Electrical equipment and appliances

Our houses are full of electrical appliances. Some of them, in particular heaters, dryers, and electric blankets, can be hazardous if used incorrectly. We have put together some safety information for these and other appliances found in many households.

Household electrical appliances include a wide range of products – TVs and computers, heaters, cooking appliances and kitchen gadgets, and plenty of others. They all pose a risk of electric shock or fire, so it is important to follow safety precautions and to make sure you use it in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Useful general safety information on electrical equipment and appliances include:

  • New appliances are more likely to have the latest safety features. If you are buying a second-hand appliance make sure it has been safety tested.  Check that all the safety features work and that the appliance has the right plug and is of the correct voltage for New Zealand.
  • Regularly check your appliances for broken parts and/or damaged cords. Turn off and unplug all electrical appliances first. Clean them with a dry cloth.
  • To avoid overloading a circuit, limit the number of appliances plugged into one outlet.
  • If an appliance repeatedly blows a fuse, trips a circuit breaker or has given you a shock, disconnect it immediately. Have it repaired by a licensed electrical worker, or replace it. Always get your appliance repaired by a qualified person. Ask for an Electrical Safety Certificate when they have completed the work. This shows the appliance has been repaired to approved safety standards. 
  • Appliances are safe to use provided that the user has appropriate experience. Supervise children and others until they are aware of how to properly use the appliance. 

Look, listen and smell for electrical hazards

Look for:

  • Missing guards, covers, and broken pieces
  • Burned, cut, cracked, or frayed cords
  • Signs of scorching, melting, or blistering
  • Bare wires
  • Overloaded wall sockets
  • Smoke, sparks

Listen for:

  • Fizzing, spluttering
  • Erratic, stop-start running

Smell for:

  • Fumes, smoke, "something burning". This means over-loading or overheating - and a fire risk

Check for:

  • Electric shock - severe or mild, and not just from electrical appliances.  It could be from plumbing, sink unit, etc
  • Loose parts, broken switches
  • Hot spots on appliances, wall sockets, or flexes
  • Kinks in rubber or fabric-covered flexes

If you find any of these problems, stop using the appliance and have it repaired by an electrician.  If you have a defective extension cord, then have it replaced.

Heaters

Regardless of the type of heater you are using, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for its installation and use.

Heaters come in various forms, for example:

  • Thermal storage heaters are normally permanently fixed in position and their electrical supply may be controlled by your electricity retailer, in order for you to take advantage of a lower electricity tariff option
  • Visibly glowing radiant heaters may be portable or fixed in position. They are normally provided with a fitted fireguard
  • Liquid filled heaters are normally portable (meaning their position can be easily changed) and they heat the room air mainly by convection
  • Fan heaters are usually portable, although there are some models available that can be fixed in position. You can tell if the heater is operating by hearing the operation of the fan
  • Convection heaters heat room air mainly by convection

 Regardless of the type of heater you have, remember:

  • Apply the "heater metre" rule.  Keep the heater at least a metre away from anything that can burn
  • Always read the accompanying instructions before first use and keep them for future reference
  • Install the room heater as detailed in the instructions

Avoid heater hazards

To avoid electric shock

  • If the heater contains accessible panels made of glass or similar material, do not use it if the panel is damaged.
  • If the heater is fitted with a fireguard, do not operate it unless the fireguard is in place.
  • Do not use portable heaters in the immediate vicinity of a bath, a shower, a swimming pool, or any other potentially wet situation.
  • When replacing the lamps of fuel-effect heaters, follow the manufacturer's instructions concerning lamp replacement.
  • Clean the reflector of visibly glowing radiant heaters by disconnecting the heater from the electrical supply and follow the manufacturer's instructions.

To avoid fire

Always apply the "heater metre" rule.  Keep the heater at least a metre away from anything that can burn.

  • Always plug heaters directly into a wall socket-outlet and never into a plug-in adaptor or multi-outlet power board.  Heaters use a lot of power and can cause a serious risk of overloading and fire.
  • Don't use heaters as clothes dryers.  Never cover any heater, or position it close to curtains or other combustible material.
  • Keep the heater at least one metre away from bedding, curtains, furniture, clothing and any other combustible materials.
  • Take particular care with visibly glowing radiant heaters standing on carpet. Ensure it is on a level surface and that the heat is not directed downwards towards any flooring material that may be flammable.
  • Unless the heater is mounted at least 1.8 m above the floor, do not use it with an external programmer, timer, separate remote-control system or any other device that switches the heater on automatically, since there is a risk of fire if the heater is covered or positioned incorrectly.
  • Oil-filled heaters contain a precise quantity of special oil.  Repairs which require the opening the oil container should only be done by the heater's manufacturer or service agent. They should always be contacted if there is an oil leak in this type of heater.
  • When scrapping oil-filled heaters, follow any environmental and similar regulations concerning the disposal of the oil.
  • Keep your heater clean and avoid the build-up of dust and debris within the heater enclosure. Always clean it according to the manufacturer's instructions and disconnect it from the power supply before cleaning.

To avoid burns or personal injury

  • If you have a heater that you are required to fill with liquid before use, regularly check that the quantity of liquid in the container is between the marked maximum and minimum liquid levels.
  • If the heater is fitted with a fireguard, do not operate the heater unless the fireguard is in place.
  • The fireguard of visibly glowing radiant heaters does not give full protection for young children or infirm persons.
  • Never leave very young children unsupervised in a room when a heater is on.
  • The fireguard of visibly glowing radiant heaters is intended to prevent direct access to heating elements and must be in place when the heater is in use. 

Electric blankets

Each season before using your electric blanket check for damage or wear and check again each time you change the sheets.  Inspect the cord, control switch and plug for any damage and look for any kinks, worn or exposed wires, scorch marks, or breaks in the heating element.

  • To check, turn the blanket on for 15 minutes at the highest setting (don’t leave the room) and then turn it off.  Run your hand over the blanket and feel for hot spots.  A hot spot means the heating coil has been kinked or damaged.  This could lead to fire or electric shock.  Take it to a licenced electrical worker for repair or replace it with a new one.
  • Use an electric blanket only to warm the bed.  Switch it off before you get in, so as to avoid overheating. Overheating can be life threatening, especially for the very young, ill, or elderly.
  • When fitting the blanket, ensure it is flat on the bed as creasing can damage the heating elements.  Secure the blanket firmly using the attached ties. Keep the cord and control switch clear of the bed so they don’t get damaged.
  • Putting clothes or other things on the bed while an electric blanket is switched on could cause the blanket to overheat and may start a fire.  Never leave an electric blanket unattended for long periods of time when it is switched on.
  • Never use an electric blanket that is wet.  Dry it thoroughly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Never drink in bed or place a hot water bottle in a bed when an electric blanket is in use.  Electric blankets should not be used for young children until they stay dry through the night. If the blanket is faulty, any dampness could result in an electric shock.
  • In summer, store your blanket rolled (in corrugated cardboard, if possible), or stored flat on your bed or in a dry area where no objects will be placed on it.  Never fold your blanket, as this is likely to damage the heating elements.
  • Some people are more sensitive to electricity than others and can feel a sensation from an electric blanket, even with the electric blanket controller in the off position.  Any such sensation from an electric blanket or any other electrical appliance should be checked out by an electrician or other competent person, prior to further use.  Should the blanket be found to be safe by the electrician or other competent person, any sensation felt from the blanket can be stopped by switching the blanket off at the wall socket-outlet or by removing the plug from the socket-outlet.
  • Never buy second-hand or used electric blankets.

Clothes dryers

Regardless of your type of clothes drying appliance, remember:

  • Always read the manufacturer's instructions before first use and keep them for future reference
  • Always clean the lint filter from your clothes dryer before you use it and never allow lint to accumulate around the appliance
  • Install, maintain and use your clothes drying appliance as detailed in the manufacturer's instructions

Although a relatively safe appliance to use, the main danger from tumble dryers is fire.  In order to minimise this risk as far as is practical, remember the following:

  • Items that have been spotted or soaked with vegetable or cooking oil should not be placed in a tumble dryer.
  • If it is unavoidable that fabrics that have been in contact with cooking oil or hair-care products be placed in a tumble dryer, they should first be washed in hot water with extra detergent to reduce the hazard.
  • The "cool down" cycle of tumble dryers should be used to reduce the temperature of the clothes load.  They should not be removed from the tumble dryer or piled or stacked while hot.  Never stop a tumble dryer before the end of the drying cycle unless all items are quickly removed and spread out to dissipate the heat.
  • Items that have been previously cleaned in, washed in, soaked in or spotted with petrol or gasoline, dry-cleaning solvents or other flammable or explosive substances, should not be placed in a tumble dryer.
  • Items containing foam rubber - or similarly textured rubber-like materials - should not be dried in a tumble dryer.
  • Fabric softeners or similar products should not be used in a tumble dryer unless specifically recommended by the manufacturer of the product.
  • Garments that contain metal reinforcements should not be placed in a tumble dryer.
  • Plastic articles such as shower caps or babies' waterproof nappy covers should not be placed in a tumble dryer.
  • Clothes fitted with foam rubber pads, pillows, gumboots and sneakers should not be placed in a tumble dryer. 

Small appliances

  • Keep small appliances such as toasters, kettles, irons, hairdryers, hair straighteners and shavers unplugged when not in use.
  • If an appliance accidentally falls into water, always make sure it is switched off and unplugged before attempting to retrieve it from the water.  Do not attempt to reuse the appliance until it has been checked by an electrician. Make sure no one else uses the appliance until it's been checked and is known to be safe.
  • Never put any metal object, such as a knife or screwdriver, into any appliance - like toasters, heaters or dryers - especially if still plugged in.

Small appliances safety check

  • Are all small appliances around your home in good condition with no exposed wiring, funny noises or smells?
  • Do all your small appliances operate correctly?
  • Are all small appliances unplugged when not in use?
  • Are all cords to electric appliances stored out of the way so that a child cannot pull them down?

Stoves (oven cooktop)

Cords from electrical appliances, such as kettles and toasters, should be kept well away from stovetop as should anything that can burn easily, such as tea towels, plastic containers or paper towels. 

Never leave cooking unattended.

When moving or repositioning of large heavy appliances such as stoves, refrigerators and freezers, care must be taken not to damage the flexible power supply cords.

Hot water cylinders

Hot water cylinders need to be set to the correct temperature.

If there are young children in the home, we recommend that you fit a tempering valve to your hot water cylinder and use it to lower the temperature to ensure they don’t get scalded.  Ask your local energy supplier or a licensed plumber for advice on how to adjust it, if necessary.

Always ensure that the thermostat and element covers are in place to prevent electric shock.