CFL Fire Hazard

My translation of a news clip from Swedish national television, SVT titled Lågenergilampan – en brandrisk:

The CFL – a fire hazard

The compact fluorescent lamp is becoming more common in Swedish homes, with the phase out of the incandescent bulb. But the lamp has proven to be a fire hazard in itself.

The problem with CFLs is that the plastic surrounding it easily burns at high temperatures.

- Unfortunately it leads to many bigger fires when the plastic starts burning. In some cases there is only a smaller incident but those in turn may lead to more damaging fires. In the worst case scenrio people can die if you’re in a house and don’t get out in time, says fire investigator David Wiklund at Södertörn’s fire department to Rapport.

Common cause

Counted in numbers, fires started by lamps is a big problem. Between 1996 and 2008 1 033 fires were started by lamps. During the same period, only 96 fires were stared by coffee machines and 63 by irons.

How many of these were started by CFLs specifically, the statisics does not tell us. But a CFL is filled with technology which may catch fire – and the lamp [base] is enclosed by plastic.

In Sweden there are no rules requiring the lamp to go out by itself at high temperatures.

David Widlund wishes there were stricter regulations for the lamps than what currently exists.

-It is not at all good to have a type of plastic in the lamps that may catch fire. We would rather see a fire-proof plastic, he says.

Regulation lagging behind

As incandescent bulbs are phased out, the demand for CFLs has increased. But regulation has not caught up.

-There has been little awareness of these problems, they have only arisen as demand has increased to rapidly. But STEM, the Swedish Energy Authority, will inform the EU commision about these problems, says Kalle Hashmi who is lighting expert at STEM.

Today there is nothing one can do to make sure the lamp doesn’t start burning. The safety markings on the CFLs themselves give no guarantee.

-Compared to an incandescent bulb which in itself cannot burn, we are replacing it with this product which can start burning. That is of course a poorer alternative, David Wiklund thinks.

For those of us with lighting as a special interest, this is old news. [1]

However, to be fair, most of the fires mentioned in the statistics above were probably started by wrongly installed recessed halogen lights, or by halogen spotlights used too close to something burnable. They get very hot and the focused beam needs at least 50 cm distance or more. Recessed halogen lights should always be installed by an electrician. Especially dicroic halogen lamps where the heat is reflected backwards to avoid getting too hot in the direction of the beam; instead these get very hot at the base and constitute a fire hazard if not installed correctly, with enough ventilation. If a wrongly installed lamp is found after a fire, your home insurance company may hold you responsible and I’m sure you can guess what that means. [2]

But back to CFLs. Many appear to have some safety thing that makes them give off a lot of foul smelling smoke as they go out but not actually burn. But if they do catch fire to the point where the glass cracks, that will add the additional hazard of releasing its mercury vapour content into the air.

Do use all lamps with care:

• Always follow safety instructions.

• Don’t use a higher wattage lamp than the luminaire is marked for.

• Don’t install recessed spotlights yourself.

• Don’t use halogen spotlights too close to anything burnable (including house plants, which may dry out if not burn).

• Don’t let children handle CFLs or halogen lamps, and do not use such lamps in luminaires which may get knocked over by playing children or pets.

• Be  extra careful with lamps left on when you’re asleep or not home. Don’t leave lamps with a paper shade unattended. Safest (and most economical) lamp to leave on would be LEDs which do not get hot at all.

References

1. Should There Be a Ban on Incandescent Light?

2. “Populära lampor kostar försäkringsbolagen miljoner” (Swedish article called “Popular lamps cost insurance companies millions”)

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12 Comments

  1. Lighthouse said,

    March 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    A related point
    – which apparently also relates to fire hazard –
    is that CFLs are made to either point upwards or downwards,
    or overheating in the inbuilt ballast base can take place.
    Must remember to comment on that myself :-)

    More on fire and home safety risks

    http://ceolas.net/#li18ex

    .

  2. Lighthouse said,

    March 9, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    ….should add that I am not sure about the extent positional sensitivity applies to *all* CFLs,
    and maybe does not apply to the less common ones with external ballast…

  3. March 10, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    Care for some spectacular links?

    “sniper” inside the cfl, from usenet:

    http://groups.google.com/group/sci.electronics.repair/browse_thread/thread/a9d96c072ecda75d/

    burnt-out cfl, on cpf:

    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?t=190185

    “LEDs which do not get hot at all”
    The above statement is just wrong, as any fingertip abused as a power-LED’s thermal path will testify.

    Interesting results when dimmed were reported here,

    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?t=260972

    See last post.

    Hugely underreported, Philips’ first generation dimmable 7W MasterLED retrofits are fire hazards:

    http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/dyna/rapex/create_rapex.cfm?rx_id=255

  4. halogenica said,

    March 11, 2010 at 6:29 am

    Thanks for the links, guys.

    About LEDs, I meant they do not get hot to the touch like other lamps in general and halogen in particular. You can still touch an LED even after it has been on for a while and it’s only luke-warm. But of course they may still overheat if not constructed or used properly.

    Didn’t know they could catch fire though. :-(

    • RickG said,

      July 27, 2010 at 6:46 pm

      “Toy” leds and led indicator lights don’t get hot, but high power LED’s for illumination do get quite hot. That’s why there are heat dissipation fins on the rechargeable LED headlamps I use when biking, and why the manufacturer insists that the lamps are not to be left on for an extended period when the bike is not in motion, moving air over the fins – these are not meant to be used as flashlights. So although the LED’s dissipate a lot less of the energy input as sensible heat, they do generate high temperatures and require heat sinks to avoid self-destruction.

      But I’m ready for LED home lighting as soon as color indexes and cost hurdles are overcome. I’ve got some CFL’s at home, but I’m getting less comfortable about having them around.

  5. peter dublin said,

    March 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    …and notice how politicians always go on about the “big heat waste” of incandescents – as if the other bulbs did not generate significant amounts of heat too!

    Even more ironically, the externally radiated heat of incandescents is usually welcome (when it’s cold and dark, both lighting and room heating often comes on in temperate climates) – while the internalized heat of fluorescents and sometimes LEDS can give the mentioned safety issues….

    Of course you know this already, but casual readers might not, and our dear rulers obviously don’t ;-)

  6. May 22, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I thank you for your valuable work exposing the lies behind the push to outlaw incandescent lightbulbs and make us all live in a dimmer, duller world. Alas my own hoarde of incandescents is sadly dwindling.

  7. Don Rogers said,

    November 7, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    I heard about compact fluorescents emitting flames and discounted these as either 1 in a million or due to unusual circumstance until I had one burn in my basement. It burned a hole in the base about the size of a quarter. The black smoke stains indicated a sizable flame. there was nothing near that could catch fire so no damage occurred but i will not leave one on again while I am away. I am returning to incandescents.

  8. June Heimsoth said,

    March 1, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    I had a 23 w CFL 10,000 hr energy star rated, made in China for FEIT ELECTRIC CO, in my kitchen range hood for one week. It looked pretty good for a CFL. last night it flashed bright then started smelling smokey. When I removed it, it was still glowing a little near the base, and the base was hot with a scorched spot near the coil. I don’t like being stuck with these things.

  9. January 22, 2013 at 10:38 am

    With the availability of so many antique equipment, it tends to make
    it complicated to pick out. While sitting in their landfills, they are exposed to the rough weather, creating them to erode, which sales opportunities
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  10. ong YF said,

    March 29, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Ikea’s packing on CFL cautions against touching of CFL bulb with one’s fingers. Can’t be the phosphor lining because that’s internal. Any reason why?

    • halogenica said,

      March 29, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      Sorry, no clue. But I’d like to know too.

      Perhaps you’d like to call them up and ask, and then post their reply here?


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