Home fires involving air conditioning or related equipment

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Report: NFPA's "Home Fires Involving Air Conditioning, Fans or Related Equipment"
Author: John R. Hall, Jr.
Issued: October 2012

Analysis of patterns and trends in all measures of fire loss for all types of home air conditioning or related equipment, including fans and heat pumps, as well as leading causes of ignition and areas of fire origin. Also provides safety tips.

Executive Summary

In 2010, air conditioning, fans or related equipment were involved in an estimated 7,400 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 29 civilian deaths, 249 civilian injuries and $207 million in direct property damage. The number of these fires has varied up and down with no clear trend.

In 2006-2010, the 7,200 reported home structure fires per year involving air conditioning, fans or related equipment included 2,500 per year involving central and room air conditioners specifically and 3,900 per year involving fans. Heat pumps accounted for 500 fires per year. Air conditioners and fans also accounted for nearly all the associated losses.

The leading factors contributing to ignition for air conditioning, fans or related equipment are mostly mechanical or electrical failures without failure mode specifics. One-third (33%) of fires involving air conditioning, fans or related equipment began with ignition of wire or cable insulation. The leading areas of origin for home fires involving air conditioning or related equipment are bathroom (23%) and bedroom (17%). The leading areas of origin for fire deaths are living room, family room, or den (38%) and wall assembly or concealed wall space (35%).

Air conditioners have a shorter season of usage than fans, based on fire incidence. If fires occurred evenly throughout the year, then every month would have 8.3% (1 in 12) of the fires. For all air conditioning, fans or related equipment combined, the three peak months of June, July, and August account for 36% of the fires (compared to 25% if every block of three months had an equal share of fires). June, July and August accounted for 49% of air conditioner fires and 32% of fires involving fans.  It is not surprising that fans have a longer season, because the category of fans includes fans used to help cooling (e.g., portable fans, attic fans) but also fans used year-round for ventilation (e.g., kitchen fans, bathroom fans).

Air conditioners and heat pumps have comparable numbers of fires and losses relative to usage.  Using a weighted average of usage in 2005 and 2009, in 2006-2010, an average of 79.1 million households had air conditioning without heat pumps, 55.5 million using central air conditioning and 23.6 million using room air conditioners in one or more rooms.  Heat pumps were used as central air conditioning equipment by 13.2 million households.  This gives heat pumps a higher rate of fires and damages relative to usage but lower rates of deaths and injuries.  (See Table 1D.)

In 2011, an estimated 40,890 injuries were reported to hospital emergency rooms as involving air conditioners, fans, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air purifiers, and heat pumps.  The leading types of injuries were laceration (14,620), contusion or abrasion (6,740), and strain or sprain (6,050).

 
Safe Use of Air Conditioning, Fans and Related Home Cooling Equipment

  • Select and install cooling equipment for safety and effectiveness.
  • Use electric-powered equipment safely, in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Inspect and maintain electric-powered equipment regularly for safety.
  • Make sure your equipment has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.

Home fires involving air conditioning