CFLs' end-of-life: is it safe?

Compact fluorescent light bulbs, also called CFLs, have been operating safely in millions of households and businesses across Canada, and are often chosen as an energy saving alternative to inefficient incandescent bulbs.

As with any electrical product sold in Canada, CFLs must meet specific requirements for electrical safety, fire and shock hazard. You know that a product has been verified to meet safety requirements if it carries the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Underwriters Laboratory (UL) certification mark on its package or on the bulb itself.

At the end of their lives CFLs behave differently than incandescents. Because of their electronic circuitry CFLs are equipped with a mechanism to prevent overheating when they fail. This mechanism acts like a fuse, and can cause the CFL base to discolour and give off a small puff of smoke, as well as release an unpleasant odour. Manufacturers have designed the base with special flame retardant plastics. The discoloured or melted plastic where the glass coil connects to the ballast is simply a sign that the heat is escaping as intended in the design of the bulb.

Although CFLs are built to shut themselves down if they overheat, they should be replaced at the first sign of failure such as discolouration, flickering, bright orange or red glow, popping sound, odour or browning of base.

When choosing a CFL bulb, it is important to:

  • Always look for the safety certification mark such as the UL certification symbol or the CSA symbol on the package or on the CFL bulb.

  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® symbol on the packaging. CFLs that display the ENERGY STAR symbol are bulbs that meet specific high efficiency criteria.

  • Pay attention to the manufacturers' recommendations regarding installation location. Know that unless otherwise specified, CFLs should not be used in the following applications: in totally enclosed recessed fixtures because of the possibility of the lamp overheating and failing prematurely; with dimmer switches; in touch lamps with photocells or with electronic timers; where exposed to weather; or where exposed to water. Read the text on the base of the lamp or contact the products' manufacturer for additional information if required.

  • The packaging for ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs must include information on warranty and provide a toll-free phone number or web address where consumers can get more information about the light bulb, or information on where to return it if it fails.

Choosing and installing high quality, ENERGY STAR qualified CFL bulbs is a safe and practical way Canadians can help to reduce energy use in their homes and businesses.