What’s Hot: New Stovetop Technology to Prevent Kitchen Fires
Electric stovetops of the future will come with built-in sensors to help reduce kitchen fires
Built-in sensory technology that shuts off electric coil burners to prevent kitchen cooking fires is about to become a hot commodity. The appliance industry and fire prevention officials are close to implementing a newly adopted standard that will require all new electric stovetops to shut off before cookware contents reach ignition temperatures associated with common cooking oils.
Kathleen H. Almand, Vice President of research for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), said that research conducted by NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation and funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and in conjunction with the appliance industry and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has resulted in the development of a built-in sensor that will shut off burners just before grease catches on fire. The sensor will be standard hardware on new stovetops soon, she said.
Similar shutoffs are available that can be retrofitted to most stovetops, but this is a first to require new units to have the built-in technology straight from the factory. Other products that use motion sensors to turn off unattended stoves can also be added on, although none come with new stovetops.
“It’s a huge breakthrough,” Almand said. “It’s designed to shut off before the oil ignites.”
Cooking related fires are a leading cause of U.S. fire loss, according to NFPA. Based on 2007-2011 annual averages, two-thirds of home cooking fires started when food or cooking materials ignited. Unattended cooking was the leading contributing factor in these fires, which led to $853 million in direct property damage per year.
A rollout date hasn’t been set for the new standard, recently approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Types of cooking oils, pans and pan size considered in technology
Almand said adoption of the standard comes after more than five years of research to find a solution to prevent cooking fires without impinging upon cooking performance demanded by consumers. In 2010, NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation began reviewing the potential effectiveness of various technologies that could prevent fires.
“We initiated this project with NIST funding to explore what the parameters would be for burner shutoff technology,” she said. “In others words, you couldn’t shut off a burner too early because you wouldn’t be able to cook anything.”
NFPA worked closely with the cooking, appliance and insurance industries as well as NIST and CPSC. Types of cooking oils, pans and pan size were considered in determining the burner shutoff moment. The research project won the 2015 best project medal from the Fire Protection Research Foundation.
“In the meantime the appliance industry was working side-by-side with us, and individual companies began to develop this proprietary technology,” Almand said. “It’s a very synergistic kind of effort.”
The research simmered in October, when the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) announced a plan to help reduce the potential for unattended cooking fires that would maintain cooking performance expectations for consumers.
Almand said some low-income apartment owners and operators showed interest as the new was being developed.
Existing retrofit technology stimulates industry to upgrade new stovetops
Retrofitting the technology won’t be mandatory for the more than 100 million existing ranges and cooktops estimated by AHAM to be in use today. And it only applies to electric coil cooktops. Radiant glass ceramic, induction, and gas cooktops and ranges are not included but could be in the future.
Pioneering Technologies manufactures add-on electric coil stovetop fire prevention technology that until recently has only be available to multi-residential commercial customers. In May at the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, the company rolled out its new SmartBurner, a plug-and-play consumer version of its Safe-T-Element temperature limiting control device. Unlike the Safe-T-Element which has be hardwired into the stovetop, the SmartBurner is advertised as a product that can be installed by anyone.
Almand says the appliance industry has never been in favor of retrofits but credits existing fire prevention sensory applications for stimulating the development and broad adoption of integrating sensors into new burners.
“The fact the retrofit technology appeared on the market was further stimulus (to the appliance industry) to further work on having the technology integrated into the cooktop itself,” she said. “That is their preferred approach.”