What is that sound and smell?

Check for CFL burnout

Most people know that a pop and flash before an incandescent bulb goes dark means it has burned out. But you might not be familiar with the slightly more dramatic burnout of a compact fluorescent light bulb. (CFL)

CFLs not only operate differently from incandescent bulbs, using about 75 percent less energy, they also burn out differently.

As a CFL approaches the end of its life, expect the light to dim. When it does burn out, you may hear a more dramatic pop than with an incandescent bulb, and you could smell a distinct odor. The bulb might even produce smoke, while the base of the bulb might turn black. None of these things should cause concern. In fact, popping and smoke means the bulb’s end-of-life mechanism is working correctly.

To ensure you’re using CFLs safely, take two precautions. Before you buy, check the packaging for the mark of an independent safety testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories. That label means the bulbs have been tested repeatedly for safety hazards.

Also, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests placing the burned out or broken bulb in a plastic bag, which should be sealed before bringing it to the recycling center. Never send a CFL or other mercury-containing product in the trash or incinerator.

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