Heat lamps are the go-to source of heat for animal enclosures, especially during winter periods. But with the substantial amount of heat this piece of equipment generates, should you be worried about any potential fire hazards?
A heat lamp can start a fire for the simple fact that it produces infrared radiation, and when they come in contact with flammable material, there is a high chance of ignition. However, if used properly, they will serve you well and keep your animals from giving in to the cold winter days of January.
So the question remains, “how do heat lamps cause fires?” To accurately understand and, eventually, answer this question, you need to know one or two things surrounding the topic. The remainder of this article gives an overview of those topics and, in the end, gives tips on how to avoid fire disasters associated with using a heat lamp.
How Much Heat Does a Heat Lamp Give Off?
Heat lamps are incandescent infrared lamps that give off a high magnitude of heat compared to other kinds of bulbs. In non-geek terms, heat lamps are pretty damn hot.
The reason isn’t far-fetched as they are only 5% efficient. That means a 100-watt bulb will produce just 5 watts of light and 95 watts of heat. Little wonder they are used for heating purposes.
The heating potential of heat lamps is dependent on both the wattage rating and the time it stays on, so the question of how hot a heat lamp is can be answered with, “how long did you leave it on?”, and “what wattage rating is the heat lamp?”
As far as wattage ratings go, most heat lamps in the market are either 150 watts, 250 watts, or as high as 300 watts. The higher the watt rating, the higher the heating potential, and the faster it heats up.
To fully paint a picture of how hot a heat lamp can be, here’s an illustration. A typical 100-watt incandescent bulb has a filament temperature of 4600 ℉ and a radiating surface temperature of about 250 ℉. This radiating temperature then proceeds to heat up the environment over time.
With this brief overview of the heating potential of a typical heat lamp, one tends to question the safety of these luminescent ovens, and you are right to because heating equipment is the leading cause of electrical fire hazards in residential homes. In the United States alone, 52,000 cases of fire hazards are reported annually, causing deaths and injuries in the thousands and property loss in billions of dollars.
This scary statistic would normally deter a person from getting one of these lamps, but for some that the lives of their chicks, piglets, or reptiles depend on it, you don’t really have a choice than to get one and as such, would need answers to some questions. Of all the questions, the most important one is apparently the cause of heat lamp fires.
What Causes Heat Lamp Fires
Fire hazards don’t simply fall from the sky, there has to be a reason, and for heat lamps, it is no different.
People use heat lamps for a variety of reasons that demand some form of external heating. Some use it to heat their food, some use it in their bathrooms, and some use it in their animal enclosure.
Of all these reasons, the location where heat lamps are commonly used is the latter, because generally, animal infants do not have the ability to generate body heat themselves. But one thing a lot of people don’t realize is that these animal enclosures are filled with the second component of the fire triangle.
The fire triangle, or combustion triangle, basically says that fire needs three essential components to form – a source of heat, fuel, and oxygen. In this case, the heat source is obviously the heat lamp, the oxygen is present in the air, and the fuel is the pine shavings or hay used to make the bedding of these brooders. Combine these three together, and an inferno is sure to form.
There are different reasons that can lead to the matrimony of this unholy trinity, some of which are highlighted below.
This is the numero uno cause of accidents everywhere, and what’s worse is that it can be totally avoided if proper precautions are taken.
Carelessness is almost always the cause of fire accidents associated with heat lamps, and it is usually due to the improper way of fixing heat lamps in the brooders.
Most people don’t know how to properly incorporate heat lamps into their brooders. Either they leave the wires hanging too loose or install the heat lamps too low, and we all know that kids, whatever species they are, are very playful. These animal infants can fondle with the wires and peck away at the heat lamps, and since it is not tightly installed, it can fall on the bedding.
Consistent contact of the bedding, which is usually dry hay or pine shavings, with the heat lamp can easily lead to ignition.
This is another culprit of heat lamp fires.
A typical heat lamp setup consists of the fixture and the lamp itself. The fixture includes a reflector dome, a porcelain ballast, a clamp, and a hook. If there is even a slight fault with any one of them, it can be deadly.
The individual equipment in this setup could develop problems over time, for example, the electrical cord could fray, and that exposes the live copper wire that carries electrical currents. Sparks from this exposure can lead to fire accidents if they land on the bedding.
Also, if the clamp or hook becomes weak over time, the whole set up can give way and fall on the bedding. Which, as you already know, can start a fire.
What Can You Do to Prevent Heat Lamp Fires?
With all the causes of heat lamp fires highlighted, the next question that needs to be answered is how to ensure one doesn’t fall victim.
Practice Safety Protocols
This encompasses all you need to do, on your end, to reduce the chances of falling victim to heat lamp related fire accidents.
Firstly, never leave the enclosure unsupervised. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to watch the enclosure and the heat lamp like a hawk, just try as much as possible not to leave your heat lamps on when you’re not at home.
Secondly, try to change the bedding of the animal enclosure every day or two, especially if the bedding is made from straw or hay. Asides the fact that it is ideal to ensure the brooder is always clean, it also prevents fires that happen due to spontaneous reactions.
A lot of people don’t know this, but hay can spontaneously combust. How this happens is that as the hay spends time in the brooder, it gets wet over time. Odd as it may seem, wet hay will spontaneously combust because they produce flammable gases that can ignite. Couple that with the radiation coming from the heat lamp, and you have a fire disaster waiting to happen.
The hay starts heating up at around 130℉ (54°C), and at around 212℉ (100°C), it will almost certainly ignite.
Use the Right Equipment
This is a very important point to note because even if you play your part but still go ahead and use bad equipment, there will be a chance fire hazards will occur.
It is important to check the ballast (the ceramic porcelain socket of the fixture) to ensure the amount of watts it can conveniently accommodate is not lower than the wattage rating of the heat lamp. For example, using a 250-watt heat lamp for a ballast that can only carry 200 watts can overload the electrical set up, which in turn could start a fire in the long run.
Also, there are devices in the market that eases the stress that comes with continuously watching your electrical installations and, at the same time, reduces your chances of falling victim to fire hazards.
An example of such devices is a mechanical outlet timer. With one, you can program the on and off schedule of your heat lamps from the palm of your hands.
You can also install smoke detectors around the animal enclosure. That way, you are quickly notified and can swiftly swing into action to resolve any potential fire build-up before it gets out of control.
It is important to do inspections of the electrical set up in the brooder from time to time. That way, you can notice loose installations, frayed wires, and faulty equipment.
Heat lamps are the major culprits behind home fires where they are used. Using them has its benefits. However, if left unsupervised or installed wrongly, it can lead to some serious fire damages.
If you will be using heat lamps, especially for your animal enclosures, it is your responsibility to ensure your safety and that of your property. How you can do that has been extensively discussed in this article, but for the sake of quick recaps, ensure you:
- Employ safety protocols
- Use the right equipment
- Do scheduled check-ups from time to time
Good luck with your external heating venture.