Overheating laptops a fire risk, warns RACV

25 July 2016

Smartphones, laptops and tablets have changed our lives but in doing so, they have also introduced a potential fire hazard to our homes, RACV Insurance has warned.

RACV General Manager Insurance, Paul Northey said the lithium batteries that drive portable electronic appliances could overheat if left connected to a power source and cause a fire in the appliance.

“Over the past decade there have been house fires attributed to overheated batteries in several countries and last year Victorian fire services attended 28 fires involving portable electronic appliances,” Mr Northey said.

“In March this year, a young family lost everything when a fire caused by an overheated laptop destroyed their home in Melbourne’s east.

“MFB fire investigators discovered the cause of the blaze was a laptop on continuous charge that had been plugged into a television for use as an external hard drive.

“It is important any device that requires charging is removed from the power source when it is fully charged or when you are not there to supervise.”

RACV Insurance claims data showed that 11 per cent of house fires were caused by appliances, with computers and phones the fourth most common appliance to cause a fire behind air conditioners, dishwashers and microwaves.

Australians are rapidly becoming more connected and consequently the risk of fire also is increasing. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal that in 2014-15, 86 per cent of all households had access to the internet; in households with children aged less than 15 years, 97 per cent had access.

The ABS noted that 94 per cent of those households used a desktop or laptop computer, while 86 per cent accessed the internet via mobile or smartphones and 62 per cent used tablets.

The average number of devices per house hold connected to the internet was six.

“These portable devices provide entertainment and unlimited access to information but users must be alert to the risks and follow some simple safety rules,” Mr Northey said.

“When charging your device, make sure it is on a hard surface that doesn’t block its ventilation. You should also ensure that the power cord and adapter are not damaged.”

Blocked fan and air vents also could cause laptops to overheat, Mr Northey said.

“Most laptops draw air through grills on their underside and if the air cannot get in then the laptop can overheat. By using your laptop on a soft surface such as a bed or couch you could suffocate its fan and air vents. Use your laptop on a hard surface that is well ventilated; better still, work on a cooling pad.”

Appropriate insurance cover will protect householders against the cost of house fires. Theft of laptops, tablets and mobile phones from the home is covered under contents insurance, while RACV’s Specified Portable Valuables option covers theft, accidental damage and loss outside the home.

RACV Home and Contents Insurance is issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Limited ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678. This is general advice only so before making any decisions, please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement before buying. For a copy call 13 RACV (13 7228).

RACV safety tips for mobiles, laptops and tablets

  • Remove the device from the power source when it is fully charged.
  • When using and charging appliances such as phones and laptops, which have the ability to overheat, make sure they are on a hard surface that doesn't block ventilation.
  • If your laptop is hot but the fan is running then take a break to allow it to cool.
  • Do not store your laptop in a bag or case when it is powered on.
  • Ensure the charging cord and adapter are not damaged.
  • Only use chargers approved for your device.
  • If charging multiple devices at the same time, use power boards with overload protection rather than double adaptors.
Written by Liselotte Geary, RACV Public Affairs on (03) 9790 2717
July 25, 2016