Consumer Reporter Keeps Buying Things That Catch Fire

The Handy Switch, pitched in infomercials by the zombie late Billy Mays, is theoretically a cool product. It’s a wireless light switch that you can install and plug in anywhere. It would be very useful were it not for its unfortunate tendency to burst into flames.

Consumer reporter Mitch Lipka, who buys and tests products for WalletPop, managed to get a Target Halloween flashlight yanked off shelves earlier this month when his caught fire. Then his Handy Switch was recalled for similar reasons. Luckily, it wasn’t in use in his home because the thing didn’t work in the first place.

I admit that I did like the idea of it — giving consumers a cheap way out of solving the problem of not having a light switch in the right place. But my wife — who has already expressed her concern over the probability that nearly anything I bring into the house is capable of causing some kind of property damage — made me feel bad about testing it in one of the kids’ rooms.

Luckily, my Handy Switch didn’t work at all. If it was still on that bedroom wall today before I learned of the recall, I would have been guilt-ridden.

See, cheap Chinese-made crap saves us all from its dangerousness by its own poor quality.

Can a guy just avoid a burning product for like a month? This time it’s Handy Switch [WalletPop]

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  1. codepage9 says:

    Easy and cheap self destruct button for your home?

    • nbs2 says:

      @codepage9: That’s an interesting question.

      What happens if you keep a recalled product like this installed after the recall, and your house burns down because of it? Does insurance have to pay out?

      • theblackdog says:

        @nbs2: I’m sure they would deny it if they knew.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        @nbs2: makes me wonder too.. if they do have to pay out, why isn’t your homeowner’s insurer constantly sending out lists of recalled home goods to make sure you’ve been notified so they lower the payout risk?

  2. Urgleglurk says:

    “Initiating auto-destruct sequence in 3…2…1…”

  3. winstonthorne says:

    You now have – eight – minutes to reach minimum safe distance.

  4. thekooldude215 says:

    Thank You for shoping at china-mart. 100% Percet Made in China. Our creaters dream.

  5. Omali says:

    Hi Billy Mays here with out latest product, KABOOM!

  6. Scoobatz says:

    Thank you Consumerist! I bought one recently for my 4 year old son’s bedroom. The builder somehow thought it was a good idea to use a switch to control the outlet that was within arm’s distance from walking into his room. I loved the idea of this switch, plus the fact that I was able to easily mount it on the wall low enough for him to use it.

    Of course, upon returning home today from work tonight, it will be removed and thrown in the garbage. Then, I’ll have to put my electrical knowledge to the test and control this outlet the right way.

  7. SabyneWired says:

    @Omali: That has to be one of the most unfortunately-named products in existence. Still, the irony is funny.

  8. shepd says:

    [www.handyswitchrecall.com] -> 1-888-655-4339

    “The number you have reached is not in service”

    That’s quality right there. I love the solution. Here’s a cap that will contain the fire when the product sets on fire.

    Seriously, that’s what it is:

    [www.handyswitchrecall.com]

    They offer another solution, labelled as “Free Wireless Remote Light Switch”, but I have no clue what that is, and I can’t call to find out. :^(

    And this was to be a Christmas gift. This sucks. I don’t want to give the gift of this kind of fire.

    • Rachacha says:

      @shepd: Well actually it will solve the problem. In looking at the recall notice (as someone who evaluates electrical products for safety) it seems like the manufacturer changed the plastic for the nightlight lens without getting it properly tested for flammability. It was likely later discovered and a corrective action of installing a cap over the lens was devised. This cap is made of plastic that meets the flammability rating of the safety test standard and therefore, the product now fully complies with the standard. Is it a half @$$ed/cheezy correction, sure, but it does get the job done and prevents the spread of fire.

    • zentex says:

      @shepd: wtf? it overheats and catches fire…so as a “fix” they send you a cap to “contain” the fire…but the cap also contains the heat, which will probably lead to more fires.

    • Jfielder says:

      @shepd: Haha, this reminds me of some amusing automotive recall fixes. Without pointing and namecalling… A vehicle is built with coil springs that shatter after a couple years, and the jagged spring end punctures the tire causing a blowout, their solution, a steel basket that will catch the shattered spring. Or a car made with faulty valve cover gaskets, when the brakes are applied the leak is so large that oil sloshes out of the top of the engine onto the exhaust manifold, causing a fire. The solution? A piece of metal to redirect the stream of oil…

  9. GitEmSteveDave_IsStrongInTheSnark says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but shouldn’t this have the seal on it, and aren’t they supposed to test for these things before giving their seal?

    • Rachacha says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_IsStrongInTheSnark: Not really. The UL mark (and the marks of their competitors) is only LEGALLY required for products used in the workplace that fall under OSHA’s jurisdiction. As this is clearly a consumer product, it falls under CPSC jurisdiction, certification of products is not a requirement. Most manufacturers as they are concerned about liability have the products certified.

      While I don’t know the exact situation, my guess would be that if it was certified, the manufacturer changed the plastic that was used for the night light lens without UL’s (or whatever test lab certified the product) authorization or approval. This change was dicovered during a factory inspection which prompted the recall.

      I did check the certification directiories that I have access to however, and could not locate where it had been certified.

      (I base this on 15 years in testing electric products for safety and the information in the press release)

    • Snarkysnake says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_IsStrongInTheSnark:

      No and yes. These things are not UL approved . (I have one in my hands as I type). But if they had been tested and approved by Underwriters Laboratories ,they would have been deemed safe and received the UL symbol. UL is a VOLUNTARY certification (actually started by insurers to weed out the shoddy electrical goods in the early days of electrification). They are not a government agency and as such ,have no power to force testing.(Yet another shortcut that the chinese crap coming into the country uses to keep the price low).They charge manufacturers for a batetry of tests that determine safety. If you think that the chinese are going to pay for the testing ,guess again.

      Always look for the UL symbol. It’s copyrighted and its use by an uncertified product is a crime.

      Look for the chinese (and their American enablers) to do the following:

      1) Just blatantly put the symbol on millions of lamps ,toasters and other plug-in goods. They can’t catch ‘em all…

      2) Found some sham “testing” organization that will approve anything that they ship over here. (Like the Handy Switch !)

      • SagarikaLumos says:

        @Snarkysnake: They have already been caught using the UL symbol without approval. If I’m not mistaken, Chinese products that are UL listed now have to have a hologram anti-counterfeit sticker, provided by UL itself, to prove certification.

        What’s funny about it all, is that the Chinese have their own certification that is more strict than some. If youre familiar with the CE mark used for European certification, imagine 3 of that C closely meshed. I’ve seen it on everything from computer mice to car windshields. They’re ok exporting the dangerous stuff, but they couldn’t be having it brought in! Somehow I find it less likely that PPG and Saint-Gobain are sending dangerous windows to China than that they’re sending dangerous Christmas lights here.

        • Snarkysnake says:

          @SagarikaLumos:

          “They have already been caught using the UL symbol without approval.”

          That’s news to me. And as the son of a 40 years master electrician ,its sad , disturbing news. A couple of things that I learned working with my dad :
          1) There are few really good things in life , but UL is one of them. No shortcuts. They are about safety ,period. They are not perfect ,(who is ? ) but they have saved countless lives. To hear that this has occurred is depressing.

          2) Installing inferior products costs the same (in labor) as installing the best there is. Why cut corners ?

          I would be apoplectic if I thought that there was a factory in my town that made shoddy ,dangerous products and shipped them to China to incinerate innocent people. Its too damn bad that the feeling doesn’t run the other way.

          • XTC46 says:

            @Snarkysnake: “Installing inferior products costs the same (in labor) as installing the best there is. Why cut corners ?”

            Because in mass production of products like this, material costs are a lot more than labor…

      • Rachacha says:

        @Snarkysnake: Safety Certification is voluntary ONLY for consumer products. Products in the workplace are required by federal law to be certified. [www.osha.gov] UL and their 14 other competitors are called “Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL)

        Most major retail outlets require the products they sell to be certified by an NRTL before they will place the product on their shelves, but this is for liability issues.

        • Snarkysnake says:

          @Rachacha:

          True and true. Well put. I was referencing the fact that UL is a privately financed , independent testing organization that has no government backing. They are far and away the best known.

    • trixrabbit says:

      @GitEmSteveDave_IsStrongInTheSnark: or, the initial product can pass during the ul test (been through the process many times). the initial design &/or component specs may be good/safe. subsequent shitty manufacturing (i.e. manufactuer substituting cheap “equivalent” parts in production) cause unintended issues.

  10. zentex says:

    ooo thanks for posting this, I was gonna buy one of them handyswitches because I was too lazy to fish a wall and install a new outlet & switch. Looks like I got another project to add to the list

  11. Falcon5768 says:

    They make much better ones that do work for home automation. They also have much better range.

  12. arguewithme says:

    why not just superglue this thing to teh wall?

    [www.amazon.com]

  13. nstonep says:

    Fire happens people…the cavemen used to charge for it, now you get it for free!

  14. NotEd says:

    Y’know I still have almost the same thing, purchased from “The Shack” about 15 years ago, that still works fine. I pull it out during Xmas so I can plug the tree lights into it.
    Never had a problem.

    Of course I didn’t buy mine from a Zombie.

  15. temporaryerror says:

    There used to be a radioshack outlet that had a little keyfob sized remote control to turn it on and off. Worked pretty well if I recall. Of course, they don’t sell it anymore. Had to make room for more cell phone displays.

  16. Gracegottcha says:

    I’ve had one of these for a couple of years. So far so good.

  17. jpdanzig says:

    I read the “zombie” Billie Mays referred to recently as “the late beloved Billie Mays”. Can someone explain to me why a guy who hustled such worthless and potentially dangerous garbage would have been considered “beloved”? Perhaps compared to such contemporary media creatures as Jon Gosselin and Balloon Boy’s dad…

    • lim says:

      @jpdanzig: He was certaintly highly thought of by the companies he made piles of money for.

    • XTC46 says:

      @jpdanzig: Because while some of the stuff he sold was cheap crap, a lot of it was fine. He also helped a lot of people sell products they invented and make a living (see pitchmen). In addition by all accounts, he cared a lot about his friends and family and took care of them.

      He did a job, and he did it very well. Just becasue you didnt like it doesnt mean he was a bad person.

  18. ohsoxx says:

    Aww I love my handy switch. My bedroom doesn’t have a ceiling light, so I needed one to be able to turn on a light without climbing over furniture in the dark.

    Someone above said the phone number isn’t working: it is now. However, the form on the website is not working, so you have to call to register for your replacement.

  19. halcyondays says:

    Buy American when possible – keep your neighbors employed.

  20. groale says:

    I’ve been using one for two years with no issue. I did however open it up and remove the led as I only wanted a light switch, not a 24 hour always on night light. Is that the part that was causing the fires?

  21. techphets says:

    Use X10 products as well. They are inexpensive, offer far more options, and are UL listed.

  22. FLConsumer says:

    X-10 & this stuff blows — take a look at SmartHome.com ‘s Insteon products. They’ve saved my hide more than a few times. UNlike X-10 there’s no delay and no loud clicks. Also works 100% of the time.

  23. groale says:

    So how does a snap on cap over the receiver plug in the wall keep it from lighting on fire?? And why is the second remedy option on the for a new wireless light switch when its the wall plug that bursts into flames??

    • Rachacha says:

      @groale: The snap on cap has a higher flame rating (meaning that it won’t burn, or is very difficult to burn) By placing a plastic cap over the original, you keep the flame (if any) when it overheats inside the enclosure so it does not spread and catch curtains of bed sheets on fire. Product safety standards are strange when you read them. They don’t care if the product works as intended, they don’t care if a blazing fire errupts inside the enclosure, they only care if the fire or other hazzard leaves the enclosure, at that point, the product fails to comply with the standard.

  24. Thumbmaster says:

    I can understand commenters bashing “Made in China” products. But seeing it as part of a blog post is very disconcerting. Does Laura have any idea how much merchandise is made in China? From the lowest quality Walmart junk to the high quality Apple products. You can’t simply say that because things are made in China, that it MUST be bad. Not only does it sound racist, it’s ignorant and hurtful. Comments like this disqualifies consumerist as a respectable news outlet. Or have you been bought up by Fox News recently?

  25. Chip Skylark of Space says:

    We have one plugged in but so very rarely use it. I ordered a full replacement.

  26. Foneguy says:

    What’s up with referring to Billy Mays as a zombie? Come on Consumerist, a little respect. I doubt he knew these were going to end up burning down houses when he pitched them.

  27. Javin says:

    Nice… I have 3 of these. When you attempt to use the website to submit yourself to get replacements, no matter HOW quickly you fill out the form, it says, “your session as expired due to the length of time to fill out the form” and calling the 888 number just results in dead air. So yeah, even though they’re recalled, you can’t get replacements.

  28. jimcarm says:

    When a light switch controls a receptical. It is usually just 1/2 (1 outlet)of the plug. The other half of the plug is always live.