This apartment has strange problems. Incandescent bulbs burn out too
fast, usually when a switch is turned on. I monitored line voltage with
a plug-in meter that displays voltages in the range of 90 to 130. The
needle stays pointing in the green zone (110 to 125 volts). I don't live
there, but I left the meter there and the renter says it stays in the
Aside from that problem, the kitchen has a ceiling fan with three light
bulbs (standard base). The bulb in one position burns out, again when
power is switched on, much more often than the other two.
I've tried using bulbs rated at 130V. Seem to give better life, but
there is still a definite problem that I can't blame on simple high
voltage. There is no flicker that could indicate that the bulb isn't
fully screwed into the socket.
This is an "illegal" apartment, which means that there can be many code
Thanks for you suggestions/comments.
You don't say if the "meter" is an analog meter with a needle/pointer
or an electronic meter that displays line voltage with a digital
readout. A short sudden burst of high voltage, just for one or two
cycles, 30 milliseconds or so, might be happeneing on a semi-regular
basis without being visible, but would strain the bulbs.
A check of the voltage when a heavy user of electricity is plugged in,
such as an electric iron turned to the highest heat, should indicate
if there is a general distribution problem, plug the iron in to
outlets on the same phase and on the other phase of the 230V lines
coming into the unit, and tell us what you find.
On 10/18/2011 9:34 PM, hr(bob) email@example.com wrote:
This is the meter.
Clearly, it will miss short spikes. (BTW, I only paid about $20 for it.)
I won't be back in the apartment until the weekend. I don't know if I
can access the circuit breakers to get at the other phase. They may not
even be located in her apartment. As I said, these are illegal units in
the sense that they don't have permits and inspections, and I don't know
how knowledgeable the workers were.
I wouldnt worry too much about the spikes but tighten down the
neutrals in your breaker box. Loose neutrlas can cause some
interesting problems, like when my wife complained of her portable
radio not working then it smoked when she used the toaster. Im glad
we were living in an apartment when that happened. Kitchen outlets
were on shared neutral circuits... this can put 240 at a 120 outlet
Two things you need. First is an accurate meter. The other is the
recording at various hours.
I had a similar problem and checked voltage. It seems that at about 6
AM, it would spike 130 to 140, then settle down to 120. Once call to
the power company solved the problem. They were increasing power in
the morning for industry coming on line, but our feed was going too
I'd also check for proper grounding.
Yes. Light bulbs always burn out when the switch is turned on. That
is when the stress on a filament is the highest.
I have not seen a case where voltage swings caused incandescent bulbs
to burn out. Not saying there couldn't be, but I haven't run into it.
What I've seen cause it was mainly two things: screwing the bulb in
too hard, and vibration.
If you screw the bulb in too tight, you flatten the contact at the
bottom and then you have to always screw the bulbs in too tight. The
connection between base and bulb is easily compromised. Bulbs should
be inserted with the power on, and tightened ONLY 1/8 turn past
contact. If the contact is flattened, bend it out (with the power
The work for this apartment unit was done within the last 10 years or
so, so not likely to be aluminum wiring. There may be aluminum in the
older parts of the building. I'll check this Saturday or Sunday. Thanks.
*Replace the socket on the light fixture or replace the light fixture. If
the rivets in the base of the socket loosen, there is some additional heat
being generated from the arcing. That heat will conduct to the filament and
cause the bulb to burn out prematurely. Vibration can also cause premature
bulb failure. Use fan bulbs in the ceiling fan if you aren't already.
Excellent suggestion, about the rivets. I'll investigate next time I'm
there (this weekend). I didn't know there were such things as fan bulbs,
especially for standard base sockets. I don't think she uses the fan
very much, but its three light bulbs are the main source of illumination
for the kitchen.
After trying the voltage related solutions suggested by the
other posters, there is another item that may not have been
covered.... (I haven't read every reply)
Vibration puts stress on the bulb filament . Bulbs in ceiling
fans and utility lights are especially susceptible to the
"subtle" vibrations they see. Who among us hasn't dropped
a utility light on the ground only to see the bulb fizzle out ?
On additional solution is to buy bulbs classified as "rough
bulbs, which are designed to be used in areas where shocks and
may occur. They cost a little more, but may be a solution to your
Also, CFL and LEDs don't have the problem with filament stress,
and are usually more tolerant of voltage variations......
Andy in Eureka, PE
Yeah, I get them at Home Depot for about $5 for a pack of four
I haven't had one go out yet, tho a couple I've gotten from Dollar
long ago have failed.....
CFLs may have a filament to start the ionization, but it isn't
primary light source, and doesn't have to be kept near melting
temperature for more than an instant....
I really really like LEDs, but they are just too damn expensive now.
only use them for flashlights and nite lights....
Andy in Eureka, Texas
Up until 9 years ago, the entire apartment was a single room in a large
building with 3 other rental units in it. The owner divided this room
into an apartment for a fourth tenant, my friend.
It turns out that the bulbs in the bathroom, bedroom, and closet do NOT
burn out prematurely. The problem is confined to the kitchen, dining
nook and hallway. As far as my friend knows, the bulbs in any of the
other rental units do not burn out prematurely.
My friend's apartment is on the second floor, along with one other
rental unit. A circuit breaker panel in the common hallway controls
power to the two rentals. I now suspect that one of the breakers feeds
the circuits that have the short-lived bulbs, even though I can't figure
how a defective breaker could do this. I asked her to turn off each
breaker and map out which breakers control the various outlets and
lights in the apartment. I may not hear from her for a few days.
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