Toasters that turn on by themselves and short-circuiting dishwashers can spark fires costing you thousands of dollars in home repairs. Unfortunately, not all damage caused by appliances is covered by your home insurance policy.
The following appliances caused the greatest number of home fires between 2002 and 2009, according to a Consumer Reports article that relied on data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
1. Gas and electric stoves
Total fires: 44,708.
Most common reasons: Stove left unattended; stove turned on by itself.
2. Clothes dryers
Total fires: 13,723.
Most common reasons: Lint blockage in the dryer vent; gas leaks.
3. Microwave ovens
Total fires: 2,308.
Most common reason: Power turns on without anything in the oven.
Total fires: 1,512.
Most common reasons: Short-circuited switch; light bulb remains on when door is shut.
5. Toasters and toaster ovens
Total fires: 1,335.
Most common reason: Toaster turns on by itself; mechanism jams while toasting.
Total fires: 1,015.
Most common reason: Control panel malfunction; rinse aid leaks into electrical circuits.
7. Washing machines
Total fires: 657.
Most common reason: Water leakage causes circuit-board fire.
Are you covered?
Depending on the situation, you may not be covered for damage triggered by an appliance, says Kevin Foley, owner of PFT&K Insurance Brokers in Milltown, N.J. "If the appliance breaks down from simple wear and tear, you're not covered. You just have to replace it," he says.
On the other hand, if an appliance such as a clothes dryer catches fire and your belongings are damaged or destroyed, cleaning, repair and replacement are covered, minus your deductible, Foley says.
Coverage for damage depends on the cause of the incident. You are covered for mishaps you could not have foreseen, says Jeff Reinig, a spokesman for Farmers Insurance.
"Most homeowner's policies state the loss must be sudden and accidental, such as an overflowing bathtub that ruins your floors," Reinig says.
A slow leak from your dishwasher -- even if you're not aware of it -- may be considered your responsibility because you didn't do proper maintenance, so any damage in that case wouldn't be covered, Reinig says.
"You're expected to maintain your appliances," Reinig says. "Something like a leaky dishwasher falls under the category of wear and tear."
Your home insurance policy would cover a malfunctioning stove or microwave that sparks a house fire, Reinig says, although your insurer typically will go after the manufacturer to recover money spent on your claim. "If the manufacturer ends up paying your insurer for the damages," he says, "you'll get back your deductible."
Be sure to check details in your policy, as all standard home insurance policies include coverage for fire damage but may exclude coverage for water damage, Reinig says.
Tracking the most dangerous appliances
The Consumer Product Safety Commission tracks product-related injuries through a reporting system called the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The system monitors injuries treated in emergency rooms nationwide, says Alex Filip, deputy director of the commission.
"Accidents are not always the person's fault, which is why we have recalls of malfunctioning appliances," Filip says.
In general, protect yourself from appliance mishaps by:
• Registering new appliances so you will be notified when a product is recalled.
• Installing a smoke alarm on each level of your home and in every bedroom.
• Installing carbon monoxide detectors in the hallways outside bedrooms.
• Making sure appliances are installed by a qualified professional and operated according to the manufacturer's instructions.
• Inspecting power cords, replacing any frayed cords; never route electric cords under carpeting, where they can overheat.
• Never leaving hot food unattended, whether it's cooking on a stove or in a microwave.
• Cleaning the lint trap after each load of clothes is dried.
• Unplugging small appliances when not in use.