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A person demonstrating how to repair a light fixture

Why is my light fixture not working?

Typically, we don’t even notice the light fixtures in our homes. They may work for years with little attention other than replacing an occasional burned-out lightbulb. Sometimes, though, a light fixture that’s been working fine may suddenly develop a problem that requires diagnosis and repair. The correction can be as simple as replacing the lightbulb or adjusting the lightbulb socket, or as complex as replacing the entire light fixture or a wall switch. The first step, though, is to diagnose the problem: why is your light fixture not working?

Troubleshooting a faulty light fixture

Here are some things you can do to start your investigation:

  1. If the light switch does not work at all, there may be no power to the circuit. Make sure the breaker fuse to the switch isn’t simply turned off or tripped and determine whether there are any other tripped or blown breakers or fuses and switch them on as well. This is the most common cause, so try this first.
  2. Faulty or burned out lightbulb(s) are another common reason. Bulbs should be screwed in securely without overtightening.
  3. You may have loose wires in the light outlet box or switch box. Start by turning off the circuit at your breaker box before removing the faceplate and switch screws to expose the wires in the box. Pull on the wire connections to see if they’re loose. If so, tighten the wire nuts until wires are secure. Then screw the switch back into the electrical box and turn on the breaker to test it. If the wires are secure at the switch box, remove the light fixture from the light box to expose its wire connections and perform the same test to see whether the wires are securely tightened.
  4. Make sure the correct bulb wattage is being used.
  5. Sometimes the socket tab inside the bulb socket has been pushed in too far, so check this.

You also might want to check the connections at the wall switch with a voltage tester (it’s best to do this only if you’re familiar with basic household wiring). Remove the switch, then clip one lead on the tester to one switch terminal screw. Touch the other tip of the tester to the other terminal screw on the switch and flip the switch on and off. The tester light will go on and off if the switch is good. If using a multimeter, set it to continuity, or ohms. With the power off and the switch in the off position, touch each of the terminal screws on the switch with each of the tester probes. The reading on the tester should be zeros. Now flip the switch to the “on” position and the tester should read around 1 ohm. If with the switch in the “on” position the reading is zeros, the switch is bad.

Light fixture safety warnings

As when working with any electrical project, take caution. If you are inexperienced in electrical wiring or light fixture installation, or just feel as if you can’t complete the job yourself, always contact a licensed electrician. Additionally, some shops specialize in rewiring and repairing old light fixtures and commonly handle this work.

  • Always shut off power to the circuit before attempting to remove or install a fixture. NEVER attempt to replace a fixture while the circuit is “hot.”
  • Be aware that even after the circuit has been switched off, there is a chance that power still may be present. To ensure that all the wires are dead, use a circuit voltage tester (you can get one at any hardware store).
  • Before touching a lightbulb, ensure that the bulb has cooled.
  • Wear work gloves for additional safety.

Tools required

It doesn’t take much to diagnose the need for a light switch repair. Have these on hand before you begin:

  1. Electrician and needle-nose pliers
  2. A reliable voltage tester
  3. A lightbulb (if needed)
  4. A ladder (if needed)
  5. Gloves (if needed)

Get a remote diagnosis from Anew

If there is an electrical issue after looking at a light fixture, it might be symptomatic of a more serious issue, and you may want to consider a professional option. Anew offers an easy, efficient and affordable repair service with remote diagnosis for only $20.

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.