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Home & Garden|Fire Hazards Seen in Some Torchere-Style Halogen Lamps
J Burn Care Rehabil. 2000 Sep-Oct;21(5):447-9; discussion 446.
Although halogen bulbs use less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, they burn hotter. The trouble with the torchere lamps is the combination of their bowl-shaped design and the extremely hot bulb: a 500- or 300-watt tubular design.
* Never use a torchere as a coat rack or hang other objects from it.
* Keep torcheres far from curtains. Wind can blow fabric into the lamp’s bowl.
* Never touch a halogen bulb with bare fingers. Even a bulb that has been off for several hours can be hot enough to burn. And skin oils damage the bulbs.
* Place lamps at least 12 to 18 inches from walls, combustible materials or overhanging objects.
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* Never leave the lamps lighted when you are out of the room for a long period or, especially, out of the house. Use another kind of lamp to ward off burglars.
The lamps will also have to pass a ”cheesecloth drape test”: a double layer of cheesecloth draped over the bowl with the light on for at least seven hours must not show even a small burn hole. How lamp makers will accomplish this is up to them; so far, Mr. Montgomery said, several have submitted new designs for testing.
HOW safe are halogen floor lamps? The question was raised last week by the fire that destroyed the Upper West Side apartment of Lionel Hampton, the jazz vibraphonist. The fire burned so intensely and spread so rapidly that in minutes Mr. Hampton lost most of his personal belongings. Its cause was apparently an overturned halogen lamp.
Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission urged Underwriters Laboratories, the national product safety and testing organization, to toughen its performance standards for halogen lamps.
Torchiere-style halogen floor lamps: a need for fire safety awareness.
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Two possibilities for improving safety, he said, would be to install an automatic cutoff switch that would turn off the lamp as soon as it sensed overheating — if, say, an object was caught in the bowl. A second glass barrier might also be added to the bowl. (Most current models have only a small glass shield that is fitted over the bulb.)
Still, many of the lamps already in stock, as well as the 40 million already in homes and offices, are not subject to the new rules. Nor will any made after Feb. 5 that do not have the U.L. seal.
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* Move the lamps out of high-traffic areas, where they might be knocked over, and out of children’s bedrooms or other places where children or pets play.
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”I’m often asked to put these lamps in children’s rooms,” said Art Bradshaw, an electrical contractor in Trumbull, Conn., ”and I worry because they generate such tremendous heat. I don’t think people realize this.”
Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit testing organization, offers a toll-free line, (800) 787-8540, and a Web site, www.ul.com, to answer questions on halogen lamp safety. ANDREE BROOKS
* Teach children the dangers of the bulbs, telling them not to throw or let anything fall into the torchere’s bowl. If that happens, they should turn the light off at once and call an adult rather than risk a serious burn by trying to pull it out themselves.
In a child’s room, a paper airplane, a lobbed stuffed animal or a sock caught in the bowl could quickly send flames upward.
Torchiere-style halogen lamps pose a significant fire hazard. The 500-W halogen bulb in these lamps can generate temperatures as high as 1200 degrees F. Factors related to the design of the lamp also contribute to the fire risk. The Consumer Products Safety Commission has issued various warnings and recalls on these lamps because of a significant number of fire-related incidents and deaths. The impact of these recalls on a random sample of consumers was investigated. A survey of these participants revealed that 60% of lamp owners and nonowners were unaware of the recalls. The majority of respondents were also not aware of the risks of injury, the extreme bulb temperatures, or safety measures designed for these lamps. There is a need for increasing community awareness and education to reduce the fire hazards associated with this product.
Author information1Shriners Hospital for Children, Northern California, Sacramento, USA.
Mr. Bradshaw, the electrical contractor, suggested that manufacturers should incorporate an automatic device that would turn off the lamp anytime it toppled over, like the ones now required in all portable space heaters.
In November, The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper of Northwestern University, likened the lamps to ”an eager Venus’ flytrap,” ready to devour anything that drops into their inverted jaws: a fallen poster, nearby draperies, sheets of paper. In one instance a pair of hockey sticks burned after being hooked over the bowl. In other dormitories, fires have started after someone has tried to dry a T-shirt or towel by hanging it over the bowl.
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Guidelines published in August by U.L. go further. To obtain the U.L. seal, halogen torcheres made after Feb. 5 must carry extra warning labels that alert users to the dangers of fire, said Timothy Montgomery, a spokesman.
And if a lamp is knocked over near a bed — as Mr. Hampton’s may have been — anything it touches could burst into flames.
* Check the wattage of the bulb, and replace 500-watt bulbs (like the one shown above) with cooler 300-watt bulbs.
The lamps’ simple design, low price and intense light have made them extremely popular. Most suggest the high Milan style of the 1980’s, and they are now available for less than $20 at hardware, lighting and home improvement stores, and even at drug and discount stores. By last July, about 40 million halogen torcheres were in use, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The high-wattage halogen bulbs can also cause fires by shattering. In December, the Tensor Corporation of Chelsea, Mass., voluntarily recalled about 100,000 500-watt bulbs (sold primarily in Montgomery Ward and Electric Ave. and More stores for about $20 between October 1995 and April 1996, according to the commission). This brand had started shattering during use and presented a fire hazard when hot fragments landed on nearby furniture or bedding. Tensor is offering a free 300-watt replacement through a toll-free number, (888) 564-4424.
Draperies that are too close to lamps or are blown into their bowls by a breeze have also caused fires.
The 300-watt halogen bulbs in some torcheres can reach 970 degrees Fahrenheit, and 500-watt bulbs can reach 1,200 degrees. Considering that paper ignites at 340 degrees and cloth at 640 degrees, it is easy to see why the lamps pose a hazard.
This does not mean that all halogen lamps are as dangerous as the torchere style. Authorities on the subject say they have received no reports yet of fires caused by smaller halogen lamps, like those used on desks, although they note that even the smaller bulbs become sizzling hot.
Home & Garden Fire Hazards Seen in Some Torchere-Style Halogen Lamps
MeSH termsBurns/prevention & controlConsumer Advocacy*Data CollectionFires*HalogensHousehold Articles*HumansInformation ServicesPublic OpinionSafety*SubstanceHalogens
But their hazards to home and health are clear. The commission, a Federal agency, has received reports of about 100 fires resulting from the lamps, most of them in 1996. Ten people died in those fires. State Farm Insurance, the nation’s largest insurer of homes, began to identify fires caused by the lamps last year. Colleges and universities, including Yale, Brown and Williams, have banned halogen torcheres from dormitory rooms, partly because the design of the lamp makes it so handy for drying or hanging clothes.
Since then, lamp makers who want the U.L. seal have been required to limit the power of halogen bulbs in new torcheres to 300 watts. And lamp owners are being urged by U.L. to replace 500-watt bulbs with 300-watt bulbs.
In fact, the safety of halogen floor lamps has been questioned for more than a year. Product safety and fire officials across the country have received dozens of reports of fires caused by torchere-style halogen lamps, which look like a large salad bowl perched atop a long pole. Some universities have banned them from dormitory rooms. And the lighting industry itself is adopting new safety requirements for their design.
Walls can smolder if the lamp is too close, even a foot away, fire officials say.