Ask G

Ask G: Lights and house fires

Can household lighting be a fire danger?

I've heard that some lights can cause house fires. How does this happen?

Moyra, NSW

Glowing red light

Too hot to handle: can lighting be a fire danger?

Credit: Wikimedia

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Incandescent lights and halogens work by passing electricity through fine filaments, heating them until they produce light. Around 90 per cent of the power used is emitted as heat, rather than visible light.

In certain circumstances, this heat can start a fire.

For example, some people drape damp underwear, hosiery or baby clothes over a lampshade to use the heat to dry them.

This clothing, particularly synthetic hosiery, can catch on fire.

Another example is the potentially dangerous combination of halogen downlights and blow-in insulation.

If you have blow-in insulation (which is often finely shredded paper), it needs to be well separated from downlights, preferably using a downlight guard or other barrier product.