Troubleshooting Light Bulbs – LEDs

May 20, 2015

Troubleshooting Your Light Bulbs

Fluorescents, CFLs & LEDs – Oh My! (Part 3)

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.

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 LED Bulbs

LEDs (or Light Emitting Diodes) are a whole new kettle of fish when it comes to the light industry.  They don’t function in the same elemental way that incandescents or fluorescents do, they do not emit light in the same wavelengths that other light bulbs do, and even their design is drastically, elementally, fundamentally different from anything seen before – or since.

If you’ll look at the light above, you will notice that the largest part of the entire assembly is the heatsink – since LEDs utilize small amounts of wattage, they dissipate less waste heat than previous bulbs; however, that resistance heat has to go somewhere.  By providing heatsinks, or giant metal fins that dissipate the heat into the air, they allow the LEDs to operate at optimum temperature and maintain their highest efficiency (LEDs like cold better than heat).  This also extends the lifetime of the bulb by preventing overheating and prolonging efficacy (capacity for producing a desired result or effect; effectiveness per  This means the LED will stay brighter and work better for a longer period of time.  Unlike CFLs, LEDs performance is not affected by on-off conditions and they actually enjoy cold starting conditions.  New technology designs will create convection movement around and through LED bulbs, allowing natural heat and air movement to dissipate heat instead of using artificial metal fins.

Troubleshooting LEDs, likewise, becomes a whole different sort of ball game; because of their lowered voltage draw, even trace amounts of current on a circuit can make them light up – usually in the most annoying of ways.  Putting LEDs in circuits that utilize low voltage feeds, such as those night-light switches that self illuminate when off, will actually make them light or flash as the very tiny grade voltage surges through the circuit.  When installing LEDs in ceiling fan lights, older models feed minute amounts of current when the motor is moving – meaning it will turn the lights on, even when you don’t turn the lights on.  Newer models of ceiling fans (especially the kind that come with remote controls) actually have to be specially programmed when you install low-voltage bulbs like LEDs to prevent lighting problems.  (If this is a problem you encounter, consider checking your user manual for the correct programming codes).  One of the most frequent issues we encounter is LEDs on a dimmer (but the bulb says it’s dimmer compatible!) that start too soon, stay on too long, and get too bright too early.  This of course is because the low voltage draw of LEDs and the high voltage power of a normal dimmer are at odds; we frequently install 120-277 volt dimmers in customer homes; manufacturers are releasing LED dimmers that are rated for 10-277 volts in order to properly accommodate LEDs need for very little power.

The future of LEDs – mini heat sinks and convection air flow

The question you might now be asking yourself is – if this is the case, and it takes experience and fore-knowledge and awareness of the specifics of LEDs, how do I fix the problem I have with my <insert fixture here>?  The easy answer is – if you are dealing with a circuit or fixture with multiple lights, consider replacing one of those bulbs with a low-voltage incandescent light bulb.  While this sounds counterintuitive to the idea of using green bulbs like LEDs, what that large-voltage drawing light bulb can do is eat up enough trace voltage that your LEDs will not light up.  Another option is to have a licensed electrician design a new lighting system (circuit, fixture, installation, etc. depending on circumstances and necessity) that will utilize not just high-efficiency LEDs but also be wired with the proper controlling mechanisms and programming.  LEDs are super convenient and the light rendering is so crisp that our urge is to replace every bulb we have with them – and sometimes this isn’t the best option, sadly.  Just remember that LEDs are a truly revolutionary form of light; if they don’t cooperate with your current lifestyle or lighting systems, its most likely because those systems were built on technology whose fundamentals are much older than you imagine.

LEDs, due to their constructed nature, are a kind of all in one system – and if one part goes out (transformer, driver, chipset, etc.) then consider the bulb as a whole finished.  The most common failure seen is sporadic flickering as failed components struggle to compensate and correct for failures with one or more of the bulbs elements.

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.

*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.  🙂

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.

© Copyright 2015. All rights reserved

1 Comment

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