Why Do Lamps Get Hot?


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Lamps are known for producing a lot of light – but they can also get incredibly hot, too. Why does this happen?

Lamps get hot because of the electrical current moving through the filament at the center of the lamp’s light bulb. The forceful movement of the electricity generates a substantial amount of heat, which causes the bulb and surrounding metal frame to become hot to the touch.

There are a variety of factors that can affect how hot lamps get. To learn more about why lamps get hot, read on.

Why do lamps get hot

What Causes a Lamp to Get Hot?

The Light Bulb

Light bulbs are necessary for your lamp to function, and there are many different types of bulbs. The bulb used by your lamp makes a great difference in the production of both light and heat and can dictate your lamp’s specific usage.

All lamps have a designated rating for how powerful a light bulb the lamp can use, and if you exceed the suggested rating, you can damage your lamp or yourself. Most prevalent with incandescent or halogen light bulbs, a mismatched wattage rating can result in a buildup of heat, causing your lamp to get hot and leading to fire or electric shock. Below is a brief guide of light bulbs and how they produce heat.

Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs are based on the light bulb’s original design from over a hundred years ago. They are inexpensive to purchase and are often praised for their color, but lamps that use incandescent bulbs can get quite hot and have an increased effect on a power bill. The heater filament inside the incandescent light bulb can get as hot as 4600℉ (2537.77℃), radiating heat and causing a lamp to get hot often is enough to cause burns.

Halogen Bulbs

Halogen bulbs function similarly to incandescent bulbs but differ by being much more efficient in energy usage and lifespan. Halogen bulbs can also produce more heat than a standard incandescent bulb and can even be used for cooking. If your household lamp is currently using a halogen light bulb, your lamp is likely operating at a temperature above what is recommended.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) Bulbs

CFL bulbs, commonly referred to as fluorescent bulbs, are commonly used light bulbs. They are energy efficient, saving money for any household, and allowing the bulb to produce the same amount of light while producing less heat. Though they are more energy-efficient than incandescent or halogen bulbs, they can still produce enough heat to be hot to the touch and add to your lamp’s total heat.

Why do lamps get hot

Light Emitting Diode (LED) Bulbs

LED light bulbs are growing increasingly widespread in usage, due to their amazing energy efficiency. When in use, most LED light bulbs are cool to the touch, a feature that significantly decreases the running temperature of your lamp. If you want to minimize your lamp’s heat production as much as possible, LED light bulbs are the best choice. These bulbs see a surge in use, costing the average American home $1.08 per year per bulb.

How Do You Manage Lamp Heat?

How to Lessen Lamp Heat Production

If heat is not something you want your lamp to produce, the steps to reduce how much heat your lamp emits are easy to implement.

  • Inspect your lamp’s wiring to ensure safe conditions. Look over the lamp’s power cord from the base of the lamp to the outlet. If there are any frayed spots or exposed wires, replace the lamp to remove the risk of fire or electric shock.
  • Check your lamp’s wattage rating. Many manufacturers include a sticker on the lamp that outlines the suggested light bulb power rating for safe use. The listed wattage rating is a maximum rating, which means that a lamp rated for 60 watts can safely use a 40 watt light bulb, but cannot safely use a 100 watt light bulb.

How to Increase Heat Output

If you are searching to maximize how much heat your lamp can produce, you need only keep a few things in mind.

  • Double-check the lamp’s power rating and do not exceed the recommended wattage. If you require more power than a lamp is rated for, it is best to acquire a new lamp with a higher wattage rating.
  • Choose your preferred type of bulb to generate the amount of heat you desire. For more heat, a halogen bulb performs better than a standard incandescent bulb.

Heating Lamps vs. Lighting Lamps

Not every lamp is created solely for illumination. There is an entire industry around lamps purpose-built for heat production, used in industries such as food service and used in homes worldwide for pet maintenance.

Food Service

There are many designs for the lamps used in food service. Heat lamps are used prevalently in fast food to maintain the temperature of cooked food products. This helps preserve the overall quality of the food. These lamps are typically paired with halogen bulbs for the best effect, providing a cost-effective way to maximize a heat lamp’s performance.

Heat lamps can also be produced with ceramic heating elements that produce more heat than a standard bulb-based design. These do not generate light like a standard lamp since the heating element is built into a ceramic plate that radiates higher heat without glowing.

Animal Care

For those who own a reptile or a pet that requires a controlled environment, a warming lamp is far from foreign. These lamps are essential to creating and maintaining a balanced ecosystem for some of our more sensitive pets and work in varying degrees of intensity.

Unlike lamps designed for the foodservice, the variety of designs are fairly limited, depending mostly on the animal’s enclosure size. With heat lamps, the biggest factor for performance is usually the UV-producing light bulb, the design of which will dictate how much heat is being passed on to your pet. Heating lamps for animals can also be made with ceramic heating elements, which do not emit UV light.

Faulty Wiring

Faulty wiring can allow excess energy to be drawn from the source, the wall outlet, causing a surge of energy higher than the lamp is designed to handle. This can generate heat in the lamp’s wires, and can cause burns and electric shock. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, wiring is involved in roughly 34,000 structure fires per year in the United States.

Fortunately, faulty wiring is not a common reason for a lamp to get hot. As long as you remain vigilant and observant of your power cord’s condition, you will not need to fear faulty wiring.

Conclusion

Looking at the root causes of what makes a lamp get hot, it can be boiled down to two things:

  • The type and intensity of the light bulb used
  • Faulty wiring

There are many examples of lamps designed specifically to facilitate heat generation, a byproduct of the light making process. Depending on your specific needs, you may require a lamp that generates heat or a lamp that illuminates. These needs can be quickly assessed and met by pairing the required or desired wattage with a properly rated lamp, whether you be increasing heat output or brightening the light in a room.

Steve Rajeckas

Steve Rajeckas is an HVAC hobbyist with an avid interest in learning innovative ways to keep rooms, buildings, and everything else at the optimal temperature. When he's not working on new posts for Temperature Master, he can be found reading books or exploring the outdoors.

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