Green Building Library

Safe, Efficient Torchieres

It's no wonder that torchieres are a highly popular style of portable light fixture with 30 to 40 million in use today. Torchieres are sleek, inexpensive and provide eye-pleasing indirect light.

Because light bounces off the ceiling, torchieres work best in rooms with average ceiling height. If the ceiling is too low, you'll see uncomfortable glare. If the ceiling is too high, the light will be "lost."

Halogen Fire Hazard

The standard light source in torchieres is a high-wattage halogen lamp, which produces a clean white light that many people find attractive. However, halogen lamps operate at extremely high temperatures. Any combustible material coming into contact with the lamp, which can burn at up to 1000° F, will readily burst into flames. Two common dangers are curtains blowing into the lamp and lamps tipping over and igniting carpets. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) claims that 189 fires and 11 fire-related deaths can be directly attributed to halogen torchieres. The CPSC recommends installing a guard over the halogen lamp to keep combustibles away.

(Click for larger image.)

This illustration compares the heat generated by a torchiere with a halogen lamp and one with a compact fluorescent lamp.
(Photo: Lawrence Berkeley National Labs)

In addition to safety concerns, torchieres consume large amounts of energy -- as much energy as a typical refrigerator. Halogen torchieres generally contain 300 to 500 watt lamps. Unfortunately, 95 percent of the energy consumed by the lamp turns to heat rather than light.

Operating a 300-watt halogen torchiere for four hours per day would use 438 kWhs of electricity. At 4.5¢ per kWh (roughly the average rate for Lane County utilities), you would spend about $19 per year on energy. So you would spend about the same amount of money on energy in the first year as you spent to purchase the fixture.

Dimming the torchiere may reduce light output, but it also reduces efficiency significantly. The following data from Lawrence Berkeley National Labs illustrates the effect of dimming. Notice how cutting the power to 33 percent (1/3) of the maximum slashes light output to only 5 to 7 percent of maximum.

Halogen Torchiere Energy Consumption and Efficacy

Actual Power consumption
Measured light output
(lumens per watt)
250 - 307
2,710 - 4,413
9.9 - 14.4
167 - 180
1,034 - 1,741
5.7 - 8.7
83 - 101
152 - 318
1.7 - 3.2

If halogen torchieres are potentially hazardous, energy wasting and expensive to operate, what's the answer?

Compact Fluorescent Torchieres

A new breed of torchieres is now available. Instead of the halogen lamp, they have one or two compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which draw from 55 to 65 watts. To provide several light levels, the compact fluorescent torchieres contain two independently switched CFLs or a dimmable lamp and ballast. In contrast to halogens, CFLs operate at a cool 100°F and pose a negligible fire hazard. Being much more efficient, the CFL uses only 15 to 25 percent of the power consumed by halogen lamps. CFLs also produce excellent color quality which is indistinguishable from an incandescent bulb.

Where to Buy

CFL torchieres can be purchased from these national mail order sources. Expect to pay between $30 and $120. When shopping for a CFL torchiere, look for the Energy Star logo to be sure the fixture is both safe and efficient.