Analyzing Light Fixture Problems

Electrical Problems and Repairs

Dinning room with chandelier and french doors open to garden
Ivan Hunter/Stockbyte/Getty Images

As homeowners, we often overlook light fixtures in our home when it comes to maintenance.  We walk in the room and flip on the light switch, assuming it will always light the bulb. However, that isn't always the case. Well, not always. But what could have happened? They worked perfectly yesterday! Sometimes common electrical problems can cause the problem, or it may just be that a bulb burned out.

But how are we to know?

Often, we as homeowners, overlook the obvious solution. We look at the problem and decide the light fixture is defective. It's easy to run to the store and just buy a new one, but at what cost?

First, you're out some money for the new fixture and now, worst of all, you have to take down the old one and replace it with the new one, adding more work. The problem remains, what exactly was wrong with the first fixture? And now, if you install the replacement and find out it doesn't work either, you have another problem. Instead of jumping the gun, let's do a practical examination and find the real problem. Go through a systematic list of problem solvers and find the trouble. Here is a list of common problems and some recommended repairs to keep the lights shining brightly in your home.

Ceiling Light Fixture

Problem: The light bulb will not light.

  1. Check the light bulb first. It may have burned out. Replace the bulb.
  1. Check to see if the bulb is tight in the socket.
  2. Check the socket tab in the center of the socket. You may have to pull up on it in order for it to make contact with the bulb.
  3. Check the connections at the switch and make sure that they are tight. Be sure that the power is off to the circuit that you are working on.
  1. Check the connections at the light and the breaker panel to be sure they are all connected tightly.

Problem: The light flickers.

  1. If the bulb flickers on and off it usually means that the switch contacts are getting bad. Usually, you'll be able to hear a sizzling or crackling sound if the switch contacts are bad. In this case, replace the switch.
  2. It also could be that the connections are loose. This could be on the switch, at the panel, or in the junction box of the light. There also is the possibility that the connections to the light socket could be loose. Check all of these points and tighten if necessary. If the socket connection is loose, replace the light socket.

Recessed Lights - Can Lights

Problem: Light turns on and off by itself.

  1. Check the size of the bulb in the socket. Make sure the wattage of the bulb doesn't exceed the recommended wattage rating for the fixture. The maximum wattage will be listed on a tag on the fixture or socket.
  2. The limit switch turns the unit off when the temperature reaches an unsafe level. Over-sized bulbs will radiate an excessive amount of heat and could potentially cause a fire if the limit didn't shut off the light.
  3. It is possible that the limit switch may need to be changed if the correct bulb is in place. You also may need to pull the can light out and make a space above the can light. If the insulation is packed too tightly on top of the light, proper ventilation cannot take place. This will trip the thermal.

    Fixtures With Built-in Switches or Pull Chains

    Problem: The switch won't work.

    1. Check the bulb to see if it bad.
    2. Check the connections on the switch to make sure they are all tight. Remove the switch from the circuit and test between the wires with an ohm meter. Toggle the switch and see if it changes values on the ohm meter. If not, replace the switch.
    3. Check the wires to the socket. If they are loose or have a burnt appearance, replace the socket