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If a house catches fire, there’s a good chance the culprit is a cooking device.

In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly half of all home structure fires – 46% – are started by some type of cooking equipment, and while more people die from fires started from cigarettes (stop smoking in bed, people), nearly one in five fire related deaths and over 4 in 10 fire injuries are the result of cooking fires.

Leading Causes of Home Fires 2010-2014. Source: NFPA

While these alarming numbers makes sense since cooking requires heat, the reality is most of these fires are preventable. According to the NFPA, the biggest cause of cooking fires is unattended cooking, which makes me wonder why don’t we create technology that helps us prevent fires from starting in the first place.  And while smoke alarms are good reactive measures to help us know something has gone wrong, wouldn’t it be better to create preventative measures that stop the cooking process at the first sign of trouble?

That’s what a new handful startups such as Innohome, iGuardFire and Inirv (a Smart Kitchen Summit Startup Showcase finalist) are hoping to do with a new generation of devices that help prevent fires in the kitchen. These devices sense potential cooking fires and act to shut off cooking equipment and sounding alarms before a fire starts.

Innohome, a Finnish company, has been working on kitchen-centric fire prevention devices for years now, and the company has over two hundred thousand total prevention devices installed in its home country of Finland. The company’s latest product is called the StoveGuard, which uses an overhead heat sensor as well as device installed at the source of power for a stove or range which will automatically cut power if a problem is detected. One of the company’s main customer targets is senior citizens, who are at increased danger of cooking fires as they age.

I connected recently with Eero Vartiainen, Innohome’s Senior VP, North America, to talk about the kitchen fire prevention market and their products.

Wolf: Who is the target audience for kitchen fire protection in the kitchen?

Vartiainen: Although Innohome’s StoveGuard works in any residential kitchen, the target audiences are the people who are most at risk: elderly people, who might have hard time remembering all the tasks that they are performing, and college students/young adults/teenagers due to them possibly cooking for the first time in their lives.

Wolf: Why does the kitchen or stove need its own fire alert system?

Vartiainen: Fire safety in the kitchen is not something that we think all the time as we associate our kitchen to be the heart of the home, the safe place. Therefore, we don’t often think about all the combustible items that are around our cooking devices or the dangers that cooking represents. According to NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) 62% of all cooking fires were caused by ranges or cooktops.

In addition, the stove top cooking presents another set of problems as we are often very busy when we cook: the children are running around, the dog is counter surfing, the TV is demanding our attention and the phone takes us away from the cooking range. A pan with hot oil can combust quickly and unexpectedly often causing massive damage to the kitchen and the surrounding areas. Innohome’s StoveGuard is designed to protect against all these distractions where our attention might not be focused on the cooktop. The aim is to not only limit fires in the kitchen, but also reduce the amount of nuisance/false alarms by providing a device that doesn’t limit your cooking experience yet it protects you against all possible hazards.

Wolf: How do you see the technology working with the broader smart home in the future?

Vartiainen: The smart home technology has taken off in the past couple of years, and we are seeing more and more companies making their devices able to adapt into different ecosystems. Products like Amazon Echo and Google Home are giving every consumer an option to add other products, thus, making our homes more accessible through voice-controlled or other connected technology. Fire prevention systems, such as Innohome’s StoveGuard, will integrate with these platforms and will allow customers to get real-time updates on the status of their cooking equipment. The ability to offer instant feedback will be important for the end-user as they will be able to monitor not only their cooking event, but also have a sense of any potential hazardous situations that might develop if the range has been left unattended.

Wolf: Where did Innohome get the idea for its StoveGuard products?

Vartiainen: Our founder, Matti Myllymaki, has years of extensive experience in designing and patenting all kinds of innovative products. The idea for the StoveGuard came from his fascination with cooking and from the fact he did not see any devices that could accurately monitor the different temperature changes on the stovetop and prevent potential fires. After years of research and development, Innohome launched in 2005 with the goal of providing innovative kitchen fire safety for everyone. The StoveGuard has been installed in over 220,000 kitchens across the world.

Wolf: How is European market different from US?

Vartiainen: European market presents a unique set of challenges for any company wishing to do business there. Although the European Union provides a set of guides and regulations, the different cultures and mind-sets in fire prevention varies greatly from country to country. Some countries are very diligent in ensuring that their citizens are protected by placing mandatory regulations on cooking equipment, whereas other cultures might not place a large emphasis on certain types of protections.

The United States tends to be much more unified. The codes and regulations are usually followed by every State and you don’t see as many differences across the state lines. Also, the European standards are geared towards all wired-in range solutions whereas the U.S. mainly uses four or three prong plugged-in ranges. The plugged-in solution allows for an easier installation and can be performed even by the homeowner.

For many years the fire-protection services have focused on fire suppression yet the overall fire statistics have not gone down. The past couple of years there has been a shift in thinking, however, and more education is being directed towards fire prevention. The NFPA is actively seeking innovative products to reduce the number of house fires, and this is where all the new Smart Home solutions, such as Innohome’s StoveGuard, offers the customers an opportunity to enhance their safety in their homes.

Want to meet the leaders defining the future of food, cooking and the kitchen? Get your tickets for the Smart Kitchen Summit today.