Here’s a story that suggests that they can. Like any poorly manufactured or quality controlled product, failures can occur. But with CFL bulbs, there’s additional things that can go wrong over the simple and century long proven incandescent bulb. Read on and see below for some technical details on CFL bulbs. Some “explosive” video also follows. – Anthony
Via American Thinker: A compact fluorescent light (CFL) on the ceiling burst and started a fire in a home in Hornell, N.Y. December 23, 2010. “Those are the lights everybody’s been telling us to use,” said Joe Gerych, Steuben County Fire Inspector. “It blew up like a bomb. It spattered all over.” Fire Chief Mike Robbins said the blaze destroyed the room where the fire started and everything in it, and the rest of the house suffered smoke and water damage. The Arkport Village Fire Department as well as the North Hornell Fire Department required about 15 minutes to put out the fire. Link
“Bulb explodes without warning,” reported NBCactionnews.com, May 21, 2010.
“Tom and Nancy Heim were watching TV recently, when Tom decided to turn on the floor lamp next to his recliner chair. ‘I heard this loud pop…I saw what I thought was smoke, coming out of the top of the floor lamp,’ says Tom. Nancy suddenly found glass in her lap. She says, ‘I did not see it. I just heard it, and I noticed I had glass on me.'” Link to story
On February 23, 2011, TV NewsChannel 5 in Tennessee covered “a newly-released investigators’ report that blames a February 12 fatal fire in Gallatin on one of those CFL bulbs.” Ben Rose, an attorney for the rehabilitative facility in which Douglas Johnson, 45, perished, said, “This result is consistent with our own private investigation. …We have heard reports of similar fires being initiated by CFLs across the country.” Link
October 5, 2010 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported: “Trisonic Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Recalled Due to Fire Hazard” because of four incidents. It’s official notice states: “Hazard: light bulb can overheat and catch fire.” Link
Concerns about the toxic mercury in CFLs are downplayed by the bulbs’ advocates, but they shouldn’t be. According to EPA and other sources, the safe limit is 300 nanograms per cubic meter. When a broken CFL was reported in Maine, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection did the most extensive testing in the nation to evaluate the health risk. Its 160-page report is shocking:
Mercury concentration in the study room air often exceeds the…300 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) for some period of time, with short excursions over 25,000 ng/m3, sometimes over 50,000 ng/m3. Link
Full story at the American Thinker
Some things you may not know about CFL bulbs.
1. They have a built in switching power supply, or “ballast” like full sized fluorescent tubes. But they are not encapsulated or “potted” like those ballasts. See below for an inside view of a CFL base.
2. Capacitors, like the black one shown above, can sometimes fail catastrophically
3. The standard fluorescent lamp ballast can fail. Leaving burned-out lamps in the fixture, using the wrong size lamps, incorrect wiring, incorrect line voltage, operation at temperatures below or above the rated limits, power surges, and even the age can all cause a ballast to fail.
However, not all ballasts fail and stop functioning. Many overheat. Because a failing ballast can get extremely hot, it can become a fire hazard. All modern magnetic ballast designs have an internal temperature sensor that shuts the ballast off it gets too hot. In most designs, when the ballast cools off, the sensor will allow the ballast to turn back on. A fixture where some or all of the lamps shut off by themselves and later come back on is probably a fixture with a failing ballast. However, as shown above, these sorts of ballasts are usually encapsulated, and if a component fails, is contained within.
4. CFL bulbs, being replacements to incandescents, can be closer to things that can catch fire, such as upholstery (a table lamp). Not being fully encased (many CFLs have vent holes for the power supply) they can throw sparks when they fail. They can also breach the plastic case they are enclosed in.
5. CFLS, like any lightbulb, are fragile. However most incandescant bulbs don’t do this when cracked:
This video seems a bit extreme, and I wondered if it was “helped along” like NBC did with the model rocket motors taped to gas tanks fiasco. Though, here’s a news story from Chicago about what happens if homeowners ignore the warning about dimmer switches:
LED lighting is the way to go, in my opinion and experience. See how I retrofitted the biggest power suckers in my own home here:
Of course, you can always use your old CFL ballast to make a Jacob’s ladder:
h/t to Bob Ferguson at SPPI who has this section on mercury issues: