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Reducing the Risk for Housefires with EV Charging

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Aug 2, 2022
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Once a fringe technology, electric vehicles (EVs) are now a common sight. As more people leave their gas-powered cars for these more eco-friendly options, some unexpected obstacles have surfaced. Some drivers worry that their EVs may catch fire while charging at home.

These concerns aren’t unfounded. General Motors, Audi and Hyundai have all recalled EVs over fire risks within the past few years. At least seven Chevrolet EVs have caught fire while parked, and a San Francisco couple’s house burned down after their Tesla combusted in the garage.

Housefire Risks from EV Charging

While EVs may not have tanks full of combustible liquid like conventional cars, their batteries pose fire hazards. The lithium-ion batteries that power these vehicles have a high energy density and use flammable components. As a result, if something goes wrong, they could catch fire quickly and burn extremely hot.

These hazards are a concern in all lithium-ion battery products, not just EVs. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported more than 25,000 overheating and fire incidents from 400 types of products using these batteries over a five-year period.

Charging EVs at home, especially overnight, past their full capacity could cause overheating, leading to fires. Battery damage or electrical issues could heighten these risks. As automakers like GM aim to eliminate gas vehicle sales by 2035 and EV adoption grows, this fire hazard becomes more concerning.

How Common Are EV Fires?

While accounts of electric cars catching fire can cast doubt over EV safety, these incidents are relatively rare. Studies show that EVs experience roughly 25 fires per 100,000 vehicle sales, compared to more than 1,500 fires for gas vehicles. Similarly, gas car recalls over fire hazards far outweigh EV recalls.

EVs charging at home are likewise at a lower risk of starting a fire than other appliances. Cooking causes 172,900 home structure fires a year, mostly from electric stovetops, far more than what EVs cause. While there are far fewer EVs than kitchen appliances, fire risks from electric cars are still relatively low by comparison.

How to Reduce Housefire Risks

Housefires from EV charging may not be common, but they’re still concerning, especially considering how difficult these fires are to extinguish. Consequently, it’s important to take some steps to reduce fire risks from EVs.

One of the most crucial steps is to avoid over-charging EVs. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends owners avoid charging their EVs overnight and park EVs that need repair outside. Not charging to 100% every time will also help prevent overheating.

It’s also important to address home wiring systems. Homeowners should have an electrician inspect their wiring before installing EV chargers to ensure they can handle the high voltages necessary to charge the vehicle. Older homes and damaged systems may be unable to charge EVs safely.

Fault detectors and emergency shut-off switches in electrical systems can help, too. Users should also perform manual checks, inspecting charging infrastructure for exposed wires or other damage before using them. Keeping all equipment in top condition will minimize electrical fire risks.

EV manufacturers must also take responsibility for fire hazards. Manufacturing plants should ensure they have high quality standards to prevent selling damaged or defective batteries. New battery designs may help reduce fire risks, too.

EVs Must Address Risks to Replace Fossil Fuel Cars

EV charging housefires are a scary prospect, but they’re easily preventable with proper care. As homeowners address these hazards and automakers raise battery safety standards, the EV industry can work past these risks. That transition will be a critical part of the shift to green transportation.

Fears over things like charging housefires will stop people from switching to electric cars. Addressing these concerns is a necessary step to protecting both consumers’ safety and the environment. As EVs become safer and gain a better public image, more people will embrace them, leading to cleaner transportation.

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