5 On Your Side

Raleigh man reconsiders compact fluorescent bulbs after close call

Posted December 10, 2013 6:03 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2013 7:46 p.m. EST

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.

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.