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How to Troubleshoot Light Fixture Problems

When a light goes out that usually means it's time to replace the light bulb. But what happens when something else is wrong with a light? How do you figure out what needs to be fixed?

The aesthetic design of different light fixtures may vary from one model to the next, but when it comes right down to it, most incandescent light fixtures contain components that are arranged in the same way. Basically, a canopy plate is held up to the ceiling with mounting screws, there are sockets for the bulbs, and a translucent diffuser or globe softens the light. Newer fixtures may include fiber insulation for extra protection.

If the circuit has blown and you see sparks, the fixture has probably shorted out and the problem lies with the actual fixture. If the light just doesn't turn on, the problem may originate in the wall switch. What to do.

  1. Do an inspection of the socket. Before you begin, remember to shut off the circuit supplying electricity to the fixture. Closely examine the socket for cracks, or wires that are scorched or melted. If this is what you find, you'll have to replace it or the fixture. If it looks undamaged, unscrew the bulb and look at the contact at the base of the socket. If you discover corrosion the best thing to do is scrape the contact with a flat screwdriver or steel wool.
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  • Check the wiring. If you still can't get the light to work, shut off the circuit, loosen or remove the mounting screws, and drop the fixture from the outlet box. Nicked insulation, loose connections, peeling drywall paper, and heated-cracked wire insulation all indicate an overheating fixture. This could mean two things: you have a faulty fixture or the wattage of the bulbs you're using is too high.
  • Some tips

    • When installing light fixtures, keep the fiber insulation intact instead of removing it from the canopy plate. This will give you more protection than normal against shorts.
    • Always use the right light bulbs. If you're unsure what bulbs to use, simply check the label on the fixture - this will tell you the maximum wattage bulbs you can safely use.


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