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Tech Myths: Boosting Reality

CFLs: Cool Tech, Still Hot

So are there “real” risks associated with CFLs? Actually, yes. I found this very interesting (and long) article on the Australia-based Elliott Sound Products site. Despite the fact that CFLs waste less energy and output a lot less heat than incandescent bulbs, they still produce some heat, and if this heat doesn’t have anywhere to go, you could have trouble on your hands.

Within each CFL is a circuit board loaded with electronics. As we all know from using our PCs, internal components generate heat, and if you don’t ventilate this heat somehow, the system will overheat and fail. PCs have sensors that will usually shut down components or the entire system before damage can occur. CFLs aren’t quite so smart. Simply put, they must be installed in fixtures with open ventilation. That doesn’t just mean in a lamp with an open bottom. Heat will still get trapped at the top of the lap where the bulb is because (say it with me now) heat rises. The lamp needs vents so heat can escape from the top.

Failure to provide proper ventilation can cause the CFL’s internal components to overheat and prematurely fail, and this failure can result in electrical arcing, component melting, and smoking. And where there’s smoke, there’s the possibility of fire.

Add to this the risk of dimmers. While some CFLs are made to be used with dimmers, most are not. The end effect of dimming these CFLs is a dramatic spike in power draw. The Elliott Sound Products author, Rod Elliott, states that he put this to the test with different power rated CFLs. As an example, a 13W CFL that normally drew 83 mA when dimmed to 75% drew 450 mA. This is way out of spec and an obvious failure waiting to happen.

Again, let’s use our heads. Do you hear endless news stories about people’s houses burning down because of CFL failures? I sure don’t. So unless Philips, the EPA, and countless other organizations are engaged in a massive cover-up, I’d say the potential risk behind CFL failure is much greater than what is observed in real life. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the risk. If nothing else, proper installment and usage will consume less power and extend the life of your product. Just don’t freak out and post some ridiculous “the sky is falling!” video on YouTube the next time you have a CFL problem. Let’s deal with reality and not some boosted, paranoid version of it.