10 Reasons Your Light Bulbs Could Be Burning Out Too Soon

Meg Scanlon
Written by Meg Scanlon
Updated November 23, 2021
Illuminated light bulbs hanging from the ceiling
Thanyakan Thanapanprasert / EyeEm/EyeEm via Getty Images

Because you don't want to figure out how many people it takes to change a light bulb more often than you need to

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 While no light bulb lasts forever, most homeowners don’t expect to have to add “change the light bulbs (again)” to their weekly, or even monthly, to-do list. If your bulbs are burning out more quickly than you’d like, it’s worth investigating the root cause of the problem. Let’s explore why your light bulbs are fizzling out before their time.

How Long Your Light Bulbs Should Last

To start, it’s important to understand that different types of bulbs have different average lifespans, which include:

  • LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs last on average 25,000 hours

  • CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs last about 10,000 hours

  • Incandescent light bulbs burn out after about 1,000 hours

That means if you left the lights on at home for 8 hours a day, LED bulbs would last you almost ten years (3,125 days to be exact), CLF bulbs would burn bright for 1,250 days, and incandescent bulbs would need to be changed after about 4 months.

Read on to find out the most common reasons your bulbs might be burning out too soon.

10 Reasons Your Light Bulbs Could Be Burning Out Too Soon

A mother assisting her son with his homework at night
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1. Overuse of the On/Off Switch

Turning the lights off when you leave a room can certainly help you save a few dollars on your electric bill. If little fingers in your home are constantly flipping the switch to the beat of their favorite song, or you find yourself turning the same lights on and off every time you pop in and out of a room, this frequent switch-flipping can end up shortening your bulbs lifespan.

Every time you flip the light switch on, it sends a surge of electricity to the filaments in the light bulb. This surge takes its toll on the filament and causes it to wear out and break sooner than if the light were left on for longer periods of time.

To avoid this sort of damage, do what you can to minimize playful light flipping and consider adding alternate light sources, like bright windows, skylights, or solar-powered night lights to bathrooms, hallways, closets, and other rooms that get short term use.

2. Frequent Shaking or Vibration

Light bulbs are meant to withstand the normal, minor shaking and movement that can happen when people move around a house. Frequent fixture vibration beyond the norm, though, can damage the filaments within the bulb and cause it to burn out more quickly.

The two most common types of fixtures where this can be an issue are those within ceiling fans and those located in the garage. When ceiling fan blades become off-balance, they can shake the fixture with every rotation and, in garages, the movement of the door can cause excessive vibration.

If the bulbs in your ceiling fans or garage tend to burn out faster than those in other fixtures, switching to a rough-service bulb may solve your problem. Rough-service bulbs have a sturdier filament that can handle repetitive motion and additional stressors more successfully.

3. Incompatible Voltage

The home voltage for standard electrical outlets in the U.S. is 120 volts. This is the appropriate voltage for small appliances, lamps, and other common household electronics. Most households also have some 220 volt outlets. These are designed to supply the power necessary to run large appliances like stoves, dryers, and hot water heaters. If your lamp or light fixture is plugged into a higher voltage outlet, the light bulb will burn brighter, shortening its lifespan significantly.

To determine if your outlets are standard 120 volts or high voltage 220 volts, you can test them with a voltage tester or multimeter or, if words like ‘voltage tester’ or ‘multimeter’ send your head spinning, hire an electrician to do the same. If the results show that the voltage is greater than 120 volts for a standard electrical outlet, a local electrician will likely be able to fix the problem.

4. A Bulb That’s Too Loose or too Tight

When light bulbs are not screwed tightly enough into their sockets, it creates a poor connection that can cause the bulb to flicker which, similar to turning lights on and off frequently, wears out the delicate filament.

While a too-loose light bulb can cause problems, you also need to be sure that the reverse isn’t true. When a bulb is screwed in too tightly, it can melt the solder—a small but viral part at the base of the light bulb. If the solder melts, it will break the electrical connection and cause the light bulb to malfunction.

To ensure you have a tight, but not too-tight connection, screw the bulb in until it naturally stops turning but doesn’t wiggle in place.

5. Poor Air Circulation

If you notice that you start sweating every time you head into the attic to get down holiday decorations or that your AC never seems to quite make it to the laundry room in your garage, you might also notice issues with early bulb burn out. It turns out that the same poor air circulation that makes you wipe your brow can also cause light bulbs to overheat and burn out prematurely.

You can address the issue of air circulation to help your bulbs last longer by making sure your air conditioning is routed evenly throughout your home and that you’re not inadvertently blocking any vents with furniture or stored items.

6. Using Bulbs With Too Much Wattage

Lamps and light fixtures usually have a recommended wattage. If you’re using a bulb that exceeds this recommended wattage, it can cause overheating or melting of the fixture’s wiring and lead to premature burn out.

Most lamps and fixtures have the recommended wattage noted on the inside of the socket (yep, those little numbers really do mean something!). If you notice that you are using bulbs that exceed it, switching bulbs will likely fix your early burn-out issues.

7. Dimmer Switch Issues

Many dimmers, especially older ones, are programmed for incandescent light bulbs, which were the standard when dimmers became popular. If you use an LED or CFL bulb with an old dimmer, this incompatibility can harm the bulb or circuitry.

Most fixtures will note the compatible bulb type on the inside of the socket. If your dimmer is not compatible with LED or CFL bulbs, an electrician can swap your fixture for one that’s more up-to-date.

8. Outdated Recessed Lighting Fixtures

If you have recessed light fixtures, also referred to as can lights, the fixture can sometimes come into contact with the insulation and overheat. Some recessed light models may turn off automatically if they overheat, while others do not. In addition to causing premature burn out, overheating can be a serious fire hazard.

The best way to fix recessed lighting fixtures that are prone to overheating is to replace them with a newer, safer model. New, properly installed fixtures should reduce your risk of fire and correct your bulb burn-out issues.

9. A Damaged Socket Tab

Socket tabs are the small brass or metal tabs located at the bottom of a light socket. These touch the base of the light bulb and create the electrical connection the light bulb needs to function properly. While a damaged socket tab won’t cause a bulb to burn out prematurely, it may cause the light to function improperly and make it look like the bulb has burned out. A little detective work on your part can tell you if the socket tabs in your light fixture are causing your problems. Here’s what to do:

1. After unplugging the lamp or turning off power to the fixture, check to see if the small brass or metal tabs located at the bottom of the socket are pressed downward.

2. If they are, use a wooden popsicle stick to move or bend the socket tab into the correct position.

3. Once you’ve adjusted the socket tab’s position, you can gently screw the light bulb back in and reconnect the power.

4. If the socket tabs are too damaged or break off when you try to adjust their position, you’ll have to replace the light bulb socket or the whole fixture

10. Circuit Breaker Issues

If a lamp or light fixture isn't turning on, check whether the circuit breaker has been tripped—it might lead to a quick answer and a quick fix. You’ll know the breaker has been tripped because you’ll see that the switch is in the off position while the others are in the on position. You may also notice other appliances, lights, or electronics also not working. Flipping the circuit back on should restore power to the circuit and the light fixture.

If your home uses a fuse box rather than a circuit breaker box, you’ll need to check if the fuse has blown. To check the fuse, remove it from its holder and unscrew the fuse holder cap. If you can see a gap in the wire or notice a smear inside the glass, the fuse is blown and will need to be replaced to correct the problem.

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