Are LED Lights a Fire Hazard?


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Many households are switching out incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs for LEDs with benefits like a lower carbon footprint, higher efficiency, and cost savings. But you might wonder, though there are some benefits, are there risks as well? Are LED lights a fire hazard?

LED lights are not a fire hazard as they produce very little heat to create light. LEDs are tiny semiconductors illuminated when an electric current passes through them. Any heat created is released out of the bulb. Without relying on a filament that generates high heat to create visible light, they are safer and more hazard-free.

In this article, you will find a more detailed explanation of how LEDs produce light and the difference between LEDs. You will also learn about LED light safety to eliminate any other risk factors that could potentially lead a light source to start an electrical fire. 

Why LED Lights Are Not Fire Hazards

Light bulbs, whether LED, incandescent, or fluorescent, can seem like such simple machines, but let’s take a closer look at the complex physics behind LEDs and the process that must happen to create light. 

How Light Is Produced in an LED

LED stands for light-emitting diode. By definition, a diode is a semiconductor device with two terminals, typically allowing the flow of a current to travel in one direction only. The technical name for the process that powers LED lights is called electroluminescence.

Electroluminescence is an optical and electrical process in which an electric current passes through a material that illuminates tiny LEDs, creating visible light. Simply put, this process happens as:

  • Negatively charged electrons fill electron holes.
  • As these holes are filled, a positive charge is created in the LED or semiconducting material.
  • These electrons start to emit photons, the form of energy we know as light.
    • Photons require little energy to create bright light.
    • As little energy is used, little heat is generated.

For a better understanding of this hard-to-understand process, here is a short video with a visual explanation from Luxeon Star LEDs:

As this process happens, similar to any electric process, some heat is created. But heat is pulled away by a small heat sink in the bottom of LED bulbs. From there, the heat exits the bulb and dissipates into the surrounding air. This process keeps LED bulbs cool, nearly eliminating the risk of fire.

The LED Difference

This process is unique compared to the light emission process that powers incandescent light bulbs. This light emission process happens as:

  • An electric current passes through a filament causing it to heat up.
  • As the filament gets hot, it starts to radiate light.
    • The higher the temperature of the filament, the more lightwaves the filament.
    • A higher temperature means a warmer, brighter light.

As you can imagine, the combination of the electroluminescence process that illuminates LEDs combined with the heat sink device in LED bulbs is a much safer process. Although it has taken time to create LED bulbs that are as effective as more traditional incandescent bulbs, the benefits are clear.

This video by Expertsmind gives a quick look at the ways different light bulbs work. Here you can get a better look at the difference between bulbs that use filaments and compare them to the filament-free LEDs:

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Electrical Fires

Although LED bulbs use a process that allows them to run much cooler than many other options, it is important to realize the process may not be ideal for all types of light fixtures. Some fixtures may cause LEDs to pose more of a fire hazard.

Before we talk about some specific steps to take to use LED bulbs safely, let’s consider some facts and stats on electrical fires shared by The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).

Electrical Fire Facts and Statistics

  • An estimated 51,000 fires each year are home electrical fires, and these fires result in nearly 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and roughly $1.3 billion in property damage.
  • The majority of fire deaths are the result of fires in homes without functioning smoke detectors.

Clearly, in addition to the safety tips, I will share, it is important to understand the reality of electrical fires and take seriously the need to install and inspect smoke detectors in your home.

Safety Tips for LEDs

Again, the heat created during the electroluminescence process is absorbed into the heat sink in the bottom of the bulb. It is then released into the surrounding atmosphere. Because of this, LED light bulbs need to be surrounded by open-air to give heat a place to escape. With this being said, it is best that LED bulbs are not used in enclosed fixtures or lamps

If an LED bulb is used in an enclosed fixture, the heat will have nowhere to go and will be sent back into the bulb. This can lead the bulb to overheat. The biggest concern with overheating is the bulb dying out quickly.

However, there also could be a very small risk of this overheating creating a fire, as could be the result of overheating any electronic device. For enclosed fixtures, it is best to use incandescent, halogen, or fluorescent bulbs.

With any light bulbs, it is also important to be sure you are using the appropriate wattage specified on the light fixture. However, another distinguishable difference between LED light bulbs and more traditional light bulbs like incandescent is that LEDs are measured in lumens, not watts. 

Watts is a measure of energy consumption, and lumens are the measure of visible light energy. To convert lumen to watts, you would normally multiply the specified number of lumens by four, as physics has shown that LEDs are nearly four times more efficient at creating light when comparing them to incandescent bulbs. There are also many charts and calculators online to help to convert lumen to watts. 

Ensuring you are using the right power bulb in your fixture is another step to take to keep your home as safe as possible. Check out the list below from ESFI for some final fire safety tips.

Additional Fire Safety Tips

  • Have your home electrical system inspected by electricians, and be sure all systems meet the safety provisions set forth by the NEC.
  • Install smoke detectors on every level of the home and inside and outside of each sleeping area.
  • Be sure light bulbs match the recommended wattage for each light fixture.
  • Be aware of any potential electrical problems, including flickering lights, sizzling or buzzing sounds, or breakers that repeatedly trip.

Conclusion

The unique and efficient electroluminescence process that powers LEDs uses little energy, generates little heat, and ultimately takes away any risk of an LED bulb starting a fire. Of course, take care to remove any other risk factors from your home, like installing functioning smoke detectors and have your home inspected by qualified electricians to eliminate fire hazards from your home. 

But once you take care of your home, enjoy the low risk of LED bulbs and add it to the list of other benefits of LEDs like lower carbon footprint, higher efficiency, and cost savings.

Nicole Sutton

Nicole is a writer from Missouri who enjoys horseback riding, writing in her journal, and watching reruns of Friends.

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