Over the course of the past few weeks, Remodeling readers have been commenting on one of our most popular classic articles. Titled "Drawer for Hair Dryer," it offered instructions on how to modify a drawer with a plug so the hairdryer could remain plugged in and stored at at the same time.
This re-publication drew some fire from readers, and inspired this comment:
Just read your email about the idea of putting a hair dryer in a drawer and you don't even have to unplug it. As a Fire Damage Restoration contractor I have done many restorations, if the house was restorable at all, where the fire was caused by a heat producing appliance that its electrical circuit has somehow failed.
I use a toaster as an example when I suggest to people to unplug when not in use. You can buy a toaster on sale for $14.99. It consists of a cabinet, feet, cord with plug, heating element, thermostat, and many other items. A quality thermostat alone would probably cost $100.00. Now, would you trust the quality of this thing to not start when it shouldn't?
A hair dryer is in the same category. This also applies to battery chargers that home owners and contractors use. A heat producing appliance of any type, left plugged in, cannot be trusted with the safety of your home.
"Plug it in, turn it on, turn it off, unplug it." That is the motto that should be used with any electrical device. Period!
We've continued to receive comments and opinions from around the web about whether to continue to feature this article on the website. Comments were divided, so we've decided to leave the original article up, but we're also highlighting some of the comments we've received below:
"Nowhere in the reply does the respondent identify a code infraction, all he says is that the design has some potential safety flaws. It appears in the photo/drawing that the hair dryer can and SHOULD be unplugged with-in the drawer when the hair- dryer is not in use. The only other change I would suggest is that the connection from the back of the drawer to the wall outlet be hardwired, not plug-in as depicted. If any one can i.d. a specific code violation I would like to learn what that violation might be."
"I do not encourage it, unless the drawer has been designed to accommodate the appliance in a manner that absolutely protects it from accidentally turning on. Also, there seems to be a general lack of understanding that the flexible wire needs to be rated for at least 15 amps and any outlet between the drawer and wall be able to handle the wiggling without coming unplugged.
What will ultimately burn you (pun intended) is the manufacturer instructions for virtually all hair dryers, which will have disclaimers not allowing the appliance to be plugged in while unattended. Here is a typical example.
I also would not recommend a switch that turns "off" when fully closed, rather one that turns "on" when fully opened or when the appliance is removed from the dedicated holder. That too would need to be rated for 15+amps. Very few of the ones I encounter are something I would want in my house."
"Put a switch behind the drawer that cuts power to that circuit when the drawer is fully closed and restores power to that circuit when the drawer is pulled open.
"I don't discount the inherent danger of leaving electrical appliances plugged in, but it seems that may be part of a different discussion. We often build "appliance garages" and install upper cabinets over countertops that may or may not be combustible, where most folks leave the appliances plugged in. Indeed we often deliberately attach heating devices to the bottom of those upper cabinets, and call them "halogen task lighting".
I don't think a hair dryer in a drawer is inherently dangerous. I often see them there while still plugged into the above counter outlet, which exposes the cord to wear at the pinch point. The solution described in the article has been taken to a slightly higher level of safety by at least one company. They provide a variety of products that achieve the same effect, alas, also requiring the drawer to be shortened. The key feature is an articulated arm that carries the cord/wire. This prevents it from getting tangled in possessions in the drawer or cabinet below, and prevents unseen damage to the cord from repeated pinching."
J. Scott Dickey, President of JTech Solutions:
I just read your article in Remodeling about the safety putting outlets in drawers. If you take a look at our website (www.dockingdrawer.com), you can see this subject is certainly near and dear to our heart. To begin, I generally agree with the comments made by the damage restoration contractor when he says that it can be unsafe to power things from inside drawers. We feel the same way which is why we developed the Docking Drawer in-drawer charging outlets and the Style Drawer in-drawer powering outlets.
We have seen a lot of DIY/Post Inspection in-drawer outlet solutions that range from decent to the truly ugly and unsafe. Here’s my a photo of my favorite DIY/Post Inspection vs Docking Drawer in-drawer outlet solutions.
We felt there was some additional risk by putting things in drawers so in our products we designed in some innovative safety features. The Style Drawer family of in-drawer power outlets is designed for blow dryers, curling irons, and other devices that require a 20A GFCI outlet. Our powering outlets incorporate a UL Listed, American made thermostat safety feature which turns off power to the outlet when the temperature around the outlet reaches 120 degrees F. If someone accidentally leaves a blow dryer turned on or if it malfunctions the thermostat will shut off the power soon after the drawer starts getting warm and well before anything catches fire. We recently had a cabinet customer tell us a story about their clients DIY in-drawer outlet. The client, going through her normal daily routine, didn’t suspect anything was wrong when she put all of her items away in the bathroom drawer and pushed it closed. Unfortunately, the packed daily-use items inside the drawer combined with the drawer closing turned on the homeowner’s hairdryer. The excessive heat, trapped inside the drawer, slowly heated up an aerosol can filled with hairspray. Eventually, the can was unable to take the high temperatures and it exploded. Thankfully, the homeowner was out of the house and safe, but our product would have prevented this accident from occurring. The cabinet was not so lucky and was severely damaged. (Read more about it here).
Our other family of products are in-drawer charging outlets called Docking Drawer. They are designed just for charging devices like iPhones, laptops, etc. It does not have a thermostat but instead it has a circuit breaker that limits the current to 3A. That prevents someone from plugging in anything that is going to make heat such as a toaster, blow dryer, etc.
In addition, we also design all of our products to the highest standard of safety and reliability. First, we tested all our models to 500,000 cycles which represent over 40 years of typical use. We also incorporate very high-quality components and make sure that our products are well built, well grounded, and well tested prior to shipment. Finally, all our models are tested and independently evaluated by Intertek (a competitor to UL) and approved to UL Standard 962a.
Of course, the only way to reduce the risk of an electrical fire completely is by turning off the power to your entire house. But we feel that the Docking Drawer reduces the risk of a fire inside of a drawer to an acceptably low level and is far superior to the DIY solutions that you often see on the internet.