Electrical Appliances are the Most Common Cause of Household Fires

Elektrogeräte sind die häufigste Brandursache im Haushalt

Every year, countless fires occur in households. The how and why of these fires are studied by the Kiel Institute for Loss Prevention and Loss Investigation (IFS). Their aim is to identify potential sources of danger and promote awareness and damage prevention.

Around one-third of all building fires are caused by electricity. According to IFS, this was the most common cause of fires in 2017. Human error comes in second place, causing about one-fifth of all fires.

In 2017, IFS conducted over 1,500 investigations into the causes of fires. These investigations mainly focused on fires that caused significant damage to buildings. The findings are collected and analyzed in the IFS Loss Database, resulting in the fire cause statistics that have been compiled since 2002.

Risk Factors

"White goods" as the institute calls them, are at the top of the list of potential fire causes. This term refers to large electrical appliances (fridge, washer, dryer etc.) that are found in almost every household and are therefore widely spread. Design and operation can lead to technical faults that trigger fires:

Problems can arise with the power supply of devices (in Germany, the mains voltage is 230V).

  • The devices have heating elements.
  • Vibrations occur during operation.
  • Moisture is present inside the devices.

The most dangerous are kinks and breaks in the wires where insulation is worn or even cut, as well as exposed individual wires at cable entries and damaged plug sockets. Often, damage to an electrical device is caused by factors such as moisture, heat, conductive dust, loose parts, or material fractures.

These defects can lead to short circuits, sparks, and smoldering fires. In some cases, the problem (such as a cable break) remains unnoticed for a long time until a visible fire breaks out. Improper connection or operation of devices and overheating can also lead to fires.

Underestimated Danger of Extension Cords

Power strips with multiple sockets rank fifth among the electrical fire causes. Many people underestimate their potential for danger. Overloading due to connecting too many high-consumption devices or mechanical damage caused by rough handling of power strips can trigger fires.


Until a few years ago, televisions were high on the list of fire causes. This was mainly due to the relatively vulnerable cathode-ray tube televisions. As these models are becoming less common in households, TVs have dropped to sixth place in the ranking of fire-causing devices.

Safety Tips:

  • When purchasing new devices, make sure they are marked with reputable certification labels that demonstrate quality and safety, such as the European CE mark, the German GS mark for tested safety, or the VDE test mark.
  • The same applies to used devices, which should be critically examined for their condition.
  • Defective devices should be repaired by professionals and, if in doubt, replaced.
  • Before using a newly purchased device, carefully read the user manual.
  • Large household appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, or dryers should be connected to separate wall sockets whenever possible.
  • Use only tested power strips and be mindful of the maximum load (usually 3,500 watts) when connecting devices. Keep power strips clear (away from sofas, curtains, etc.).
  • When purchasing power strips, check if they are approved for use in humid areas, for example.
  • In general, only operate electrical appliances when you are nearby and can quickly notice a potential fire. Avoid using the "standby" function of devices.
  • When placing or installing devices, ensure that their built-in ventilation is not obstructed and that air can circulate well. This prevents overheating of the devices.
  • Electrical appliances also require maintenance and should be regularly inspected.

And what if a fire does start...?

If an electrical device catches fire despite all precautions, the fire department recommends first interrupting the power supply. Small fires can be extinguished with a fire extinguisher or a lifestyle fire blanket. If the fire cannot be controlled, immediately call the fire department, inform your fellow residents, and leave the house. Damages caused by fire are covered by household and building insurance.

Smoke Detectors Save Lives

According to the fire department, 95% of fire victims succumb not to the flames but to the smoke of the fire. This is especially dangerous when asleep, as the sense of smell is impaired. Installed smoke detectors provide an audible alarm, providing time to react to the fire.

Electrical Household Appliances as Fire Cause

The IFS's analyses over the years show a stable relative distribution of fire causes. In detail, tumble dryers are found to be the number one cause of fires. Refrigerators and dishwashers take the next positions.

Moreover, they are also the main cause of fires that affect seniors.

So, it's important to know how to protect your property and loved ones from electrical fires. Below, we have compiled many useful tips on protecting yourself from electrical fires.

Download Information Brochure

(Source: www.ifs-ev.org)