Troubleshooting Light Bulbs – Fluorescents

May 6, 2015

Troubleshooting Your Light Bulbs

Fluorescents, CFLs & LEDs – Oh My! (Part 1)

There is a rising tide of customers calling us with problems or concerns over light fixtures that seem to be behaving oddly.  Frequently, this isn’t the fault of the fixture – but of the bulb or its support materials (such as a ballast, driver, or electronic chip set).  The technology in light bulbs is improving, giving us better efficiency, healthier light, and happier indoor spaces.  However, the fail points of these new fangled lights is also increasing – since a lightbulb is no longer as simple as it once was.

Part of the reason it is habit for us to troubleshoot a fixture rather than a bulb was because our lighting systems have been relatively simple – and if you had a bulb that didn’t work, you tightened it up in the lamp.  If that didn’t work, then you would try replacing it.  After that, all problems existed downstream – aka, in the fixture, the circuit, or the switch – because the bulb was too simple to have many parts capable of failing, and simple replacement resolved something like 95% of your problems.  This isn’t true with modern lighting – as a matter of fact, fluorescents, CFLs, and LEDs have so many circuits and pieces that failures are generally expected as a normal part of the fabrication, implementation, and use process.

Overhead fluorescent lights have become a staple of American society.  They are embedded into every public space we go, and frequently in personal ones as well.  They are so pervasive and common that we don’t notice them, and most people couldn’t even tell you when a bulb is out or a fixture is misbehaving because we almost never even look directly at them anymore.  Fortunately, troubleshooting problematic bulbs – fluorescent tube, CFL, or LED – can be an easy checklist.

PLEASE NOTE – Always disconnect any available plugs, power supplies, circuits, and switches before touching a light bulb and/or fixture.  Live electrical work should never be done by anyone.

(Unless you have specialized training*.)

If ever you are in doubt about a light’s functionality, just plug it into a working fixture, outlet, or circuit to see if you can repeat your previous problems.


Troubleshooting a Fluorescent Lightbulb

The first step in troubleshooting is of course – looking, seeing, and comprehending what is going on.  For fluorescent bulbs, looking at their behavior can help resolve something like 90% of your problems.  Remember – most fluorescent fixtures use pairs of bulbs which are frequently linked together; sometimes problems only affect one bulb (a sure sign it’s a bulb issue) and sometimes they affect both (a frequent indicator of a ballast problem).

  1. Is the light a normal color?
  2. Is the light it’s normal brightness?
  3. Are both ends of the tube fully lit?
  4. Do both bulbs seem dim or hesitant?
  5. Does the bulb flicker, flare, or flash in any way?
  6. Is one end of the bulb is dim or dark but the other is lit normally, or flickering very quickly?
  7. Does the bulb slowly seem to ‘warm up’, stay lit for a little while, and then abruptly cut out?
  8. Is the bulb in a cold (below freezing) environment?  (If the answer to this one is yes, then your best bet is to replace the bulbs and/or fixture with something cold-appropriate.)

If you answer yes to any of these questions, then consider giving the fluorescent tube a nudge or a twist to make sure it is fully seated and secure inside it’s ballast.  If that doesn’t resolve your issues then replacing the bulb is always your best bet.  How you choose to do so is of course up to you – but some experts recommend replacing pairs of fluorescents together.  Most ballasts are designed to control 2 lamps (bulbs) and using identical ones from the same manufacturer, batch, and even box can help prolong the life of your fixtures ballasts.

Beyond this point, you will want to start troubleshooting the ballasts, then perhaps the fixture, and eventually the circuit itself – however, in our opinion, that means calling out a licensed electrician.

*By specialized training, we mean technical training, skilled certifications, or licenses related to electrical and/or electricity safety.  Skilled and/or trained personnel will probably never read this article, however.  🙂

If all else fails and your lighting is not producing the desired results – whether it be CFL, LED, or high-efficiency incandescent – then simply contact your retailer or manufacturer and arrange to return it.  Light affects our space, all day, every day.  It should be good light that serves a function, performs well, and even brings us visual pleasure.  Anytime your lighting system isn’t doing that, then call a licensed electrician like Swartz Electric, LLC to fix that for you.

Join us next week as we explore the wide world of CFL bulbs!

Swartz Electric – Your Colorado Springs Electrician performs electrical work throughout Colorado Springs, Monument, Black Forest, Fountain, Falcon, Woodland Park, and everywhere in between. We are the electricians in Colorado Springs to solve your electrical problems and meet your electrical requirements.

Call, e-mail, visit our website, or stop by our office today, and allow Swartz Electric to serve YOU.

This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.

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