Alarming reports of spontaneous combustion of Alexa-based devices such as the Echo Dot have recently raised concern from those who use Alexa as a virtual assistant in their home.
With the nature of digital media, you might wonder whether this may be a legitimate concern or just another hype.
Alexa-based appliances such as the Amazon Echo Dot aren’t fire hazards. Of the hundreds of millions sold each year in the US, there have been only rare and isolated occurrences of device-based electrical fires. User error and ignorance in manufacturing are more likely to cause electrical fires.
Here are some important safety facts to ensure that you don’t allow your Alexa device to become a potential fire hazard.
Is Alexa a Fire Hazard?
Alexa itself is a system of AI technology and on its own isn’t a fire hazard. Alexa devices are unlikely to cause a household fire and typically the user is at fault in the occurrence of fire in such device systems.
Despite the media frenzy behind Alexa devices and spontaneous fires, the most likely place for a home fire is in the kitchen or in household heating systems,
However, Alexa-based devices may cause electrical fires if consumers use them contrary to manufacturers’ specifications or use faulty wiring and plug systems in the Alexa-based devices.
Popular mechanics lists several Alexa-based systems and devices as vulnerable to security breaches.
Researchers proved IOT systems vulnerabilities by using laser systems to affect voice-controlled devices such as smart speakers, phones, and tablets.
They’re able to accomplish this through glass windows over long distances.
Essentially the laser hacking system could affect virtual assistant technology such as Alexa and affect thermostats and other potentially hazardous home appliances.
As well as affecting locking systems and alarms, malicious laser-based virtual assistant hacking could be used to cause damages such as fires.
Alexa Is Not a Fire Hazard So Long as You Follow These 7 Important Safety Facts
1. Follow All Instructions and Recommendations for Smart Home Devices
Using non-regulation equipment such as wiring and adapters may result in overheating of sockets and wires.
Manufacturers will always specify which adaptors and wiring suits their products and deviating from the specifications may lead to electrical damage that may cause a fire.
2. Use the Correct AC Adapter for Your Alexa Device
When an adaptor is in use, some of the electrical energy is lost in the form of heat, causing them to increase the temperature in use.
Using a non-specified adapter this heating is increased and may lead to fires.
This is particularly a threat when the adaptor is near a flammable surface and the ventilation of the area is poor.
3. Never Expose Your Alexa Device to Liquids
Water conducts electricity so a careless spill of water near an outlet for your Alexa device may cause a potential hazard.
If you plug something into a wet socket, the current increases at a rapid rate and may overwhelm the circuit.
The water of fluid may result in sparks which may potentially lead to a fire,
4. Replace Worn or Frayed Cables
If the cords of your Alexa device show damage or become worn, the fraying may expose the live wire.
Wires need insulation to protect users from the live current that passes underneath the insulation.
Once the live wire becomes exposed, there’s a potential for household fires.
Always replace worn or damaged cords rather than patching them.
5. Never Exceed Recommended Wattage
Fire Rescue 1 lists lamp bulbs and lights as a common reason for electrical fires due to exceeding recommended bulb wattage.
If the wattage of your smart bulb is higher than the socket rating, the electric circuit suffers an overload and results in an electrical fire.
This is commonly called overlamping when the socket overheats and melts the fixture wires.
6. Do Not Overload Extension Cords
Overloading an extension cord outlet board may lead to fires in your Alexa-based smart home system.
With the sheer volume of smart devices, often users overload the extension socket and make themselves vulnerable to electric fires.
Rather than overload an extension cord, you should arrange for an electrician to create more direct sockets to manage your smart devices.
7. Replace Worn Wall Sockets
As your wall sockets age, repeated plugging and unplugging may wear out the socket and reduce their prong holding tension.
When your plugs do not fit flush in the wall socket, the electric current may increase, leading to overheating.
The increased heat may melt the plug exposing you to the risk of a household fire.
Can My Alexa Device Catch Fire?
While there have been isolated incidents of Alexa devices catching fire, most electrical fires are caused not by manufacturing or device faults but by user error. To ensure the safety of your Alexa-based appliances you should always ensure that you follow safety guidelines.
The US Fire Administration reported 354,400 residential fires in the US, of which 6.8% were due to electrical malfunction.
Often consumers use devices contrary to specifications or place devices irresponsibly in high-risk areas.
With the sheer number of electrical add ons in the digital sphere, often older homes don’t provide the plug capacity to deal with multiple outlets or become faulty through years of wear and tear.
Alexa Echo Dot Fire Incident
In an isolated incident, Fox 8 Cleveland reported that a retired fireman, Joe Jachym, found his third-generation Amazon Echo Dot in flames.
The plug and outlet were unharmed and the fire started in the smart assistant itself. As yet, Amazon hasn’t released an explanation as to the cause of the malfunction.
However worrying this individual case may be, there were over 100 million Alexa devices sold in 2019 alone, so the case is highly likely a rare anomaly.
In any electrical product, there’s a capacity for specific system malfunction of manufacture-based anomalies.
Such relatively rare reported fire incidence shouldn’t be indicative of an inherent Alexa device-based system hazard.
Amazon Smart Plug Fire Hazard Recall
Amazon had to remove their Hickton smart plug with dual USB ports from sale pending investigation due to the potential of fire hazard.
The live connection was built too close to the energy monitoring chip resulting in electric discharge that may be a fire risk, especially in older homes.
A leading UK site reported the recall of yet another Chinese manufactured smart plugin 2020.
The Trading Standards Institute declared The Waza – Smart Socket UK Mini Smart Plug as a potential burn/fire risk.
The recall was due to the smart plug’s non-compliance with Low Voltage Directive requirements.
The manufacturer rated the adapter 10A while the socket allowed the plug to draw 13A, causing overheating and potential fire.
Smart plugs themselves aren’t inherently dangerous provided that they follow the safety standards and requirements for electrical devices.
The most common cause of fire in smart plug systems is overloading and faulty and worn wall sockets.
What Is the Alexa System?
Amazon’s Alexa is a virtual assistant that uses AI technology via speech-based recognition and response. Amazon introduced Alexa in the Amazon Echo smart speaker and uses the AI technology in the Echo Dot, Echo Studio, and Amazon Tap speakers.
Through voice interaction, Alexa performs various functions such as:
- Music playback
- Setting of alarms, audio book play, weather, traffic and sports updates
- Real time information such as news
- Alexa controls a variety of smart devices for home automation systems
The Alexa system is a system in the cloud that recognizes speech and responds to commands to carry out specific functions. Alexa systems work through a system of :
- Automatic speech recognition
- Natural language understanding
Customers typically interact with Alexa through an Alexa enabled device made by Amazon and these devices include:
- Echo systems
- Alexa enabled devices such as some Fire TVs and Fire Tablets
- Third party services that use Alexa Voice Service software or devices built devices or integrate alexa into their existing devices.
What Electric Appliances Are the Biggest Fire Hazard?
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, they list in the top slot that cooking with an unattended stovetop as the primary cause. Electrical fires are only the third most significant contributor to household fires.
The next culprit is home heating systems where portable heaters made up 81% of heating fire mortality between 2014-2018.
If you’re concerned regarding potential fire hazards, statistically your kitchen stovetop is the most likely fire hazard.
Electrical fires only come in third on your concerns and your wiring plugs and sockets are more likely a potential fire hazard than your Alexa device.
Although the usual media hype has raised concerns over Alexa-based devices and potential fire hazards, there’s not enough evidence to suggest this is the truth.
Often electrical fires are the result of improper usage of electrical wiring, plugs, and appliances so you should take care to follow your Alexa devices manufacturer specifications.
Learn more: Why is my Alexa not turning on?