Light bulbs burn out quickly. Can a wiring issue be at fault?

I have a rental property in which one of the tenants claims that light bulbs (actually CFLs) burn out too frequently, in a matter of weeks. Assuming that she is telling the truth, is there a fixable problem with the wiring that could be causing this?

This is a 100 year-old single family home that was divided into two apartments before I bought it. There are two electric meters, and whatever wiring updates accompanied the additional meter were done before I bought it also. The other tenant has no issues with the life of his light bulbs.


A floating ground could cause that and could also burn down the place. I would suspect that one meter, the new one, may not be grounded.

Measure the line voltage. It may be too high (or too low), both of which could cause problems.

bad connections or wire could cause that.

I used to service a lot of student rental properties and had similar complaits that invariably turned out to be poor neutral connections.

I can give this real-life example: My mom’s house had a light fixture in which incandescent bulbs would always burn out in only a month or two. It would also slowly ‘fade’ off when turned off by one of the switches. I think it was wired with only one three-way switch. I just put a CFL bulb in it and that would last a year! :smiley:

CFLs don’t last very long if they are constantly being turned on and then immediately off–although this amount of time should still be more than several weeks.

The switch could be wired wrong and is switching the neutral rather than the hot.

CFL bulbs in my bathroom fixture, bulb down and completely glass enclosed, do not last. I’m assuming a heat trap.

Do you think the electrons care?

Probably a bad or loose connection. Everyday vibration (vehicle traffic, loud music, slamming doors, etc) can cause connections to become loose or frayed. Bring in the power company tech and have them test the line voltage and check the box for loose connections and evidence of overheating. The next step would be to bring in an electrician and have them check the house wire and connectors.

Typical causes of premature failure of lightbulbs (both incandescent and CFL) are:
[ul][li]high voltage. Have the voltage at the fixture checked. Now with CFL’s, low voltage is a problem, too – with incandescents, it just made them burn dimmer. In fact, a cheap for high voltage fixtures was to buy 130-volt lightbulbs for that fixture.[/li][li]heat. It’s sometimes more of a problem with CFL’s because instead of the whole bulb radiating heat, the heat comes from that little bit near the base of the bulb. This is worse for CFL’s when the base is up and the bulb down. Also, enclosed fixtures trap heat and burn them out faster.[/li][li]vibration. This was more of a problem with incandescents, but CFL’s too suffer from it. Is this particular fixture in a location that gets extra vibration, like the ceiling on the first floor, below a hallway or frequently traveled location in the upstairs apartment?[/li][li]intermittents. A loose wire in the fixture or similar can cause early failure. Sometimes the interruption is short enough to only cause a barely noticable flicker in the light, but that will cause early failure. Also, this can cause heat in the wire connections and risk of a fire. Frequent switching on and off will also cause early failure, especially in CFL’s (instead of lasting 7 years, they’ll only go for 2 or 3 years – still way better than incandescents).[/li][/ul]

Would fitting LEDs be a solution to any heat problem?

I have used this device when looking for houses with friends.

It’s like $10 and will detect several different wiring faults. I was somewhat shocked at how often it picks up on stuff. What it seems to be is a “homeowner added this addition him/herself” detector. You don’t even need two hands. One of the best gadgets you can get when shopping for a home IMHO.

That and by looking to see if the electrician that did the original house did his screws perpendicular to the floor - you can sometimes tell DIY jobs without even taking a plate off :slight_smile:

Not sure if will be of use here - as a switch presumably only operates the light, but you can pretty much bet money that if some of the regular outlets come back with bad wiring - they put the same amont of effort and training in the rest of their work. Some houses are too old and stuff for the three prong thingies.

I still don’t understand AC enough to explain everything - but I know enough to know - just cause it works (gives power), doesn’t mean it was done right. And in some of those cases - when done wrong - it won’t necessarily bother you, but your family might miss you - and it might work for a very long time before hand.

Most CFL bulbs are crap. Before tearing into the wiring, try these.

I manage a gated community. I put these in spots these in spots that were burning out bulbs every 3 months. three years now and no problem so far.

Thanks for all of the suggestions. I will be going into the apartment in a few hours to check the wiring and voltage.

Excellent list.

120 VAC devices containing electronic components (such as TVs, garage door openers, and CFLs) are more susceptible to infant mortality failures versus those that don’t (e.g. motors, heaters, and incandescent light bulbs). Poor powerline quality is a significant factor in this. This includes variations in RMS voltage level, voltage spikes, frequency variations, and excessive harmonics.

“Better quality” electronic devices will contain front-end filtering circuitry to improve reliability when the powerline quality is poor. I suspect a $3 CFL does not contain such circuitry, and the quoted lifetime assumes a nice, perfect, 120 VAC[sub]RMS[/sub] sine wave.

I can get this receptacle tester at a major B&M store locally for five bucks. I’m not too concerned with outlets as all the critical ones are protected by power strips and have lights indicating grounding. Would testing an outlet with this type of device possibly indicate problems with wall switched connections on the same circuit? If not, what type of tester could be used to check wall switches and/or a bulb receptacle for wiring problems?

My house is older and when I use high amperage power tools in the garage the light dims a little. I’ve also noticed the light bulb tends to burn out quicker during these times…

voltage fluctuation stress light bulbs, sometimes it breaks them.