Can a Light Bulb Start a Fire?


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Electrical reasons are some of the common causes of home fires. Bad wiring, faulty electronic appliances, and outlets are viewed to be the most common causes of electrical fires. One subtle cause that might be overlooked could be the light bulb. Or is it?

Light bulbs could potentially start a fire when the wrong light bulb is installed on a lamp. If the light bulb’s wattage is higher than needed by the lamp, it could lead to overheating, which may start a fire. Incandescent light bulbs have higher chances of causing fire than other bulb types. 

This article seeks to explain why these bulb types start a fire in detail. You will also learn of some causes that would make a bulb start a fire. Learn a little more about the Incandescent and CFL light bulbs. And, some safety measures that would come in handy when you want to install a light bulb.

Can a Light Bulb Start a Fire

Why incandescent light bulbs are riskier than most. 

Any type of light bulb would start a fire if used wrongly. When correctly used, the incandescent bulbs can also serve you well for some time.

However, the components and make of the incandescent causes it to overheat, which may potentially start a fire. It only uses 5% of its energy on lighting, losing the rest to heat. It can be hazardous when bulbs overheat.

If the bulb’s glass envelope breaks, losing the inert gas, when the filament is lit, it (the filament) also breaks in seconds resulting in a brilliant white light that might light up any surrounding combustible material.

Can a Light Bulb Start a Fire

As a safety measure, keep any combustible material like paper from a hot bulb. Also, Keep lamps away from windows to avoid strong breezes that would blow draperies on hot bulbs.

The incandescent light bulbs shouldn’t be a problem anymore, at least for general lighting purposes, since governments have placed regulations to phase out the use of the bulbs. They needed to be replaced by their more energy-efficient counterparts like the fluorescents and LEDs.

They were not only risky; they also increased your electricity bill and had a short lifespan.

CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) could be worth a mention.

Unlike the incandescents, the CFLs are more energy-efficient. They don’t heat up as much as the incandescents do, and they are legal to use. They are small, compact, and their tubes bent into a coil. So we can also say that they have “the looks.”

Problem with these almost perfect bulbs, according to Robert A. Yereance and Todd Kerkhoff in their book Electrical Fire Analysis is that most of these bulbs available in the market are sub-standard. Some of these bulbs start melting at the plastic base and produce a bitter smoke, which may, in turn, start a fire.

Most manufacturers term this as a “unique end-of-life characteristic.” The writers don’t buy this since it happens on some newly purchased bulbs as well. They advise that if there is a fire, and you have a hunch that it could be caused by your CFL, you need to determine the bulb manufacturer.

Are they listed with the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) or other testing agencies? Cheaper bulbs may not be listed.

Can a Light Bulb Start a Fire

Causes that would make a light bulb start a fire.

Low-Quality Bulbs  

It would be right to say that “cheap is expensive in the long run” in this context. Low-quality bulbs are often cheap, from under-the-radar brands that will cost you tons in the end. These bulbs often tend to blow or melt or produce a bad odor, which could be a sign that you need to replace it. 

Leaving the Lights On 

This could be overnight or for a few months. Depending on the light bulb’s quality or the amount of heat it produces, location, or the room’s temperature. If you are leaving for a 2-month vacation, it would be best to leave your lights or lamps switched off lest you have your vacation cut short by a call from the fire department. 

Leaving the lights on for a long duration of time may cause overheating on the bulb. Which may cause it to break then end up lighting up any paper or wooden surfaces around it. 

Flickering Lights 

A few factors may be causing this. Either your light or fixture switch is faulty. Or, your bulb is not tight enough. Double-check your bulb if it is firmly installed before turning it on. The flickering might be dangerous in the end. We shall cover a step-by-step guide on how to safely install a light bulb to avoid flickering in a few.

Wrong Light Bulb 

As mentioned earlier, a higher wattage bulb on a lower wattage lamp could cause a serious fire. Most lamps are made to accommodate a 60watts bulb or less. Installing a 120watt bulb on such a lamp may be hazardous. Always check a bulb’s wattage before installing it to ensure it’s the right fit for your lamp.

Brittle Wiring 

They are often caused by bulbs overheating. When a light bulb with a higher wattage than required is used, it may cause the wires to be frail. If these wires are passing through walls or ceilings, then they might start a fire.

Can a Light Bulb Start a Fire

How to properly install a light bulb.

When changing your light bulb, it is important to do it right. As mentioned above, wrong installation may involve using the wrong bulb, purchasing sub-standard bulbs, or even leaving it loose, which may be dangerous.

Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Find out about the required watts needed by your lamp or lighting fixtures.
  2. Buy bulbs listed with Underwriters laboratories or other test agencies to avoid buying low quality.
  3. Confirm your bulb’s wattage and ensure it would be the right fit for your fixtures.
  4. If you are changing the bulb, ensure that you turn the power off before removing the bulb you wish to change. Also, let it cool off before removing it.
  5. It would be advisable to power off from your fuse box. To avoid electrocution. Ensure your hands are dry.
  6. Use a nice sturdy ladder if your bulb is in a ceiling fixture. To avoid falling off and breaking a bulb and pricking your hands with the bulb’s broken pieces.
  7. To remove, twist the bulb gently anti-clockwise from the fixture, which should unscrew and loosen from the socket.
  8. Remove the screw with a pair of pliers.
  9. Put a new bulb in the socket by turning it clockwise
  10. Twist it gently until it locks. Depending on the type of socket. Some sockets may require you to twist a little more until you can’t twist anymore. Other sockets could be a push to fit or screwing in fittings.

One More Thing

Technology has helped in the development of more energy-efficient smart bulbs that can be controlled remotely. So, in case you go for the two-month vacation and forget to turn off your lights, you could have to turn them off remotely.

Conclusion

Fires are not the most fun subjects to discuss. However, knowing that a small component like a bulb could potentially cause such serious implications should keep you alert.

Look for signs such as the unpleasant smoke, dimming or flickering lights and have your electrician check the place out for you. It could also be a sign of underlying electrical problems like an overloaded circuit or improper earthing systems.

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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