrical pieces combusts due to overheating or faulty wiring, any plastic parts of your unit will add fuel to the flames — sometimes resulting in an explosion or house fire.
According to Consumer Reports, fridges are just behind ovens and microwaves for most common fire-starting kitchen appliances.
Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty reasons behind not-so-fireproof refrigerators.
Some Fridge Backing Is Made of Plastic
When was the last time you investigated behind your fridge? If you’re anything like me, probably never. Yet, one of the most common causes behind a fridge fire is literally what’s behind it: the backing.
Fridges either have a plastic or metal backing depending on the brand, year of make, and type of fridge. Like mini-fridges and beer fridges, some refrigerators always come with a metal back, while some older versions typically have a plastic backing.
As a result if your fridge has a plastic backing, it’s more likely to catch fire than a fridge with a metal backing.
The Fridge’s Compressor Can Overheat
It’s always the most unlikely culprit that can do the most damage. But like the least likely suspect in a murder drama being the perpetrator, your fridge has the potential to cause serious harm to you and your home.
Remember when I told you about the coils in your fridge and how hot air is released through your fridge’s exhaust vent at the bottom? Well, that’s also where you can probably find your fridge’s compressor.
A compressor is a pump used for increasing the pressure of gasses and driving machinery. If you touch the side of your fridge, you’ll notice a warm temperature on your fingertips. This is normal. It means that your fridge’s compressor is actively using the coils internally and externally to push out the warm gasses outside through your compressor while keeping cold gasses inside.
If there’s any improper ventilation in your fridge’s compressor, it can cause pressure to build inside those coils.
Know what happens next? Yup — bang! Explosion!
This can be especially damaging to your home — not just because of the fire but also because of the cracks and structural breaks it can cause.
So, what can you do to prevent this from happening?
Pay attention to your fridge and keep up with regular maintenance. For example, if you notice that the side of your fridge is painfully hot to the touch, call a professional to investigate. Some people also suggest vacuuming the refrigerator coils to keep them clear of dust and possible flammable debris.
Relay Switch Can Short-Circuit
While fridge fires aren’t ongoing safety issues, they can catch fire and sometimes ignite fires.
According to data available on Consumer Reports, between 2006 and 2019, U.S. fridges caused 1,710 house fires and $23 million in property damage.
While the number of fires started isn’t astronomical, the fiscal damage is! So protect yourself and your home by arming yourself with knowledge about your most frigid appliance.
One of the most common causes behind a fridge fire is short-circuiting. This happens when wires inadvertently cross, and the electricity passes in an unestablished, short route between hot wires. This can sometimes cause a power surge resulting in a fire.
Circuit breakers are used to prevent power surges, and they’re attached to all of the wirings in your home. This article from the Home Efficiency Guide suggests using a separate circuit for your fridge if possible to prevent your circuit from overrunning.
Fridge Lightbulb Stays On and Can Overheat
Sometimes, you’re lucky, and sometimes you’re not. The same is especially true when there’s an issue with your fridge.
Sometimes, you’re not lucky enough to catch a problem before it has exploded out of control, like the victims of fridge fires that typically sparked in the middle of the night. However, sometimes, you’re lucky enough to find the problem and solution before it’s too late.
Another likely cause behind fridge fires is an overheated lightbulb and lightbulb cover. If the lightbulb in your fridge is overheated, you’ll likely notice immediately, especially if the plastic coverings start to melt — they stink.
However, this is still a real head-scratcher. Doesn’t the light just automatically turn off when you close the door to your fridge?
Theoretically, yes. However, sometimes the mechanism that trips the light needs to be replaced. This can easily be tested for. Call a professional or DIY the repair if you notice that the light is staying on when you close the fridge.
Sometimes, a lightbulb left on in the fridge is accidental. Like when you just need a little midnight snack and sleepily forget to close the refrigerator door completely. So, be vigilant and observant of your fridge to prevent these mishaps.
Are Freezers Fireproof?
Well, if my fridge isn’t safe from fire, indeed my icy freezer is, right?
Unfortunately, freezers aren’t fireproof and just as susceptible to fires as your refrigerator. This is because the exact mechanisms that operate your fridge are in place in your freezer and therefore are subject to the same safety and hazard potentials as your refrigerator.
Like your fridge, freezers use a compressor to ventilate hot air through coils and simultaneously keep cold gasses inside the unit. If these are faulty, get overheated, or short-circuit, a fire can result.
9 Tips To Increase Fire Safety
If you’re concerned about an appliance or electrical fire starting in your home, here are nine tips that can help keep you and your property safe from costly or lethal damages:
1. Install Smoke Alarms
Remember that episode of Friends when Phoebe dismantles her apartment fire alarm because it keeps beeping in the middle of the night? Well, while this makes for hilarious television, it’s not the proper way to maintain your fire preparation or keep your family safe.
Instead, make sure your smoke alarms are strategically placed throughout your home, and make sure you have the right amount of fire alarms throughout your space. The National Fire Alarm Code requires hard-wired smoke alarms with battery back-ups on every level of your home, outside each sleeping area, and in each bedroom.
To learn more about proper smoke alarm installation, check out this article from the Red Cross.
2. Test Smoke Alarms
Smoke alarms can detect smoke that has yet to flame and explosive gasses. Thus, it’s essential never to disable them — no matter what annoying sounds they’re making!
It’s essential to test your smoke alarms to ensure they’re working correctly. Now, trying your smoke alarm doesn’t mean striking a match near your notice and seeing if it alerts.
Instead, use the test feature on your alarm. This is an easy and safe process that should be done once a month.
In addition to testing and proper installation, it’s equally important to replace your smoke alarm battery annually to ensure that the batteries are fresh and ready in case of an emergency.
3. Make an Escape Plan
In the event of an emergency, mindfulness, practice, and preparation can save lives.
The Red Cross recommends creating an escape plan and then practicing it frequently with all household parties to ensure that everyone in the home is ready in case an evacuation becomes necessary.
Your escape plan should be able to be done in two minutes. How do you know if your escape plan fits within that time frame? Practice. Set a timer and have an emergency drill with the family. The more often you practice, the better prepared you’ll be in the event of an emergency.
4. Get Out and Leave Items Behind
When in doubt, get out and leave everything behind. In the event of an emergency, your goal should be to exit safely.
So, just like they teach in elementary school, if there’s a fire, get out of the building. Forget about your stuff. Remember, things can be replaced, but people can’t.
If there’s smoke and flames around you, stay low to the ground on your escape. Smoke inhalation is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. But smoke and hot air rise, so you can avoid the bulk of it by keeping close to the floor. Crawl on the ground if you need to.
5. Call for Help
In the event of a fire or other emergency, you should call for help. Make sure that all members of your household, like your children, know how and when to dial 9-1-1.
In the event of a small fire, say your casserole stayed in the oven a bit too long, and it’s somewhat contained; you can use a fire extinguisher to attempt to put out the flames.
If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen (you should), definitely call the authorities to help you put it out. However, if a fire is large or seems uncontained, don’t attempt to put it out. Instead, immediately call the authorities.
Fires have the potential to spread quickly. The sooner you call for help in the event of a fire, the better chances authorities have of extinguishing it with minimal damage to your home.
6. Teach Your Children and All Household Members
Our kids are the most valuable content of our homes. So, as parents, we want to do everything in our power to protect them.
Part of protecting them means teaching them what to do during an emergency. For example, show them how to dial 9-1-1 and teach them about its significance so that they know when it’s appropriate to call for help.
Go over the escape plan with them. Ensure that all of your children know of at least two ways to get out of every room in your home. Moreover, ensure that they understand when to leave.
Teach your littles how to stop, drop, and roll if their clothes should combust, and practice safety drills with them.
If your children are too young to comprehend these things, wait until they’re older and then review. In the meantime, have a plan for escape for them.
7. Establish a Family Emergency Communication Plan
If the unimaginable should happen and you get separated from your loved ones during an emergency, have a plan to regroup. In your escape plan, include a meeting place for you and your family to come together if you have to escape separately or somehow can’t find one another.
8. Practice Fire Drills
The more often you do something, the easier it is to do it again and again. Experts agree that visualization is an even better method of preparation than a physical practice. This means having a plan in place and going through each piece of that plan in your mind.
It’s also important to do two drills at least every year, as recommended by the Red Cross. Ensure that all members of your household can practice.
9. Register New Appliances
Adulthood comes with lots of perks. Like the excitement of purchasing new appliances.
One preventative measure you can take to ensure the safety of your home is registering your new appliances. When you register, you’ll receive important safety information about your device, as safety recalls.
If any issues are discovered with your appliance down the road, you’ll get notified about it, and you’ll be able to get the problem resolved, hopefully before it ever arises.
Recall notices help consumers keep their products up-to-date and safe to operate.