Are LED Light Bulbs a Fire Risk?
The technology that drives LEDs (light emitting diodes) is called solid state lighting or SSL. This means light is not emitted from a vacuum (as is the case with incandescent lights) or from a gas (like CFL lights), but from something solid— a semiconductor.
A plethora of benefits ensures LEDs will outperform traditional forms of lighting in almost every area. This list has largely been dominated by their cost-effectiveness, long lifespan and zero maintenance requirements, but today we will take a look at LED lighting from a safety perspective and, more specifically, in terms of their fire risk.
So, what can cause a bulb to create fire?
Temperature and, more specifically, overheating. Let’s take a look at why it is highly unlikely that an LED bulb will overheat and cause a fire to break out, and what you can do to minimise your risk of electrical fire.
LEDs Maintain a Relatively Low Temperature
LED light bulbs might be hot to the touch, but they are nowhere near as hot as CFL, halogen or incandescent bulbs. High quality LED light bulbs produce light at significantly lower running temperatures than traditional or “previous generation” bulbs. Traditional 'tungsten' bulbs use a filament to heat up, which loses lots of power through heat emissions. Furthermore, LEDs do not generate heat as infrared radiation like incandescent bulbs.
Because ambient temperature is not affected by LED lights, it makes them suitable for use in small and contained places, or temperature controlled environments. Maintaining relatively low temperatures is also necessary for colour control. As soon as an LED becomes too hot, it can affect its colour rendering.
LED Bulbs Dissipate Heat
Comparatively speaking, the hottest part of an LED is only half the temperature of a halogen or incandescent bulb of equivalent brightness. They are also around 20% cooler than CLF light bulbs. The reason for this is LED technology uses a heat sink, located at the bulb’s base, which draws most of the heat to one place, and keeps the electronics relatively cool. And, keeping the bulb cool is one of the reasons LEDs have long lifespans. The other reason is simply that an LED does not waste its energy through heat, and the bulk of it is used to provide light.
LEDs produce heat, but it’s held internally. Traditional and CFL lights lose between 60% and 95% of their power input to heat.
Halogen and Incandescent Fire-Starters
By contrast, high wattage halogen tubes can produce up to four times more heat than your standard incandescent light bulb. Sometimes exceeding 1,200 degrees, a 500-watt halogen light poses a very serious fire concern, especially in a home where curtains, carpets and household furniture can help a fire run out of control very quickly. And unfortunately, this is known from past experiences.
Halogen lights were singlehandedly responsible for $90 million in damage to Windsor Castle in 1992. And, a $450,000 halogen lamp fire in 1995 at Arkansas’ Hendrix College in the US resulted in halogen pole lamps being banned in a number of US dormitories.
Incandescent bulbs also get really hot, and run the risk of overheating. Incandescent bulbs get so hot; in fact, they’re used as heat sources themselves. Some examples include; as heaters for reptiles and for poultry incubation. They have also started many fires and caused loss and destruction.
CFLs are not totally exempt from being potential fire hazards either. There are reports of burning from ballasts once CFLs reach the end of their life span.
LEDs Consume Very Little Power
Low power consumption not only results in cost savings for home-owners who implement LEDs, it also makes them significantly safer than previous generation bulbs. Because they require a lot less power to run through them, the chances of them overheating are significantly lower.
Regardless of the type of bulb you install in your home, there are certain safety measures you can adopt to minimise your risk of electrical fires.
Check Your Wiring
Electrical fires are a common cause of fires, but this is often because of bad wiring, not the type of bulb in use. It’s always a good idea to have an electrician assess the wiring, particularly if you live in an old house, move into a new house or if there is evidence of rodents. Sometimes rodents chew through insulation wires and this can cause a short.
Purchase Fire-Rated LED Fittings
While building regulations only require ceilings with escape rooms above them to be fitted with fire-rated LED fittings, if the issue is a concern for you, have them installed throughout your home wherever you have down light or ceiling light fittings.
Connect Your LEDs in Series with a Resistor
LED bulbs are current-driven devices, and best practices dictate they should always be connected with a resistor in series, and never in parallel. As LEDs warm up, they become more conductive and, if they are connected in parallel, you run the risk of damaging them by overloading the current.
Don’t Enclose Your Bulbs in Fixtures
By enclosing your light bulbs in light fixtures, you can prevent the heat from dissipating properly, increasing the chances of the bulb overheating. If you want to play it safe, avoid doing this.
Buy High Quality Bulbs
Sure, you can get great deals on eBay and pay significantly less for your LEDs, but you are not getting a warranty or a local support desk if the product does not live up to your expectations. It is worth knowing that masses of LEDs are produced in China and are cheaply priced on eBay. They probably won’t look any different, but the discrepancy in quality is worth thinking about.
While it is possible for any electronic device to malfunction, there is a higher likelihood of light bulbs other than LEDs overheating. Because LEDs emit significantly lower temperatures than previous generation bulbs, and dissipate their heat, their chances of overheating are very low.