Do light fixtures go bad?

Do light fixtures go bad? They shouldn’t, because there isn’t much to them. Here’s why, and what to do when they do go bad in spite of the long odds.

Why light fixtures shouldn’t go bad

do light fixtures go bad? They shouldn't.
A light fixture is about as simple of a machine as they come, so there’s not much to go bad.

There isn’t much to a light fixture. It’s a pair of wires, a bulb socket, and enough metal to hold them together. A complex light fixture is multiple bulb sockets, with multiple pairs of wires to feed power to them, and enough metal to hold them together. It’s a super-simple circuit. Fourth graders use bulbs and sockets with batteries to learn about electricity, and the only difference between that circuit and a light fixture is the size and voltage.

Bulbs burn out, of course. But the wires and sockets ought to last essentially forever, unless they’ve had some physical damage.

Safety first

Turn off the power to the fixture at the breaker box. This keeps you from getting shocked while you work on the fixture.

Check the sockets

do light fixtures go bad
When the brass tab in the center of a light socket gets mashed down, it causes problems. Bend the tab up to at least a 20-degree angle. If it’s badly discolored, it can also cause problems.

The first thing to check is the sockets, since it’s easiest. Sockets can go bad if you screw the bulbs in too tightly and mash the contact down. To prevent this, I always turn the light on when I replace a bulb, then turn the bulb until it lights. If the bulb feels a bit loose, I’ll give it another half turn. This keeps the contact springy, so it can work as it should.

So if your light fixture went bad, here’s the first fix to try. Reach into the socket with a wood or plastic stick of some sort and bend the contact up a few degrees. Don’t bend it a lot. It should look fairly flat, but should have some downward movement when you poke it with the stick.

The other thing to look at is the color of the metal itself. If that contact is badly oxidized, clean it with a bit of metal polish on a cotton swab. Green copper oxide isn’t conductive.

Check the wiring

The second thing to check is the wiring. The wiring inside the fixture doesn’t go bad, but the connection inside the electrical box can. If the fixture didn’t have a tight fit when it was first installed, the heat from the poor conductivity can eventually cause the wire nut to work its way loose. I’ve seen it happen at two or three houses now. Fortunately, it’s easy to fix and usually doesn’t require any parts.

Take the light fixture down from the ceiling, then inspect the wire connections. If one or both wire nuts are really loose, you’ve probably found your problem. It’s a good idea to remove the wire nuts, twist the wires together tightly, then replace the wire nuts. Some people just hold the wires together and put the nut on, but that doesn’t give you a good electrical connection. Hold the wires together and gently twist them with a pair of pliers to get a good connection. A good electrical connection looks like a braid, not like the number 11. Then replace the wire nut.

Replace the fixture, and at this point there’s a good chance the fixture works now.

Obsolescence

A bigger problem with light fixtures is obsolescence. Enclosed light fixtures shorten LED bulb life expectancy, which can be a problem, because LED bulbs can save you a lot of money.

If your fixture is obsolete, or you just can’t get it working, here’s how to replace one. It’s easier than you might think.

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