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A person demonstrating how to replace a lightbulb

How to replace a lightbulb

Changing a lightbulb is one of the easier aspects of home maintenance. But for those of you who have just moved into a new home and are unsure how to replace a lightbulb, we have you covered. Even though it’s a common household project, there still may be a more complex aspect to this task, depending on the application and type of bulb and fixture involved. A low-voltage light fixture will use quite different lightbulbs than those in a regular fixture. These bulbs vary in style and construction.

What lightbulb should I buy?

Several types of lightbulbs are available, but they have such varying styles, shapes and wattage that it’s hard to make a choice. The 4 different types of lightbulbs are LED, halogen, CFL and incandescent. (For the purposes of this article, we aren’t covering long, fluorescent tube lighting.) You can use energy-efficient CFL, LED and incandescent lightbulbs for all kinds of lamps: table lamps, sconces, floor lamps, pendants or a ceiling fan.

If you’re opting between LEDs and other bulbs, know that the first have a much longer life span, lasting up to 3 times more than CFL and 20 times more than an incandescent lightbulb. LED lights consume less fossil fuel and therefore are better for the environment. From the looks of it, LEDs are only going to get more affordable and have an increased life span. U.S. legislation in 2007 mandated that LED producers make their lightbulbs at least 70 percent more efficient than the incandescent bulb by 2020, and Department of Energy figures show that goal was achieved.1

Determine your wattage:

  • Look inside the can of a recessed light fixture to find the label that indicates maximum bulb wattage.
  • Remove the cover from a ceiling light and the maximum wattage sticker should be located near the sockets and sometimes on the sockets.
  • Look for the installation instructions that are pre-packaged with new light fixtures. The maximum wattage for the fixture is also usually included in the documentation. In most cases, the wattage is even marked on the exterior of the box so the purchaser will know exactly the type of bulb they need for the fixture.
  • Pro tip: If the maximum wattage sticker is missing from an older light fixture, stick with 60-watt incandescent bulbs or any size of compact fluorescent (CFL).

Why do my lightbulbs keep burning out?

Incandescent bulbs can be expected to last for about a thousand hours. Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs and LEDs typically last much longer — up to 10,000 usage hours for CFLs and 25,000 hours for LEDs. Regardless of the bulb type, if your lightbulbs keep burning out long before they should, it’s time to investigate. There are many possible reasons why a lightbulb burns out quickly:

  1. The power supply voltage may be too high. In North American homes, 120-volt electrical outlets are standard. If an outlet is supplying too much voltage for the light, the bulb will burn brighter and die much sooner. It is normal for a home to have occasional, slight voltage spikes.
  2. Bulbs may be loose or connected improperly. A loose or improperly connected lightbulb will burn out more quickly due to intermittent voltage. You may notice flickering if this is the case. Check to make sure that the bulb is correctly screwed into the socket; if it’s loose, turn the bulb until it’s snug. On the other hand, lightbulbs that have been screwed in too tightly can damage the socket tab, a small metal tab at the bottom of the socket that carries power to the bulb. Make sure that the tab is angled up so that it connects with the base of the bulb. Unplug or switch off power to the unit and use a plastic or wooden item to gently bend the tab up slightly, so it can make full contact with the bulb.
  3. Excessive vibrations may be causing the filament to break. Excessive vibrations or jarring from things like ceiling fans or automatic garage doors can cause incandescent bulbs to burn out prematurely due to broken filaments. The light may also flicker due to loosened connections.
  4. You may be using the wrong type of lightbulb. For example, if a lamp is rated for 60 watts, placing a 120-watt bulb in the fixture creates excess heat, shortening the bulb’s life, and possibly even causing a fire.
  5. Insulation in recessed lighting may be causing overheating. Recessed light fixtures, also known as “can lights,” are typically installed inside the ceiling. Newer models may be designed to be in contact with insulation (IC-rated), but older recessed lighting fixtures can overheat if insulation is too close to the housing.
  6. The bulb may be incompatible with a linked dimmer switch. Older dimmer switches were made to be used with incandescent bulbs. Using them with CFL or LED bulbs can damage the bulb or circuitry. Plus, not all new lightbulbs are compatible with dimmer switches.
  7. The fixture’s wiring may be loose. Loose connections between the circuit and the fixture can cause lightbulbs to burn out faster. Another potential problem is corroded contacts on the socket itself. In both cases, power to the bulb is intermittent, so it’s essentially like turning the switch on and off repeatedly.

How to replace a light bulb in a standard fixture

How many people does it take to change a lightbulb? Just you, with these simple steps on installing a light bulb replacement:

  1. Buy the correct size of bulb with the appropriate wattage.
  2. Shut off the breaker to the circuit of the light you’re working with.
  3. Use a ladder (if needed).
  4. Take the bulb out of the socket.
  5. Insert the new bulb.
  6. Test out the new bulb by switching on the power.
  7. Correctly dispose of the old lightbulb. Most bulbs can be placed in the garbage, but you should recycle your CFL bulbs as they contain small amounts of mercury. You can take your CFLs to an antifreeze, batteries, oil, paint (ABOP) facility, or a household hazardous waste event. They are also accepted at all Home Depot, Ikea, Batteries + Bulbs, and Lowe’s stores in the U.S., as well as many regional chains.

How to extend the life of a light bulb

We’ve already mentioned that before you touch or change a lightbulb, make sure the power is off and the bulb is cooled before touching it.

Some other safety considerations are:

  • Wear work gloves for additional safety.
  • Try not to touch halogen bulbs, as the oil from your fingers can cause the glass to heat unevenly and explode.
  • Turn the light switch to the “off” position.
  • If using a ladder, make sure it’s steady and, if possible, use a fiberglass one as opposed to aluminum.

Tools required

There aren’t many tools required to change a bulb, other than the new bulb, possibly a screwdriver to remove part of a fixture, and a ladder if needed. Tip: If you need to change an outdoor floodlight, you can purchase a long, “pole” lightbulb changer at any home improvement store.

Get a professional opinion from Anew

If there is an electrical issue after replacing a lightbulb, it might be symptomatic of a more serious issue, such as a faulty fixture or switch. In this case, you may want to consider a professional opinion. Anew offers an easy, efficient and affordable repair service with a remote diagnosis.


Get a remote diagnosis

Video chat with an expert to pinpoint your home’s issues, then get them repaired fast.

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Get a remote diagnosis

Video chat with an expert to pinpoint your home’s issues, then get them repaired fast.

Start My Repair

The information included on this website is for informational purposes only, is general in nature, and may not be applicable to your specific situation. We do not make any warranties about this information, and it is not a substitute for professional advice. Any home repair decisions or actions made about your property are your own, and are strictly at your own risk, and we will not be liable for any losses and damages in the connection with the use of our website or your repair decisions. It is your responsibility to understand and comply with any applicable local, state, or federal codes, laws, rules and regulations. You are assuming all risks related to home repair and maintenance. See the site’s Terms & Conditions for additional important information.