5 On Your Side

Raleigh man reconsiders compact fluorescent bulbs after close call

Posted December 10, 2013

Jim Guettler was at home in Raleigh when he smelled something burning.

“We came out to the garage, looked up in the ceiling and saw the melted light bulb and the scorch, smoke marks on the ceiling,” he said. “It was like, ‘How did that happen to a light bulb?’"

The compact fluorescent lightbulb burst, and the wiring was hanging down to the floor.

“It was hanging in the ceiling,” he told us, with “all the strings hanging down. Kind of a scary thing to have happen to you.”

Guettler threw out the packaging for the bulb years ago, but he read on the bulb that it's not for use with dimmers or in a totally enclosed recessed light - neither of which he had.

Like most people, he didn’t read the directions.

"It's a light bulb,” he said. “You put it where light bulbs go, and you don't think about it"

A quick look online shows others have had similar experiences.

Some CFLs lack safety system to prevent fires Some CFLs lack safety system to prevent fires

Consumer Reports has tested hundreds of light bulbs over the years. Testers say they've never had a problem, but they point out they test only Energy Star Certified bulbs. Since 2008, those bulbs require something called End of Life Circuitry that automatically shuts them off if there's a problem. It's one reason Consumer Reports recommends buying only Energy Star Certified bulbs.

Jim Guettler isn't sure what he had, so he's playing it safe. He got rid of all of his CFLs.

“I got them all in the box there, so I can take them and recycle them,” he said.

Why take a chance, Guettler said.

"I feel very fortunate that, given the obvious scorch marks on the ceiling and smoke, that nothing more serious happened," he said.

Experts say, when you install or remove a CFL, handle it by the base only. Twisting by the glass could crack the seal and lead to problems.

And a reminder: Make sure you dispose of CFLs as hazardous waste. They contain a small amount of mercury.

11 Comments

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  • whatelseisnew Dec 13, 2013

    ""It's a light bulb,” he said. “You put it where light bulbs go, and you don't think about it""

    Yep typical American. Don't bother to read. I quit buying CFLs. I am gradually changing over to LED bulbs but the biggest problem is finding any that put out enough lumens and they are still too pricey although that aspect is improving. I did have one CFL spark out. I had it in a lamp controlled by a wall switch. Luckily it sparked and smoked right after I turned on the wall switch. I also do not like the mercury. Yeah I get it is a tiny tiny amount, but face it, BILLIONS of those bulbs are going into landfills.

  • 68_dodge_polara Dec 13, 2013

    "Energy star certification on a lamp has nothing to do with it being safe."

    True, it's not the first time I've seen Consumer Reports try to push consumers to buy certain products based upon how PC products are.

  • saturn5 Dec 12, 2013

    Hazardous waste is so much more environmentaly friendly than incandescent bulbs.

  • joeBob Dec 11, 2013

    Energy star certification on a lamp has nothing to do with it being safe. That's what a UL label/listing is for.

  • Jimm57 Dec 11, 2013

    EXACTLY why we do NOT have any CFL's in our home. Plus is horrible light anyway, a pale green. yuk

  • allstarraleigh Dec 11, 2013

    same thing holds true for most LED lights,make sure to read the package,alot of the floodlights are NOT for outdoor use

  • 68_dodge_polara Dec 11, 2013

    Avoid the ones made in China.

  • Timetogo Dec 11, 2013

    "...when you install or remove a CFL, handle it by the base only."

    Confused.. Isn't that part inside the light fixture? How do you get to it to unscrew?

  • Trixie Dec 11, 2013

    I had to read that part twice because I thought the same thing. It makes it sound like reading the directions would have mattered.

  • Fuquay Resident Dec 10, 2013

    "Like most people, he didn’t read the directions." What would the directions have told him that would have prevented the CFL bulb from bursting?

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