Compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, have been counted on to light the way to a more energy-efficient future.
Compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, which will gradually be phased out starting in January, CFLs use about a fifth the power and have a life six to 10 times as great.
However, since the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission launched its online safety complaints database in March, 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.
Nevertheless, the complaints are a cause for concern, according to Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services.
“In 2008, the state fire marshal’s office office first alerted the fire chiefs that CFLs could smoke” at the end of their life, she said.
“I’m not aware of any fires that fire departments in the state have responded to that were started by CFLs, but, it’s a good idea to be vigilant,” she said.An incandescent bulb typically ends its life when the wire filament, which glows to produce light when electricity passes through it, burns out and breaks. Fires from this are almost nonexistent.A CFL uses electricity to heat an element in the lamp’s base that excites the mercury vapor gas in the coils so that they emit light. When a CFL can no longer produce light, the electronics in its base will still try to function, sometimes leading to overheating, smoke and fire.
Consumer Reports magazine, in its August issue, addressed the CFL burnout issue. “In our labs, we’ve tested 77 models of compact fluorescent lightbulbs over the last five years, for a combined 2,680,000 hours of light,” the article said.