Halogen Lamps: Great Light, but Are They Safe?

Cross-stitchers love the new halogen floor lamps. The bright glow sharpens the view of all those tiny X's, tinier holes and complicated directions. You can admire the view. Just don't touch the light.

One tired needleworker yawned and stretched after a long session of stitching, brushing the top of her hand across the 300-degree halogen bulb. Severe burns slowed her stitching for weeks.

"She was lucky," said Dale Dorman, a housing expert with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "The greatest danger of halogen floor lamps is fire."

Dorman said the bright new lights are especially popular for the elderly. Tired, cataract-fogged eyes find comfort in the intensity of halogen lights.

"Fire safety concerns have forced changes in the design of halogen floor lamps," Dorman said. "New lamps were designed to meet toughened Underwriters Laboratories requirements that took effect in February. They're supposed to prevent materials from igniting from the bulb's heat."

Consumer Reports tested the lamps, drawing several conclusions. Treat halogen floor lamps with respect, the March report said. The revised UL 153 standard is an improvement, but the lamps that meet the new standard still operate at extremely high temperatures. Keep them away from furnishings or draperies that can burn.

If you want a new halogen lamp, look for a model that says it meets the revised UL 153 standard. It should have a metal-grate guard and a thermal protector. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the latest designs' effectiveness, as well as options for retrofitting old lamps.

"The results of its evaluation may lead to even better designs," Dorman said.

Consumer Reports also advises you not to use halogen floor lamps you already own that don't meet the revised standard.

As an alternative, consider buying a lower-wattage incandescent or florescent lamp.

"The light won't be as intense," Dorman said. "But these lamps use a fraction of the electricity and operate considerably cooler. This eliminates the fire hazard halogen lamps can pose."

If you love your handwork, love your hands -- and your home -- as much. Treat your halogen floor lamp with respect.