7 On Your Side: The dark side of green lighting


Blake Reavis, 11, of Walnut Creek remembers November 25 of last year quite well. It was the day the sparks flew above his head instead of from his Mindcraft video game.

"It just sparked a lot, like an explosion of sparks. But like a little explosion of sparks. And then we saw it. Then we were like, 'Oh, this isn't good,'" said Reavis.

It turns out the sparks were coming from the LED light bulb on the ceiling. Flames about an inch long shot out until his dad quickly put out the fire.

"Up there is where it happened. That little light. And you can see there's like black marks from the sparks in the fire," said Reavis.

John Drengenberg is with Underwriter Laboratories, an independent third party that tests products for safety. He told us, "Many LED bulbs have power supplies in them and the power supplies consist of many different kinds of components and if something goes wrong with the component, you can have a fire."

Since 2012, there have been nine voluntary recalls of LED lights. That compares to no recalls during the same period for incandescent bulbs and none related to fluorescent lights. But both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and U.L. believe LED lights are safe.

"LED fires are rather rare. The fact is LED light bulbs are really very low energy and they don't get as hot as incandescent lamps," said Drengenberg.

At the Home Depot, sales in the Bay Area of LED lights have surpassed both fluorescent and incandescent lights. LEDs are more expensive, but with their 18-year life span, save in energy costs.

"That's going to save you about $138 in energy savings for the life time of this light bulb," said Alicia Abigana from Home Depot.

Because they are so new, no statistics are available for LED related fires. But from 2007-2011, there were an average of four deaths and 24 injuries annually related to fires from incandescent light fixtures nationwide. During the same period, there were four deaths and 20 injuries annually blamed on fires from fluorescent bulbs.

Janet Olson of Saratoga was on her StairMaster two years ago when she recalled seeing sparks inside the glass bowl of her LED lights.

We obtained photos from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and you could see just how charred the small fire left the socket. Olson worries about her children and has switched back to fluorescent lights, which have had their own problems.

"Those in there in that room we have half of them burned out. So the fluorescent one don't seem to last that long either," said Olson.

"My recommendation would be to go with the LEDs, a lot more options have come out," said Abigana.

That seems to be the general consensus among energy experts. The Reavis family purchased its bulbs from Lowe's which said it looked into the fire and concluded it was an isolated incident.

The Olson family could not recall where they went to buy their LED bulbs.

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