Take “Charge” of Properly Using Lithium-Ion Batteries and Charging Systems!

lithium-ion batteries

Take “Charge” of Properly Using Lithium-Ion Batteries and Charging Systems!

The Need for Awareness of Charger Fire Risk

Fire departments and the National Fire Protection Agency have been sounding the alarm lately about the increased fire risk associated with overheated lithium-ion batteries and malfunctioning chargers.  That’s no surprise to Lindstrom Restoration as we have taken on more fires caused by this power source in recent years.  In our increasingly advanced technological world, we are seeing many tools, machines, portable electronic devices, and phones powered by lithium-ion batteries.  That’s not all.  Our garages store electronic snowblowers, lawnmowers, bikes, scooters, miniature cars for kids, and let’s not forget, vehicles for their parents.  That’s a lot of battery-operated chargers to take “charge” of!

It’s an Increasingly Common Problem

The more lithium-ion batteries we have the more risk.  It’s become an increasingly common problem.  Sometimes lithium-ion battery-powered chargers simply fail from an inherent defect and product liability comes into play.  More likely, user error is to blame as people unknowingly use and maintain the charger improperly.  For instance, how many of us have gone to bed with our electronic devices plugged in and under the covers?   Most have experienced using a computer or other device that was warm or even hot to the touch. 
Have you or your kids ever overloaded a circuit?  Most of us are probably guilty of some misuse such as using frayed electrical cords.  And who knows when a device is simply going to malfunction?  No wonder fire departments and government agencies are concerned.  We should be too. 

lithium-ion batteries

The Causes of Charter/Battery-Related Fires

According to experts, the common causes of charger/battery-related fires are:

  1. Overheating:  Charges left plugged in for prolonged periods or used with incompatible devices can overheat, leading to component failure and potentially igniting nearby combustible materials.
  2. Faulting Wiring:  Poorly manufactured or counterfeit chargers may have faulty wiring, increasing the risk of short circuit failures and electrical fires.
  3. Overloaded Outlets:  Plugging multiple devices into a single outlet or using cheap, low-quality power strips can overload circuits, causing overheating and sparking fires.
  4. Battery Malfunction:  Lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in smartphones, are prone to overheating and combustion if damaged or improperly charged. 

Why do batteries fail?  One way is through physical damage, i.e., the battery is penetrated, crushed, or exposed to moisture.  They can also be compromised by electrical damage, i.e., overcharging or using charging equipment not designed for the battery.  Also, batteries exposed to extreme temperatures can be affected.  Finally, batteries can fail due to factory product defects. 

The Dangerous Consequences of Charger-Related Fires

The consequences of all this can be devastating ranging from property damage to loss of life.  The toxic smoke can result in significant health issues.  Fortunately, professional restoration companies like Lindstrom Restoration can clean up the mess and eventually return property and structure to pre-loss conditions. Some property items become so damaged they cannot be restored and need replacement.  Lives, unfortunately, are not restorable, and this is why prevention is so vital. 

lithium-ion batteries

Reducing the Risk of Fires

There are many ways to reduce the risk of fire and thus prevent damage, injury, and loss of life:

  1. Avoid leaving batteries or devices unattended while being charged or charging overnight. 
  2. Once the indicator shows the battery or device has been fully charged, disconnect it from the charger.
  3. Only use chargers that are supplied with the equipment or device, or certified third-party charging equipment that is compatible with battery specifications. 
  4. Purchase devices and equipment from reputable manufacturers and suppliers. 
  5. Make sure the charges bear the appropriate UL certification.
  6. Avoid using or charging devices and equipment in bed.  If you must use a laptop, device, or charger in bed, make sure it is not covered with blankets and leave the charger on a hard service with plenty of air circulation.
  7. Don’t charge batteries or devices on combustible or insulating surfaces such as beds, sofas, cloth chairs, or carpets.  Keep them away from flammable materials.
  8. Never store or leave batteries and devices in areas where they can be exposed to heat or moisture.  Don’t leave devices or equipment in direct sunlight or in parked vehicles where they can be quickly heated up. 
  9. Dispose (properly) of batteries or devices that show signs of swelling, bulging, leaking, or cracking.
  10. Install smoke alarms in areas where items will be stored.  If hard-wired in, use a professional electrician to do the installation.
  11. Refrain from overloading outlets. 
  12. Inspect the cords and chargers regularly for signs of fraying, damage, or wear.
  13. Stop using the device if you detect excessive heat, odd odors, or popping sounds.
  14. Charge large batteries and equipment such as scooters, bikes, and large power equipment in garages and sheds away with ample ventilation from living quarters.  Make sure there are no flammable liquids or combustible materials nearby.  Also, avoid charging in direct sunlight. Ensure that exits are not blocked by the batteries, so in case of emergency escape is not limited. 
  15. Install smoke alarms in any room where battery chargers are in place and check smoke alarm batteries regularly.
lithium-ion batteries

Have An Electrician Check Your Home

There is great value in hiring a professional electrician as a precaution to make sure there are no hidden exposures in your home.  The author of this blog was shocked (no pun intended) to find out he had a live wire inside one of his living room walls when some routine electrical was being done.  Poor workmanship and do-it-yourself electricians are the cause of many house fires.  We all check our cars proactively to make sure there aren’t any issues.  The same can be done by hiring a professional electrician to inspect your home. 

At Lindstrom Restoration, we recommend hiring electricians, plumbers, or even a qualified home inspector to check homes for possible hazards and maintenance needs.  As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  This can help you avoid enormously expensive insurance claim losses that could force you to move out of your house for an extended period. 

lithium-ion batteries

Have an Electric Car?  Follow These Prevention Tips

As for electric cars and trucks, there have been reports of battery fires, but they are rare.  Here are some prevention tips for drivers of electric vehicles:

  1. For home charging systems, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe charging in your garage.
  2. Never use extension cords to charge.  They are not made to handle that much power. 
  3. Avoid putting the cords under carpets or rugs. 
  4. When handling equipment, avoid shocks or sparks.
  5. Inspect equipment regularly.

Educate the Entire Family About the Risk

Educating your family members, especially younger ones, about the risks of electrical fires that may result from chargers and devices is crucial.  Teach them the proper methods of charging, but make sure a responsible adult does the inspecting.  Families should conduct fire drills so everyone knows what to do and where to gather should a fire happen.  Bedroom doors should be shut to reduce the spread of fire.  Smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors should be working properly. 

What To Do If a Fire Occurs

What should you do when a fire occurs, or you observe smoldering?  If it is safe to do so, unplug the device (or shut off the main power or circuit breaker) immediately while protecting your hand given the possibility of excessive heat.  If there is a fire, call 911 immediately and get all family members and pets safely outside.  Don’t attempt to go back in as there is risk of explosion. 
Fires spread rapidly, and you may become overcome with the smoke or put yourself at risk from toxic fumes.  If the fire is small and localized, use an approved and working fire extinguisher to put it out.  Lithium-ion battery fires can also be put out with water as lithium salts do not react with water however, it can take many gallons of water to extinguish such a fire. Firefighting efforts should be left to the professionals.

lithium-ion batteries

Responsible Disposal of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are hazardous waste and should be disposed of properly by taking them to municipality-approved recycling centers.  Do not throw them in the dumpster or your home recycling bin as it is illegal.  Some retail stores will take them as well. 

Take “Charge” of Your Personal and Property Safety.  Consequences Can be Deadly

Lithium-ion batteries have significantly enhanced our quality of life.  Most of us couldn’t be without our electronic devices, whether they are phones, computers, tools, or transportation vehicles.  But with ownership comes the responsibility of proper usage and maintenance.  As mentioned, just an ounce of care will prevent a pound of misery should you have a fire.  Take “charge” and make your home safer.