I have a home I moved into a year ago that has had a lot of burned out light
bulbs. Many fixtures have had the bulbs changed twice since I've owned the
Are frequent bulb burn outs a symptom of a larger electrical problem or am
simply buying cheap bulbs (the kind I buy are burning out ahead of the
this question was raised a while back. One poster suggested a bad neutral at
the panel box might be subjecting the lights to more voltage than their
I'm not totally sure the dynamics of how this works, but it sounded worth
checking. Might want to call an electrician if you don't have a background
in these things.
Before doing that expense, try a different brand. I've found Sylvania and GE
work better than Phillips (for me). Or try compact fluorescents.
What kind of fixtures are the bulbs installed in? If they are recessed
(can) lights, you may have a heat-related problem. Otherwise, as others
have mentioned it may be voltage spikes due to a bad neutral.
Try compact flourescents - they should outlast the incandescent bulbs
and save energy at the same time.
I had a problem with 60w incandescent bulb burning out quickly in my
recessed can fixtures....even though the fixtures specify that as the
maximum wattage. Once I changed to compact flourescents, the problem
went away. Some of the flourescents have been in place for four years
or more, and they are on about four hours a night (5000 hours or so to
I tried a flourescent in a recessed bathroom fixture and it fried
itself at the base. I read the package the flourescent came in and
sure enough it said it wasn't designed for recessed fixtures. I only
use the flourescents in "open" fixtures.
Three things can cause the burn outs.
Vibration. Typical of fan lights and garage door opener lights.
Sometimes sound equipment etc as well.
Voltage. This generally comes from one of two sources.
The power to your home may be too high, and it may be high only part of
the time. You can contact the electric company and they are usually good
about checking and correcting the problem. Sometimes not so good. If you
are nears some industrial users then this is more likely.
The other problem is a floating neutral. This can be dangerous and
cause fires. Do any of your lights brighten or dim when you turn on
something else? If so it is likely a poor connections somewhere in your
wiring. One loose wire can cause it.
One more thing to add. This is part of that floating neutral thing.
How old is your home? Could it have aluminum wiring? This can be bad
and dangerous. If that is it you really do need a professional evaluation
and upgrade plan.
While it's possible, I'd suggest that w/ a problem throughout the house
it is simply high voltage direct from the power company. Have you
checked the voltage you have on various circuits?
We routinely buy 130V bulbs simply for the extra life and as we're well
out in the country on long distribution lines we see more voltage
fluctuation than is common in urban areas.
You should have copper wire. Usually if you have a floating neutral
problem you will notice the lights (not just the ones you are having a
problem with) sometimes change brightness. If you see this have a
professional check it out.
If you do not have aluminum wire, I would suspect high voltage coming in
from the power company first.
BTW I missed the one about heat. Some fixtures just don't allow enough
air circulation or you may use lamps that are larger than called for by the
A floating neutral problem would be obvious. As other
appliances (especially larger appliances) power cycle, then
lights increase or decrease intensity noticeably.
Light bulbs fail for two reasons. Mechanic shock when
powered on (ie people running heavily on floor above the light
only when light is on), and high voltage. A light bulb rated
for 120 volts will only last 1/2 as long if the voltage is 128
volts. Notice how little voltage increase so shortens light
A neutral wire problem can cause voltages to vary within the
house and therefore cause significant light intensity
changes. Or the utility is providing too much AC volts. Many
people now own 3.5 digit multimeters that are becoming as
necessary as screwdrivers. So ubiquitous as to be sold in
Sears, Lowes, Radio Shack, Home Depot, and Walmart.
You have numbers to work with. Do you have 120 volts or 128
volts? Once the meter provides those numbers, then you have
something for the utility company to stay working on until it
is fixed. No numbers, and you only hope they fix something.
Voltage is the first thing to check. If it's over 120 volts at the socket
consistently when you test it, bulb life will be less than rated. Depending
upon your electrical utility, you can also ask the utility to install a
recording volt meter and monitor your socket voltage for a week or so.
A simple volt meter (Radio Shack, Sears, etc.) is all that you need for a
quick test. But check the voltage at different times of day. It will vary
Maybe, however, something else is going on. You say that you moved into
your home about a year ago.
Did you put a bunch of new bulbs in at that time?
If so, and you have operated the bulbs in a typical manner (a few hours a
day), then it's simply time for many of them to reach end-of-life (a failure
"spike"). Next year, the spike won't be as high (fewer bulbs will burn out
over a short time period), since as you replace the bulbs one-by-one, you
will gradually get a mixture of newer and older bulbs. In a few years, the
failures will be evenly spread out in time.
The life of any lamp (incandescent, fluorescent, etc.) is statistically
predictable. In commercial systems such as offices and streetlights, many
bulbs are relamped all at once (group relamped) just before the failure
spike starts at about 70% or rated life. That minimizes overall costs in
installations where the labor cost to replace a bulb may well be many times
the cost of the bulb itself.
"Did you put a bunch of new bulbs in at that time?"
Yes I did but only because they were burned out. Other strange thing with
house is that it was full of 55 watt bulbs. I've never seen these for sale
anywhere but I've got them here. Could this be a tip to a problem?
Probably not -- 55 watt bulbs have been marketed as a way of saving
electrical costs -- e.g. "about the same light as from a 60 watt bulb, but
uses 10% less electricity --". You probably just had a thrifty prior
-- Regards --
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