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Energy Saving Bulbs Not A Fire Hazard

Posted by Kari / March 22, 2007

bulb.gifA misleading report on 680News has some Torontonian's concerned over the apparent fire hazard of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL bulbs). 680News issued the report this morning, after informed us that these bulbs do not pose a threat, but do have an interesting end to their seemingly ever-lasting life.

According to Stuart Hickox of One Change/Project Porchlight (an organization giving free CFL bulbs out in Ottawa, Thunder Bay and Yellowknife), these energy-saving bulbs have been around for years, and have been thoroughly tested. My guess is that environmentally aware folks, who purchased these bulbs when they first became known for decreasing energy consumption levels, are just now witnessing the bulbs inevitable "light at the end of the tunnel".

The science behind it tells us this:
"Bulbs burn out when the ballast overheats and an electronic component, the Voltage Dependent Resister (VDR), opens up like a fuse in your home's fuse box, shutting off the circuit and generating heat and possibly a small amount of smoke. This might sound dangerous, but the VDR is a cut-off switch that prevents any hazards. The melted plastic you're seeing where the glass coil connects to the ballast is simply a sign that the heat is escaping as intended in the design of the bulb."

So, the burny smell coming from your CFL bulb when it dies is normal, as is the melting/overheating. Your house will not explode if you use these lights. The ballast of the lights should be made of a UL approved plastic (Underwriters Laboratories), ensuring that the base can tolerate the amount of heat emitted when the bulb's life span is over (you can check your bulbs, it should have the letters "UL" on it). Ontario's Electrical Safety Authority will be releasing a warning later this week, notifying the public of the normal, yet understandably alarming, CFL bulb expiration process.

blinky.gifWhat you do have to be concerned about is the proper disposal of these bulbs. They contain mercury, and they should be brought to your nearest solid waste drop off depot (disposal is free, I called to check). You can also bring them to your local Community Environment Day event to get rid of them. The mercury from the bulb can be collected, distilled and reused, so no toxic materials end up in our landfills and water systems. No three-eyed Blinky's for us!

Photos: and



lister / March 22, 2007 at 04:44 pm
Is it me or do the dropoff days & hours suck? If the city, province and country is really serious about recycling the hours and locations should really be more convenient so people have no excuse for not disposing of things safely.
Jerrold / March 22, 2007 at 05:17 pm
They should have blown bulb collection at the beer store. People might actually turn them in for safe disposal were that an option.
Marc Lostracco / March 23, 2007 at 10:08 am
You should have responsibly noted that CF bulbs <em>are</em> a fire hazard when used on three-way or dimmer switches. That may be a no-brainer to some, but it certainly isn't to most.
Alan / March 23, 2007 at 10:52 am
I had a bulb fail like this about a year ago. They may not cause a fire, but there was a lot a very bad smelling smoke. How toxic is the smoke from melting plastic? Have any tests be done to determine the health impact of breathing the smoke in confined spaces?
Kari / March 23, 2007 at 12:37 pm
You're right Marc, I should've added that CFL's should not be used in three-way lights or dimmers.

ESA did release the warning I mentioned stating that CFL's should not be used in totally enclosed recessed fixtures, with dimmer switches, in touch lamps with photocells or with electronic timers, where exposed to weather, or where exposed to water.

Here's a link to the warning PDF:
Kari / March 23, 2007 at 01:01 pm
And I checked on the UL website for anything about the toxicity of the smoke/smell emitted by the burning out CFL, but unfortunately couldn't find anything.

There's a confidentiality agreement between UL and its clients, so no info is readily available about test results.
I think you can purchase an outline of their testing procedures though...

I did a search on Google to see if there was any info out there about the toxicity of the smoke, but I wasn't able to find anything.
Rod Elliott / April 2, 2007 at 03:13 am
It was stated in the article above that ...
<blockquote>Bulbs burn out when the ballast overheats and an electronic component, the Voltage Dependent Resister (VDR), opens up like a fuse in your home's fuse box, shutting off the circuit and generating heat and possibly a small amount of smoke.</blockquote>

This is unmitigated nonsense. If there is a voltage dependent resistor, it is for surge protection, and they do <u>not</u> "open up like a fuse". There may be a <i>fusible resistor</i> in the circuit, but this is to protect house wiring from a possible short circuit within the CFL.

Secondly (and as acknowledged), there most certainly is a fire risk if the CFL is used with a dimmer (even if the dimmer is kept at the maximum setting). This information is depressingly hard to find.

For those interested, I suggest that they read the article on my website ...

The article is rather technical, but this is a technical topic, and there is a great deal of misinformation sprouted on websites and by politicians.

Elana / March 24, 2008 at 10:36 am
I have just had one of these lights burn out on me and their were flames. I can't beleive that the government promotes the use of the bulbs. All I can do is be thankfull I was right there.
concerned / June 20, 2008 at 04:23 pm
I was underneath the light in by bedroom when the lightbulb shot out flames from 4 sides at the base!! If I hadn't been in the room to turn the light off, there's no telling how much of my house would have burnt down!
Dick L. / September 28, 2008 at 12:12 am
I just had a "Lights of America" 14W bulb go up in flames from the lamp base when I turned it on. Glad I was there when it happened. What ever off gas it emits when on fire has stunk up the whole house. This is not the type of end of life experience I am interested in. I'm getting rid of all my CFL's and going back to incandescents. This is not the type of product you give a second chance to.
sam / December 26, 2008 at 05:47 pm
I'd had cfls die unceremoniously before but today a sunbeam 24w cfl burnt out as described here. Orange glow and sizzling and acrid burnt plastic smoke. Bet we hear more of this as other's bulbs die this stinky scary death! Not comforting knowing most all of our house's bulbs have been switched over to cfls!
david / January 7, 2009 at 01:12 pm
I have a energy saver bulb made by philips (14w) and it scared the piss out of me and my family. Over the holidays the bulb started smoking and got very, very, very hot to the touch. The bulb was not enclosed and the smoke lingered for 2 hours in the house and caused several of my guests to get head aches. As for just getting a little warm the balast is charred black and I needed a glove to remove it from the light fixture.

We are not hearing the whole story here from the manufacturers and government.
Graham Knopp / March 16, 2009 at 09:14 pm
I installed one in an overhead office fixture, an older ceramic socket, and after turning on, off, and making a "snap, crackle, and pop" noise, my circuit breaker tripped. Not pleasant in a retail setting. Upon removing the CFL, it was apparent that a discharge had occurred on the base of the bulb (i.e., deep within the socket), evidenced by blackened and melted metal. I think these can be fire hazards and I will not use them - particularly in older light fixtures.
claude replying to a comment from david / May 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm
Hi dave we just had the same thing happen in my daughters room.The bulb was also not in an inclosure..I went to the fire department and they said they have heard of a few incidents. One is to many.I am removing ours shortly and stocking up on the old ones.
diamond / June 7, 2009 at 03:51 pm
so thats why a cfl almost burned my house down?luckily i was home and smelled the burning bulb in the air and checked it out.half melted in the socket,almost dripping.the vapor was very healthy i suppose too.
Don / June 23, 2009 at 11:17 pm
Saturday night we had an experience with one of these bulbs. We were fortunate that I was in the room at the time and the light went out, I thought O it must be a power outage, then it came back on again, then it started making a sizzling, frying sound and smoke started coming out. I quickly turned it off and also unplugged it. Needless to say No More Energy Saving Bulbs for this home.
Karen / July 8, 2009 at 08:28 am
Last night we opened the door to the garage and it full of smoke.
The fire departmant came; took several hours to get to the soruce of our 'smoking gun' was the bulb! The bulbs were being used in 2 ceramic fixtures in which 1 got to hot and stared smoldering.
The police chief told us that he knew of 3 fires related to these kind of light bulbs overheating and starting a fire source.

No more energy bulbs for me.
that guy replying to a comment from Karen / July 8, 2009 at 09:18 am
Karen I advise you to get rid of your TV, computer and radio. A lot more cases of those power supplies catching fire.
Jody / July 22, 2009 at 08:27 am
Last night one of my cfl's began to flicker...
naturally I thought it was burning out...
It went out, and a few minutes later I began to smell burning plastic.
I looked at the ceiling light and smoke was pouring out.
The base where one side of the bulb goes into is all charred and black.
This bulb was purchased 2 years ago from extra Foods.
it was a 'Everyday Essentials' brand (store brand).
Neil Roy / September 15, 2009 at 12:26 pm
I just had one of our CFL bulbs die on me. Last night it started to flicker, and today I smelled something burning. I looked around the room and noticed my light had died. When i took it out it was too hot to handle, the base was black, the glass was cracked open. It was too hot to hold, and 5 mins later, it was still too hot. I'm now very nervous about the rest of them in my home and worst yet, here in Canada (Ontario anyhow) they want to phase out the old bulbs and FORCE us to buy these fire hazards!
Randy Woods / January 14, 2010 at 08:56 pm
Surely you're joking by saying it's "normal" for a CFL bulb to make popping sounds, emit smoke and melt plastic to give us "a sign" that the bulb is in the process of dying. That has to be the worst design feature I've ever seen for an electrical product! How can this be green-lighTed by UL?? I just bought a house that is riddled with these damned CFL things from the previous owner and I just had one fill my bathroom with acrid smoke to "indicate" that it had expired -- along with a small scorch mark at the base and spot of melted plastic. Thanks for trying to save the environment by bringing MORE mercury into my environment, but after seeing the above comments, I am going on a seek-and-dispose mission until every last one is in the hazwaste bin where they belong! I'll stick with incandescents, thank you, until these morons get the design fixed.
Stephen / February 15, 2010 at 06:13 am
About a month ago, I've had a CFL bulb "burn out" in my kitchen dinning area. It was in a ceiling fan light fixture with a total of three sockets. The "burnt-out" one was left in place for about a WEEK with the other TWO WORKING BULBS in the SAME FIXTURE, which was TURNED ON most of the time. Once I got around to replacing it, the ballast was BOILING HOT - even though the bulb did not light up. I've replaced all three bulbs with "ceiling fan grade" clear incandescent bulbs. Since this ceiling fan light fixture is above the kitchen table where my family and I eat every day, the lighting quality from the incandescent bulbs is far more superior than the UGLY CFL lighting; especially where food is concerned. Food looks horrible under ANY type of florescent lighting. I HATE florescent (or LED) lighting when it comes to general lighting inside of a house. The quality of CFL (or any other florescent lighting) or LED lighting SUCKS!! I would not want to live the rest of my life under florescent or LED lighting in my own house. I'm going to stock up on as many incandescent bulbs as I can. Hopefully at least an 80-year supply for 40 bulbs around the house. Any proposal to ban incandescent lighting is clearly UNJUSTIFIED!! We do not need the government telling us what we can and can't use, or what we can and can't do inside of our own homes!! It's not like we're dealing with BOMBS - they're LIGHTBULBS for GOD'S SAKE!! Consumer's should be able to buy whatever they want when it comes to HOUSEHOLD ITEMS!! All this talk about "Global Warming", "Climate Change", or "Green House Gas Emissions" is complete PSEUDO-SCIENCE - which has NOTHING to do with "protecting the environment". It's about PURE DICTATORSHIP. If governments throughout the world were serious about protecting the environment, they would be banning any clear-cutting of rainforests, and they would ban the manufacture of nuclear bombs used for their unnecessary wars. Instead, they work much harder in finding ways to take more freedoms away from us. Read "New World Order". Go to YouTube, and watch the movie "The Obama Deception".
Christine / March 29, 2010 at 10:27 pm
Tonight while in the bath, I heard a cracking, poping, and sizzling noise coming from the light along with it flickering off and on and then I saw bright orange colour from it. It stopped and went out and I didn't thing anything else of it. Then a few mins later I could smell a funny smell. My daughter came in and said " what's that smell?" "Oh you smell it too?" She looked and saw some smoke coming from the light. I got out to look at it and seen that it was burning and smoking. I was shocked. I felt it to take it out and it wasn't that hot yet. When I took it out, the one side where it was burning was completly black. The plastic was melting around where the light coil connects. The smell is awful, it stinks and gives me a headache! I am now concerned with sleeping tonight, wondering if the other lights that are in are going to catch on fire even though the lights are off. How can they say it's safe when there are so many of the same problems? Something needs to be done or something worse may happen! I keep thinking that we were lucky I was in there, or else it could of made my house on fire. ( even though we shut lights off all time the kids don't always shut things off)
It was a sylvania energy light. I am going to be sending off my complaint to the company and government...
Walt McLellan / November 19, 2010 at 05:33 pm
We have faithfully been using these energy saving fluorescent light bulbs until tonight while I was out my daughter heard a popping sound and when to investigate what she saw was smoke and small flame coming out of the bulb she quickly turned off the light and it stopped. If no one was home we would have had a fire in our house. I will never use these bulbs again.
LIFTPIT / December 8, 2010 at 01:02 pm
Why our we not hearing more about these bulbs in the UK ?
Harriet / December 28, 2010 at 10:18 am
Good thing someone was in the room when our Sunbeam 120V 60hz CFL started popping, smoking and smelling to high heaven!

The Sunbeam representative I just connected with, after a 30 minute wait, is going to send me literature which describes that this is the normal way in which the light bulb expires. I can't believe that products are 'designed' to cease the productivity in such a manner. Something is very wrong with this picture.

How many lives have been lost by fires caused by these products?

BigBlue56 / January 31, 2011 at 02:57 pm
Why isn't anyone talking about the mercury that is released if a CFL bulb breaks or cracks. Breathing mercury vapor is not the healthiest thing to do. (said sarcastically)
An LED fan / February 3, 2011 at 04:42 pm
Incandecent bulbs suck up sooo much energy and CFL's (reguardless of what they are trying to say) give off toxic fumes and threaten to burn down our houses. I use only the LED bulbs. The prices do tend to be a bit higher but when you look at the cost of rebuilding a home and the fact that the old fashioned incand. bulbs will not be sold soon I am ok with that. I found a company in the us that has a great household looking bulb in 40 or 60W equivelants for 36 / 41 dollars. They are warrantied for 5 years as well. I even got them in a warmer color that doesn't "look" led. I was told upon calling that they have NO ballasts to go bad and just slowly dim out when their life is over. NO SMOKE OR FIRE and there is no mercury in them I was told. If you google clean light green light you can find their phone number and order right from them. That or just google purchase led and see what you find.

I think it is horrible that the UL and all the green companies want us to buy these Curly Q bulbs as my son calls them when they are obviously NOT safe for us our homes or our children. I mean really who reads that closely when they buy light bulbs to see no dimmer no three way no recessed fixtures etc. Lastly, who wants a 10 step clean up for if they break. Good grief!

Good luck and stay safe everyone.
Mike S / March 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm
One of these just started smoking and stinking in our new home. Scary stuff, that's some B S. I don't need to see and smell smoke to tell me my bulb is dying, when it doesn't come on when I flip the switch, then I know it's bad. They need to redesign these.
Matt T.O> replying to a comment from that guy / July 9, 2011 at 04:41 pm
I'm almost a century old, and have NEVER heard of a TV or a radio causing a fire. I do know three people personally that have had incidents with CFLB's. Fortunately, most people don't leave their lights on when they leave home.
Lt Jeff Lyday SFRD / January 3, 2012 at 09:37 am
I have had two of the "improved" CFL bulbs in my own home that showered sparks at least 24" from the bulb when they failed. As an assistant Fire Marshal in a community of 60,000
I have received many bulbs that have failed in similar ways.
I will continue to teach my fire safety classes to treat these as candles and don't leave them on as security lighting in your home.In the event that these bulbs "just smoke" or "melt down" they still produce enough heat to ignite paper,cloth, and other normal combustibles. Please use caution when and where these bulbs are used. (See the October issue of Consumer Reports Magazine for additional information.)
Beth / February 21, 2012 at 02:18 pm
Someone should tell my living room ceiling that the energy efficient bulbs aren't a threat. It is burnt thanks to one of them last night. Thank God I was home or my house would have burned down. I refuse to buy them ever again and they should be taken off the market before people die.
hollysayso / February 21, 2012 at 02:31 pm
Wow, there's a lot of stories on here to make you wonder about the validity of the safety claims.

I wouldn't have these bulbs if m apartment didn't come with them.
Alex / February 21, 2012 at 02:36 pm
My family has been using the curly bulbs for years and none of ours died this way. I know to replace them because they don't turn on when I flick the light switch, same as incandescents. I've never heard of one smoking or burning or anything.
Tracy / June 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm
I have a friend who had a couple of these bulbs. Well she and her boyfriend lost everything because of these bulbs.
Amy / June 2, 2012 at 01:50 pm
I just bought and installed a set of these bulbs for the first time this week, so this article is timely for me. Needless to say, I'm now very worried! :(
I live in a high-rise apartment and I've got the bulbs in a couple of ceiling fixtures (two in each with heavy glass covers that clip on over the top).

I might get in touch with my superintendent/mgm't company as they themselves have installed CFL bulbs in the common areas of the building.
W. K. Lis / June 2, 2012 at 02:32 pm
Today, the incandescent light bulb is obsolete, slowly being replaced by C(ompact) F(luorescent) L(ight) bulbs. However, the problem with the CFL is in two parts: the very, very, very small bit of mercury in them, and the ballast they have to have to make them operate.

The good news is that the L(ight) E(mitting) D(iodes) light is already available (to be followed by the OLED, but in the same family [O for Organic]) which will replace them all. No ballast.

With LED the light is bright, the light output remains constant over time, the shade of white light appears clear and consistent over time. efficiency is as good as or better than fluorescent lighting, light comes on instantly when turned on, no flickering, the bulb does not use power when it is turned off.

The bad news with LED bulbs is that they are still expensive, but like CFL used to be, they will go down in price over the years.
darl bundren / December 30, 2012 at 04:51 pm
Being frugal I wanted the saving in my electiric bil in the states For two years I haveused CFls of al types to slowly change out regular incandesents. issues so far are a lor of the new bulbs have a wierd ooking light and it is not pleasing at any level along the specturm. but im into saving money so dealt with it. Just recently I smelled like a toxic smelling smoke and investigated: bathroom CFl in fixture had burnt and was smouldering aong the base!! it was hot to the touch. I turned off swith and removed. closest place to dump these is so far away one suspects many folks just throw them in the garbage. Uggg tht smell of burning is throughout the house now. WTF!
bills8091 / August 30, 2013 at 09:01 pm
I do like these lights. Do they affect the fuse box at all? I had to get a fuse box repair in Denver, CO not too long ago. I'm not sure what happened so I was just wondering if this had anything to do with it.
Chet / September 28, 2013 at 04:17 am
The GE Entergy saving bulbs today (and these comments have been going on for awhile)...will make a "Popping Sound" and then the lampshade will burst into flames! I thought I had a light switch problem and took my lamp to the local lamp shop. They have had over a hundred of these bulbs "pop" and then some shades burst into flames! The lamp shop gave examples to State AG so they can follow up on this safety hazard. All our bulbs have been replaced with Westinghouse bulbs because they have not shared this fire hazard. This is a serious problem and action needs to be taken now to safeguard the citizens.
Kaycee / September 30, 2013 at 07:28 pm
Today I experienced the death of one of my CLFs. Scary stuff. It sputtered but then seemed to settle down and give consistent light. A few minutes later, I smelled something burning. The light was out, but it was glowing orange around the base. The base had a hole in it and there where the glass entered the base, there was a burnt brown substance. SO glad I was home to catch this as a fire might very well have resulted.
Dee Dee / November 12, 2013 at 02:45 am
These bulbs are most definitely a fire hazard! A year ago we lost our home and belongings because of a fire started precisely due to one of these energy saving lightbulbs! (The cause of the fire was investigated and determined to be such by officials)
And this so common, it's all over the internet! Even the bulb salesman at Home Depot knew about the fire risk! A lady I spoke to following our fire, said she had an energy saving lightbulb burst into flames before here eyes twice now! These events go unreported and therefore no statistics on many incidents, as people quickly turn the light switch off and kill the fire.
How can one compare the environmental savings when compared to the environmental (and other!) fallout of a fire burning down a home! When you add the mercury factor (and other cancerous substances) as well as the radiation risk of these bulbs, one has to wonder: "WHAT, IN THE NAME OF PROGRESS, ARE WE DOING WITH THESE LIGHT BULBS??" We went to great lengths to rid our thermometers of mercury, - a highly toxic heavy metal. I find it unbelievable that, for the sake of saving energy, we would litter our landfills with these bulbs, having mercury seeping into our rivers and lakes. ...We would risk our lives and homes being destroyed by fire, we would risk the health and life of even a single child poisoned and neurologically damaged by mercury!…. Consider all that cost into the environmental equation! All that compared to saving 80% more energy and having bulbs that last 10 times longer. To me the choice is a no-brainer!
Here is one good read, and there is lots more to read or to watch on youtube:
Greg / December 17, 2013 at 12:03 am
Yeah CFLs give a very poor quality light, the spectrums suck no matter which brand. Flourescent is crappy light!!! The fluorescent tubes give an acceptable light for a laundry room, garage or commercial retail/warehouse. Coil a fluorescent tube into a swirl and the light becomes shadowy and sparse. I prefer incandescents not for price or principal, I hate fluorescent light. I have to wonder about those who like it. they must be color blind, maybe vampires? really cheap? unless you have 100 watt bulbs in every socket of every fixture, converting an entire house to CFL would only save $5-$7 monthly. Considering a fridge/chest freezer uses $16-$27 monthly , this should tell you something. If people really want to save the planet, get rid of that old chest freezer that's full of 4 year old freezer burned meat. better yet, ban the sale of ridiculous suv's , Lincoln navigator, Toyota sequoia , if you own one you know how terrible the fuel consumption really is. These vehicles alone use waaaaaaaaaaay more energy than incandescent bulbs.
chas / February 16, 2016 at 07:36 pm
bullshit these bulbs suck and are dangerous they over heat and burn and full of mercury
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