How To Stop Early Ceiling Fan Light Failure

Common causes of early light burn out are easy to detect and correct. A common mistake is using a higher wattage bulb than the fixture is rated for.

Incandescent light bulbs can burn out prematurely for any number of reasons. While, many factors affect the filaments (incandescent bulbs); vibrations, ambient temperatures and slight variations in voltages are 3 of the main causes for bulb failure. In most cases, you find and fix the problems with a few simple tools and common sense.

Early Ceiling Fan Light Failure

hunter-52090-ceiling-fan-7744986Vibrations are a major cause of early incandescent bulb failure. It does not take much vibration to damage the delicate tungsten filament wire used to produce the light. Severe vibrations caused by loose fan paddles or bad bearings in the fan motor will be obvious to the naked eye, while other vibrations caused by uneven dirt accumulations on the fan paddles may not be so obvious. You can reduce the chances of early bulb failure due to small amounts of vibration by using appliance- or fan-rated light bulbs. They cost slightly more than regular incandescent light bulbs, but they are designed to withstand vibration and wider variations in operating temperatures.

Using bulbs of a higher wattage rating than what the lighting fixture is rated for is the main cause of early bulb burnout. The fixture rating is based on its ability to transfer the heat generated by an incandescent bulb to its surrounding environment. Using a higher wattage bulb causes excessive heat buildup that not only decreases the life cycle of the bulb but damages the lamp socket and its related wiring. Even more of a concern than early bulb burnout is that the damaged wiring can pose a fire hazard. Never exceed the wattage rating of the fixture. If you need more light in a room, add more lights.

If a new bulb starts to flicker as soon as you screw it in and turn the light on, suspect a problem with the lamp socket or with one of the wiring connections in the fixture. Turn off the branch circuit breaker supplying power to the fan and verify that all the power is off by using a non-contact voltage tester. Remove the bulb and inspect the inside of the light socket for a loose screw shell and/or burn marks on the center, button contact. A loose shell or a center contact that has lost its tension will make for a bad electrical connection and will shorten the life of the bulb significantly. If the fixture has been subjected to excessive bulb wattage and the socket shows signs of heat damage, be proactive and replace the socket.

The connections between the fixture wires and the branch circuit wire are made with screw-on wire nuts, which can become loose over time. The circuit may have come loose at the switch, or the contacts within the switch itself may have weakened. Any of these conditions will cause a constant changing of the voltage being applied to the bulb, resulting in the constant expansion and contraction of the bulb’s filament. In turn, this will lead to early failure.

If the problem is just with the fan lights, high line voltage is not the problem. If the problem exists with all your incandescent light fixtures, suspect a possible high-voltage problem. Bulbs are designed to operate at a specific voltage, such as 125 volts. If the voltage exceeds their rating, they will burn out more quickly. The safest way to check line voltage is to take a reading with a digital multimeter at a wall receptacle. If you get a reading exceeding 110 to 120 volts, you need to contact your utility company so technicians can fix the problem.

CFL Light Bulbs

Do not use CFL’s with any type of dimmable fixture as the ballasts on the bulbs  are not designed for dimming. And yes, they do make dimmable CFL’s for fans now, but don’t work as well as incandescent bulbs. Some CFL’s can’t be used in enclosed fixtures, or use only in upward position, or don’t use outside, read and follow the instructions when buying CFL’s.

The warnings about using regular CFL’s in dimmers (and enclosed fixtures) are related to the efficacy of the ballast. Dimmers work by breaking up the amount of electricity reaching the light fixture. The alternating current within our homes can be conceptualized as a sine wave of electrical current; dimmers reduce the electricity headed to the fixture by blocking bits of it. As you dim the lights, more and more of the sine wave is voided, and the bulbs receive less power.

Incandescent fixtures, which produce light by heating a filament, can make bulbs dimmer as less heat is produced by the filament. But to my understanding, dimmers just don’t work well with regular CFLs. That’s because light from regular CFLs is produced not by heat that can be turned down, but by regulating power to and through a complex gassy tube. First the CFL would dim, but then it would go out altogether, and if you kept trying to use it in the fixture the ballast and the lamp would eventually malfunction.

For additional answers, head to the troubleshooting page. For more specific problems:

A Wobbly Fan

Ceiling Fan Noise

No Air Movement

Ceiling Fan Remote Problems