Broken bulb with title, Why is my bulb such a burnout?

Why is My Light Bulb Burning Out?

Broken bulb with title, Why is my bulb such a burnout?
If you’ve ever experienced the saga of a light fixture that repeatedly burns through bulbs, you know how frustrating it is. The good news is that there is often a very simple solution.

(NOTE: Since I’m not an electrician, I’ll leave that stuff to the experts. If you suspect that your bulb is failing due to faulty wiring in your home, get in touch with a certified electrician to rule out any electrical issues.)

So what’s wrong with your bulb? Here are a handful of the most common issues that can cause an early bulb breakdown:

Problem: Excessive Vibration

Bulbs that are subject to lots of vibration are prone to early failure. This is commonly seen in ceiling fans, garage door lights, or underneath a particularly active room like a child’s playroom.

Solution: Look for bulbs labeled “rough service” that are designed with thicker filaments to handle more vibration. Another option is to switch to LED light bulbs, which aren’t affected by vibration since they do not house filaments.

Problem: Bulb Quality

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. That pack of 10 bulbs at the dollar store may seem like a great bargain, but be ready to change them often.

Solution: Shop for quality bulbs from trusted companies (ahem, Pegasus Lighting).

Problem: Overheating

If your bulb gets too hot, it can greatly reduce its lifespan. Several things can make a bulb burn too hot: Voltage fluctuations, wattage limitations, or being in an enclosed fixture can cause overheating. Certain types of halogen bulbs will overheat when handled with bare hands because the oils from your fingers create hot spots on the bulb.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that since LED bulbs don’t get as hot as incandescents that you don’t need to worry about overheating. On the contrary, LED lights stay cooler because of a built-in heat sink in the base that draws heat away from the LED and into the atmosphere. In an enclosed area, there’s nowhere for the heat to dissipate.

Solution: If your light bulb is encased within a fixture, make sure it is rated for use in enclosed or recessed fixtures. When handling halogen bulbs, wear gloves or use an old t-shirt (the packaging should say if it is the type that shouldn’t be touched with bare hands). If your bulb is overheating, try using a bulb with a lower wattage, and confirm that you are using the correct voltage, especially in low voltage light fixtures.

Problem: Frequent On/Off Cycles

This issue almost exclusively applies to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and fluorescent tubes. The method used to start fluorescent lights requires an initial surge of current, which over time degrades the light. If you’re flipping the lights on and off multiple times a day, you’re going to burn through CFL bulbs quicker.

Solution: Opt for LED or incandescent bulbs in fixtures that get a lot of use (bathrooms, closets and kitchens are guilty parties). Avoid using CFL bulbs with motion sensors.

Problem: Screwed Too Tight

If you look closely at a standard light fixture socket, you’ll notice a small brass tab that depresses when the bulb makes contact. When you screw in a light bulb too tight, the brass tab can bend too far and flatten, disrupting the contact needed to power the bulb.

Solution: Make sure there is a 20-30 degree angle on the brass tab at the base of the light socket. recommends twisting the bulb in until the light comes on, then just 1/8th of an inch more. If you think the tab may have already bent, they offer detailed instructions on how to safely repair it.

Problem: There’s No Problem

The average rated life of a light bulb represents how long it took for half of the bulbs to fail during testing (given perfect conditions). If your bulb lasted 12,315 hours (you counted!) but the label touted an average rated of life of 20,000 hours, you’re actually still within range of an acceptable life span.

We measure LED bulbs a bit differently since they never technically burn out, but rather fade over time. Instead, the Lighting FactsTM label indicates LED lumen maintenance (LM), which is an estimate of the bulb’s lumen depreciation over a given time.

Solution: Understand that the expected lifespan of your light bulb is simply an estimate based on testing that was performed in a controlled environment. When a bulb burns out earlier than that estimate, it doesn’t always mean something is wrong with it.

Now what?

If your bulb fails earlier than it should, there is a chance that it’s still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, so be sure to hang on to that info. If you’ve lost the information, try looking it up at Lighting Facts, where many manufacturers include links to their warranty information.

Finally, don’t just toss those old incandescent bulbs – repurpose them as a mini terrarium, a wedding decoration, or even a steampunk necklace! (Fluorescent and CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury and have special requirements for disposal.)


Renee Carlson

Renee specializes in digital marketing & content development for Pegasus Lighting. When she's not blogging about all-things-light, you’ll find her nestled in the ‘burbs of Raleigh with her husband & three active boys, getting lost in her Kindle, tackling a long list of home improvement projects, or cheering on the Carolina Panthers.