I have heard that CFLs can overheat and smoke - should I be worried? Why would this happen? Are these bulbs a fire hazard?

Unfortunately, there have been some instances of CFLs smoking or smoldering. While this usually occurs when the product is defective or installed improperly, it is nonetheless a concern to consumers and the government. The latest ENERGY STAR CFL specification (which went into effect December 2, 2008) requires all ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs to incorporate end-of-life requirements and higher safety standards. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs currently meet UL safety standards, which require the materials to be self-extinguishing. So, although the base or glass tubing may darken, an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL should never catch on fire. CFL manufacturers recommend that you install and remove CFLs by grasping the plastic portions of the base only. If the CFL is screwed into a light socket by twisting the tube rather than the plastic base, it can cause the vacuum seal or glass tubing in the CFL to break. Once certain parts are exposed to oxygen, they are more liable to become defective and/or overheat.

In some cases, when a fluorescent tube reaches it end of useful life, the arc contained in the tube may elevate the temperature of the housing plastic near one end of the tube. This elevated temperature, although it is short lived, may produce some limited smoke and odor. In some cases a flashing arc internal to the fluorescent tube or ballast may occur and in some extreme cases, a deformation, significant distortion, or small breach of the plastic material may happen. Again, the materials and evaluation tests are designed to prevent subsequent safety hazard.

If you have a product that does begin to smoke or smolder, immediately shut off the power to the CFL and, once it has cooled, remove it from the light socket. Then, send us e-mail at cfl@energystar.gov to alert us of this incident. Please include the product manufacturer's name and model information that is included on the CFL base and if possible an electronic photo. Also please tell us how the CFL was used - open or enclosed light fixture; indoors or outdoors; base orientation - up, down or sideways. Then visit the manufacturer's web site to find customer service contact information to inform them of the early failure. Manufacturers producing ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs are required to offer at least a 2-year limited warranty (covering manufacturer defects) for residential applications. In some cases, the manufacturer may request the failed product to be shipped to them so they can determine why the smoking happened, so make sure to keep the product until you speak to the manufacturer. The manufacturer will most likely provide a replacement product or a refund.

If you have additional questions or concerns about your ENERGY STAR qualified CFL, please e-mail us at cfl@energystar.gov.

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Topic Information
  • Topic #: 23002-14539
  • Date Created: 6/22/2007
  • Last Modified Since: 4/7/2009
  • Viewed: 20744
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