General Question

majorrich's avatar

Has anyone had a CFL Bulb catch fire?

Asked by majorrich (12329 points ) January 15th, 2012

This morning I smelled smoke in the living room and was surprised to find the Compact Florescent Bulb in one of the lamps was smoking profusely and was starting to catch fire. I have been replacing bulbs as they burn out with CFL’s but this has me kinda spooked. This one was an un-branded one from Home Depot. If this is common, should I start hoarding light bulbs?

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19 Answers

BosM's avatar

It hasn’t happened to me and I’ve used them alot. Research on the web revealed this type of issue has occured, albeit very infrequently. I suggest you inform Home Depot, just in case others have had the same problem with their brand of CFL. Also, check that lamp and make sure it hasn’t failed in some way. You don’t want to have that happen again.

”. . since the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission launched its online safety complaints database… there have been 34 reports made by people about CFLs that emitted smoke or a burning odor and four reports of the devices catching fire. As perspective, though, 272 million CFLs were sold in 2009 in the United States.”

http://electricalcontractor.com/?p=3952

dappled_leaves's avatar

I’ve never heard of one catching fire, though I have had friends break them and then worry about the mercury.

Those numbers make me wonder… were 272 million sold to actual consumers, or are they sitting on shelves waiting to be bought? If an incandescent bulb started to smoke or caught fire, I would be unconcerned beyond the cost of the bulb and damage to the lamp. But with CFL… what sort of toxins would be emitted from a burning bulb?

BosM's avatar

@dappled_leaves: According to www.Wattworks.com

“When CFLs burn out they can create acrid plastic smoke and carcinogenic fumes.”

http://www.wattworks.com/CFL%20Hazards.htm

jerv's avatar

@BosM That is true of many things. For instance, gasoline. Yet, we still drive.

If your house is ventilated well enough to maintain oxygen levels capable of supporting human life then I would not worry about it. I have done worse when I try to cook. Whose bright idea was it to make plastic spatulas? Hell, you ought to see what happens with many items of non-stick cookware; that shit will kill you!

@dappled_leaves Consider how many homes there are. 2010 US census figures show that there are over 112 million households. If only half of them use CFLs then there are 56 million US homes using CFLs. Suppose each replaces four bulbs, and that is 224 million bulbs sold right there.

2davidc8's avatar

Yes, I had one in the bathroom burn out and then emit lots of smoke and acrid, pungent fumes. I immediately turned the switch off. I turned on the bathroom fan and opened several windows in the house. The fumes are supposed to be toxic and the mercury in the CFLs dangerous. I put on gloves and handled the bulb carefully and took it to a hazardous materials disposal facility.

dappled_leaves's avatar

So the CPSC has recorded 34 cases in total, but we already have 2 cases among the residents of Fluther… that doesn’t sound right to me.

BosM's avatar

@dappled_leaves – the quote refers to instances that are “reported”. It appears more people may need to actually ‘report’ these incidents.

jerv's avatar

If you eat fish, you probably expose yourself to more mercury than a CFL has. And how many people here have ever blitzed it and tossed alkaline batteries in the trash? More mercury. And I’ve already mentioned the cookware. So tell me, what other dangers are we going to ignore for the sake of demonizing change? A change that environmentally-conscious Europe has had no problem with, I might add. Or is it merely being risk-averse, yet not realizing that you take worse risks every day?

Sorry, but I don’t understand the concern here… unless people like looking for reasons to be scared, which doesn’t make sense since there is plenty to be scared of without making shit up.

rojo's avatar

I have never had one catch fire or burst into flames but I have had several that look “burned” at the base where the glass and ceramic come together. I have wondered what is actually happening. Come to think about it, these were probably Home Depot brands as well since we get a lot from there.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@jerv Actually, I eat little fish, I don’t throw away batteries, and I am extremely careful with my nonstick pans (i.e., I take no metal to them and I don’t overcook my food). Neither do I use plastic spatulas when a wood one will do. All of these are conscious choices that I make to decrease health risks. I am not averse to change; in fact I generally welcome new technologies that make our lives better. However, I don’t think the book should have been closed on CF bulbs so quickly, and I don’t think we should be forced to buy them if we don’t believe that they are safe. I would appreciate it if you didn’t try to make me look silly for caring about my health. Thanks.

jerv's avatar

@dappled_leaves That was not my intent. My point is merely that they are no more dangerous than many other things, and have been used safely elsewhere for years by people who are environmentally conscious.
Then again, it took America quite a while to regard taking a patients temperature to be a diagnostic aid to medicine, and we still don’t use the metric system, so I am not surprised that we here in the states are behind the times.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I am not in the States. Nice try on the backhanded insult, though.

majorrich's avatar

Jerv, you goof! I just don’t want my house to catch fire! I like the idea of potential savings but really don’t see the savings promised from the manufacturers. Still takes a ton more resources to manufacture (in China they had to build more coal fired power plants to run the factories to make CFL’s) Looking forward to LED technology to become more affordable, but right now, the cost of a single LED bulb of 75 watt equivalent buys a whole bunch of old fashioned bulbs. If the fixture was on an went poof while I wasn’t at home this could have been disastrous. Of course it could have burned out without setting anything else on fire I sense would be the response.

2davidc8's avatar

I still use CFLs. It’s just good to know what MAY happen, and to be ready to take appropriate action if it does. I believe I did the right thing when mine started to emit smoke.

@majorrich You make a good point about what would have happened had I not been home when this happened. Now I’m going to make sure that I don’t have any CFLs on automatic timers.

jerv's avatar

@majorrich Nor do I (one house fire in my life is more than enough!), yet I have used CFLs for years without issue. As for the savings, my little cottage in the woods of NH cut about $30/month off the electric bill; almost in half!
Then again, my home is dark when nobody is home. My cats don’t need the lights, and when I am out, neither do I.

@2davidc8 The first thing you do for electrical fires is cut power. Most of the time, that alone erik put it out. Once the fire is out, de-smoke. You did it right.

majorrich's avatar

I’ve only had this one incident, but have an absentminded mother (82)roaming around the house randomly turning on/off lights, forgetting to turn off burners on the stove etc. Adding the poof factor just added to my worries.

jerv's avatar

Ah. That makes sense. My cat Darwin also randomly turns lights on/off, so I know what it’s like to worry about what happens when I’m not home.

RocketGuy's avatar

CFL manufacturers claim that normal CFLs will overheat and catch fire if used with a dimmer. You need dimmable CFLs if your circuit has a dimmer

I have tried a normal CFL in a dimmable fixture. It did not dim, and made a noticable humming noise – probably not a good idea, so I spent the $ on a dimmable one.

2davidc8's avatar

@RocketGuy Another GA from the Fluther community!. I will keep your warning mind. However, in my case, the bulb was not on circuit with a dimmer.

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