Light Bulbs Burning Out Frequently?  Put on your detective hat!  Part 1

Some electrical problems are easy to identify and fix. Every once in a while a customer calls and tells us that they have a light fixture that that is burning out often and is costing them a small fortune in bulbs. In some cases it is multiple fixtures. The fix for this type of problem is usually very simple however, finding the source of the problem is not so simple.

In the past few months we had two cases of bulbs burning out frequently and both were for completely different reasons. In on case, the bulbs in a customers’ track lighting were blowing often, sometimes in mere hours after they had been replaced. The bulbs were PAR 20 halogen bulbs which are not inexpensive. In another situation a pot light with a standard incandescent flood was burning out at least once every 2 weeks if not sooner. Why was this happening?

When you Google “bulbs burning out often” you get 416,000 results. To save some time reading all of these results here are the oft cited reasons for the problem:

  1. Higher than normal voltage in house (ie. > 120V).
  2. Bulbs screwed in too tightly.
  3. Excessive vibration in bulbs.
  4. Bulbs getting too hot.
  5. Use of cheap “dollar store” light bulbs.
  6. Fixtures or wiring not properly installed (eg. loose wiring)

In our customer situations described above the source of the problem was caused by one of the seven reasons found in the search, however the cause was not easily identified from reading the above list. I will explain this more when we look at each individual case.

Often you will need an electrician to solve the problem but you can try a few things first that may offer a simple fix and save a service call (or multiple service calls because the problem is sometimes hard to pin down).

Scenario One: Multiple Fixtures with Premature Bulb Burnout

If it is not just one fixture but several fixtures in different areas of the house that are burning out prematurely it is possible that 1) the voltage in the house is not being supplied at normal levels or 2) you are using sub standard light bulbs or 3) you are not using the proper bulbs for your fixtures (ie. bulb wattage exceeds wattage rating of fixture).

If you have been buying bargain bulbs (eg. Dollar Store bulbs) go to your local Hardware Store and purchase a recognized brand and replace them in the fixtures when they burn out. As you replace the bulbs make sure the wattage rating of the bulb does not exceed the rating of the fixture (most fixtures will have the rating listed somewhere on the fixture like the screw shell). Using improper bulbs could be the sole reason for frequent bulb failure, even if you are using good quality bulbs. If, after you have tried good quality bulbs with the appropriate wattage for the fixture the problem persists your next step would be to call your local utility to check the house voltage. (Note: be sure to keep track of when and where you change burnt out bulbs)

If you have been using good, name brand bulbs and the proper bulbs for your fixtures you could call your local utility right away (NB Power in New Brunswick), explain the problem and ask them to check your house voltage. Inconsistent and over voltage is usually more of a problem in rural areas.

After all of these steps have been taken and you still experience the problem it is time to call an electrician.

As a side note, it is often recommended that you use bulbs rated for “130 Volts” if you have bulbs burning out frequently. If you can find bulbs with this rating it might help if you have an over-voltage situation, frequent power surges or inconsistent voltages which people living in more rural areas can experience. That being said, most standard bulbs rated for “120 Volts” should be acceptable in your home. It is more important to buy good quality bulbs.

Scenario 2 – Light Bulb burning out in one fixture frequently

If just one fixture is burning out prematurely, before calling the electrician make sure you are using a good quality bulb and the proper bulb for the fixture in question (see explanation scenario one above). If this does not work you will probably need to call an electrician.

In the next installment of this topic I will look at one of our customer scenarios mentioned earlier in the BLOG.

To be continued…….