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Old 27.02.2017, 19:27
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Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

Hello,

I'm not exactly new to Switzerland as I've been here for two years, but I haven't had a reason to post before! Sorry this is rather long.

We rent a somewhat dated house. it's from 1968 and all the electrics etc have never been upgraded. One circuit has the tumble dryer, the dishwasher and most of the kitchen. This has always been annoying because I couldn't run the dishwasher and dryer at the same time.

However, the dryer broke recently. The repairman tried to remove the plug from the wall socket and it was fused in. It has been this way since we moved in and I always thought it was unsafe, even pointed it out to the landlord once (who has sadly died and now his son has inherited the property). He shrugged and fixed the dryer. I noticed a strange electrical smell afterwards, but thought it was from the repair. Two weeks later I was using the dryer and noticed sparks and smoke coming from the outlet. I turned off the circuit, called the landlord, and went upstairs to cook lunch. The hob wouldn't work--it was blinking off and on and then there was a burning smell. We looked under the sink and the outlet where the dishwasher was plugged in was burnt. Later my husband thought to plug in the dishwasher to a Swiss extension cord to get it to work and it blew up in his face. (Not the best plan TBH!)

Today the electrician came. He was impatient at poor French (though I was doing the best I can) and didn't listen to me describing what happened. After about a half an hour he started shouting "Madame, we have a big problem" and then proceeded to yell at me for "letting" my husband use an extension cord in the kitchen.

Like most older Swiss kitchens, ours has a limited number of outlets (2), so my husband put 2 of our appliances (toaster and blender) on a UK plug that he had rewired on one end to Swiss. He also put the microwave on an extension cord just so we could put it in a cupboard and not on the miniscule countertop.

The electrician said that you can't have things like toasters and blenders on an extension cord, that they are "too hot" but it is fine to have computers etc on them. He says that the fire is all our fault, despite showing me water damage from the sink which caused a problem with the dishwasher plug and agreeing that the dryer plug was old and had a problem. (He said, there are many little problems, but yours is a big one, and it is the real problem.) While I was there he called the landlord and told them that we had 4 toasters in the kitchen (it was only 3 appliances) and that it is broken because of us. We will of course have to pay for the repair because it's "our fault".

My main question is, is this true? Can you run small appliances like toasters and blenders on an extension cord or will it cause such a fire risk that your plug sockets catch fire?! It may be because the circuit was already overloaded? I did ask this, but he was far too busy telling me my husband was no electrician to actually answer.

I have asked some Swiss friends and they say they use extension cords in the kitchen. Is it a UK-Swiss thing? Is the guy wrong? TBH, he was rude from the beginning, and spent a lot of time laughing with the landlord about clueless foreigners.
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Old 27.02.2017, 20:19
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

Toaster and blender together on a uk plug? What do you mean - a uk power strip with a Swiss male plug on it?

Have you been having blown fuses or flipped breakers?
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Old 27.02.2017, 20:31
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

Yes, the toaster and blender are UK, which are plugged into a UK extension cord with a Swiss male plug at the end. The voltage for Swiss-UK is the same so don't think this is a problem?

The electrician told me you can't ever run an appliance from an extension cord, which made no sense to me.

The fuse only tripped when the dryer and the dishwasher ran at the same time, never at any other time.
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Old 27.02.2017, 20:35
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

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Yes, the toaster and blender are UK, which are plugged into a UK extension cord with a Swiss male plug at the end. The voltage for Swiss-UK is the same so don't think this is a problem?

The electrician told me you can't ever run an appliance from an extension cord, which made no sense to me.

The fuse only tripped when the dryer and the dishwasher ran at the same time, never at any other time.
By 'appliance' I would assume he means goods such as washing machines, driers, ovens and dishwashers rather than toasters and kettles.

These appliances (in our place anyway) have a different of plug on them. Presumably because their power is greater. Plugging these into a normal extension block wouldn't make sense.
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Old 27.02.2017, 20:45
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

My guess is that he is telling you that you are overloading the circuits - and possibly causing the fusing/fire etc.

Given the age of the system, you can not use (at the same time) more than one item. It is not that you have them plugged in it is the idea of using more than one thing at a time. If you use a coffee machine and a kettle at the same time, you will blow all sorts of things.

If you feel that there are issues with the system, I would put things in writing so it is not a case of he said/she said. If you are really scared of the fire risk, you could have someone who speaks French call the ECA (the Vaud authority that covers fire insurance and risk) and explain that you have fears of the thing burning down. See what they say. Before you do that, I would get rid of the extension cord.
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Old 27.02.2017, 20:53
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

If you are able to overload a circuit enough to fuse the sockets, then you either have very old corroded socket, which is quite possible, or no protection on the main fusebox, which is also possible.

Or somebody in the past put a too-high-rated fuse (or a nail!) in the fusebox - also possible on a rented flat.

I wouldn't be too concerned about blowing fuses or tripping things - it's when that doesn't happen that you need to worry!

In any case - avoid overloading it, and tell the landlord in very clear terms that you think it is dangerous, and tell them to come and take a look. Sometimes seeing the burnt bits puts a different light on things.
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Old 27.02.2017, 21:21
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

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My guess is that he is telling you that you are overloading the circuits - and possibly causing the fusing/fire etc.
Actually I did ask this, and he said no. We were speaking in English at this point because he had given up in French.

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Given the age of the system, you can not use (at the same time) more than one item. It is not that you have them plugged in it is the idea of using more than one thing at a time. If you use a coffee machine and a kettle at the same time, you will blow all sorts of things.
We only ever use one appliance at a time. Which I did try to explain.

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If you feel that there are issues with the system, I would put things in writing so it is not a case of he said/she said. If you are really scared of the fire risk, you could have someone who speaks French call the ECA (the Vaud authority that covers fire insurance and risk) and explain that you have fears of the thing burning down. See what they say. Before you do that, I would get rid of the extension cord.
Thanks very much for this advice. The electrician helpfully (!) unwired the extension cord for us anyway (to be sure we wouldn't use it ), so we will not be using it in future.
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Old 27.02.2017, 20:50
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

I'm surprised that a rental property in Switzerland doesn't have be be certified as 'fit for purpose' in the sense that things like gas, electric, etc. are checked regularly.

Anyway, are you a member of your local branch of ASLOCA? If not, join immediately and ask them what to do..... it's highly unlikely that simply running a microwave off an extension lead is to blame, especially as you've had other problems either the wiring. A bigger appliance such as a dishwasher of oven might cause problems, but usually the fuse simply blows before anything mor serious happens.
Electrical sockets should not be anywhere near water (there is a specified safe distance, about sixty centimetres I think), so if the one for dishwasher is under the sink that's well outside current norms.

Seriously, speak to someone at ASLOCA, don't let your landlord bully you into think that you have to pay for repairs that are not necessarily your fault; he's possibly seeing this as a way of claiming the cost of a rewire on your house insurance. You do have insurance?

PS; if you don't think your French us up to dealing with this, find someone who is. Always communicate with the landlord in writing, and post everything recommandée.

Last edited by Anjela; 27.02.2017 at 20:52. Reason: Added ps
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Old 28.02.2017, 10:11
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

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Electrical sockets should not be anywhere near water (there is a specified safe distance, about sixty centimetres I think), so if the one for dishwasher is under the sink that's well outside current norms.
So would you say that this is less than the certified safe distance? (Plug for dishwasher was the one with black fire damage, now "finished" according to the electrician, the one directly under the sink was for the extension cord and had water damage).
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Old 27.02.2017, 20:56
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

I've got one plug in my kitchen with a 4-socket plug plugged into it, the kettle, radio and another extension cable plugged into that so I can plug in the microwave as the cord is too short to reach any other way. I can also plug the toaster into the 4-socket at the top when I want to use it. And this is in a 1950 house. We did have most of the electricity rewired before we moved in, but not in the kitchen. No problems, no trips. Sometimes wish I'd had another socket put in though, but I'm not sure it would have helped much as it would probably only have gone next to the one that's already there.

Heaven help us if having extension cables anywhere are a fire risk because we have dozens!

We did have the rewiring done because OH knew we'd have a lot of electrical stuff we'd be using and he didn't think the old wiring was up to taking the load.
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Old 27.02.2017, 21:45
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

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I'm surprised that a rental property in Switzerland doesn't have be be certified as 'fit for purpose' in the sense that things like gas, electric, etc. are checked regularly.

Anyway, are you a member of your local branch of ASLOCA? If not, join immediately and ask them what to do..... it's highly unlikely that simply running a microwave off an extension lead is to blame, especially as you've had other problems either the wiring. A bigger appliance such as a dishwasher of oven might cause problems, but usually the fuse simply blows before anything mor serious happens.
Electrical sockets should not be anywhere near water (there is a specified safe distance, about sixty centimetres I think), so if the one for dishwasher is under the sink that's well outside current norms.

Seriously, speak to someone at ASLOCA, don't let your landlord bully you into think that you have to pay for repairs that are not necessarily your fault; he's possibly seeing this as a way of claiming the cost of a rewire on your house insurance. You do have insurance?

PS; if you don't think your French us up to dealing with this, find someone who is. Always communicate with the landlord in writing, and post everything recommandée.
Thanks for this advice. The landlord has always been very nice, unfortunately the old man who owned the house died and now it's looked after by a combination of his elderly wife, his son and his fairly young grandson (who unhelpfully lives upstairs so can pop in to "help" all the time).
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Old 27.02.2017, 21:55
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

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Although it is not a good idea, the ext. cord should have no effect on socket or in-wall wiring unless the surge from using it was enough to damage the circuit. (not likely, instant arcing generally blows circuit without damage.) Even if you were using the toaster/blender at the same time, the damage should occur in the power strip/extension cord and not in the socket.
Unless there is a loose wire in the burnt socket and the other mains socket is fed from this one.

Extra power would result in a greater heating effect at the point of greatest resistance - the loose wire, i.e. when the circuit was loaded more.

We had a vacuum cleaner with a loose wire in the plug - the prongs in the plug got so hot they would (did) cause a burn if you touched them!
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Old 27.02.2017, 22:02
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

If the installation is correct and you use a suitably rated extension cord, and it isn't all too long, and you don't load it with multiple appliances running at the same time, then there is nothing wrong with running any appliance on an extension cord.

My bet is that the electrician knows that the building's electrical installation is so old that it needs replacing.

He may also have reacted to an extension cord which was long enough that an appliance could end up in the sink, or the CH plug on a UK extension.

If the hob runs 2 phase, and the dryer only blew the fuse on one phase, then you would have 230V at the hob. If that happend to be the phase which the control runs on then the lights would blink (and the elements might even heat).
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Old 27.02.2017, 22:04
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

Rule of thumb .. If the appliance generates heat, it uses a lot of power..

A toaster could draw 3000w @ 240v which means it could draw 12.5 amps of power.. Your UK extension lead is likely rated for a MAX of 13 amp, it could even be less like 10 amps. Should be written on it.. If you have removed the UK plug with it's built in fuse, you could be overloading the extension.. etc etc blah blah..

You add a toaster, kettle and a coffee machine to that extension, that extension is no longer fused, and if the main circuit is also not properly fused.. Then you will definitely get heat/fire in either the extension or the main circuit.. Or both.. And you might not see it inside a wall for example..
This is likely what the electrician was worried about..

Most fixed sockets will only be rated for 10-20 amps .. So when you start doubling up, there lies trouble.
You/landlord can pretty cheaply add proper extra sockets to the circuit, it's not a huge job.


** It's 20 years since i worked as an electrician - maybe i forgot everything **
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Old 27.02.2017, 21:20
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

sorry, but i've got a few more questions:

How did the HOB still blink when the circuit had been turned off?

Re: Ext. cord/powers strip 'blowing up' while plugging in dishwasher: was it to the same socket?, did breaker trip?

What exactly does the landlord or electrician say that you will have to pay for?


Running appliances on extension cords is never a good idea. Yes, that includes kitchen appliances like blenders, toasters, and kettles. A kettle can use 3000w+..

There's a good chance that you could overload the circuit wiring without blowing the fuse, and sparks and smoke ensue.

Re: dryer plug: sounds like dampness > plug contacts corroded > higher resistance >heat >more corrosion >more resistance > cavities between contact points > arcing of electric current > high heat > sparks and fire.

socket under sink (moisture and such), same scenario.

Although it is not a good idea, the ext. cord should have no effect on socket or in-wall wiring unless the surge from using it was enough to damage the circuit. (not likely, instant arcing generally blows circuit without damage.) Even if you were using the toaster/blender at the same time, the damage should occur in the power strip/extension cord and not in the socket.
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Old 27.02.2017, 21:27
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Re: Small appliances on extension cord: fire risk in Switzerland?

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sorry, but i've got a few more questions:

How did the HOB still blink when the circuit had been turned off?
It was on a different circuit I believe, but the circuit board is so old it is really hard to tell. I did try to ask this.

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Re: Ext. cord/powers strip 'blowing up' while plugging in dishwasher: was it to the same socket?, did breaker trip?
It was to a different outlet and blew a fuse for the entire lounge. Not sure that should have happened.

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What exactly does the landlord or electrician say that you will have to pay for?
We have no idea--the electrician said he would come back "for two hours", not sure why. It "will not be expensive", but here that's at least 500chf I'd reckon or more.


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Running appliances on extension cords is never a good idea. Yes, that includes kitchen appliances like blenders, toasters, and kettles. A kettle can use 3000w+..
It was only the toaster and the blender, but not at the same time. The kettle is plugged directly into the wall.

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There's a good chance that you could overload the circuit wiring without blowing the fuse, and sparks and smoke ensue.

Re: dryer plug: sounds like dampness > plug contacts corroded > higher resistance >heat >more corrosion >more resistance > cavities between contact points > arcing of electric current > high heat > sparks and fire.

socket under sink (moisture and such), same scenario.

Although it is not a good idea, the ext. cord should have no effect on socket or in-wall wiring unless the surge from using it was enough to damage the circuit. (not likely, instant arcing generally blows circuit without damage.) Even if you were using the toaster/blender at the same time, the damage should occur in the power strip/extension cord and not in the socket.
THANK YOU, this is precisely what we think! Now it's just figuring out what to do next...
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