Written by Dale Richardson - Updated: June 23, 2023
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This may seem like an obvious thing, but not everyone has lived as long as we have. Let's do a quick 101 course on manageing and replacing light bulbs. If your light bulb is out, there are a few ways to tell. And luckily, light bulbs are super cheap and easy to replace, so this should be no problem at all.
To tell if a light bulb is out, you can look for the bulb no longer working, burn marks inside the bulb, and a few other things.
Keep reading for more information!
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First things first, let's talk about the why with light bulbs going bad. There are two primary ways that they can stop working - they can either burn out or simply die of old age. This will depend on the type of light bulb you have, as well as excess damage to the bulb's inner workings.
Fluorescent and LED light bulbs don't "burn out" in the same way that traditional bulbs do, but we'll get to that.
The most common causes of a lightbulb going bad are physical damage either from overhandling or faulty parts and simple old age. Just like everything else in life, light bulbs only last so long and will eventually need to be replaced. Don't worry, it's entirely natural - unless you're having multiple burnouts in a row.
That's a sign of deeper issues with the wiring and power supply in your home. Or, alternatively, it's a sign that there are spooky ghosts in your home, ruining your favourite light bulbs for sport.
There are two primary ways to test light bulbs - the "normal" way, and the more technically advanced way. The former simply involves shaking the bulb to see if you hear anything, while the latter needs a multimeter to measure resistance in Ohms.
Be sure to turn off the power to your light bulb and let it cool before handling to prevent burns or electrocution.
Let's dive into those, shall we?
This works rather well with "normal" light bulbs. Those are the ones that are white and you can't see through, or generally, anything that's not an LED or fluorescent light.
To perform the shake test you, well, shake the light bulb. Once it's completely cooled, shake the bulb and listen. If you hear rattling, that's a sign that something has broken inside. It doesn't really matter what broke, just that something did break. Shaking it while hot could actually help things break loose - so wait for it to cool, you impatient little one.
Additionally, lower-wattage bulbs will often present a very bad, burnt plastic type of smell. You will recognize it, I promise, so if you don't, that's a good sign. If you do smell it - replace the light bulb.
If you want to go a bit overboard with your testing, use a multimeter! Are you unsure what that is? Then it's likely best that you just don't try to use it - just replace the light bulb, they cost almost nothing.
If you do have a multimeter, you likely know where I'm going with this. Use the multimeter to measure the bulb's resistance. If it reads as an open circuit (the Ohms are repeated infinitely or can't get a read), the bulb is dead.
For a healthy light bulb, you'll get a reading somewhere in the ballpark of 200 Ohms, give or take.
There's unfortunately not much that you can do here. You have two main bets here - the shake method (shown above), or simply moving it to a socket that you know beyond a shadow of doubt works properly.
If you put the light bulb into another socket and it works just fine, that's a sign that there's something wrong with the actual fixture itself, or your home's power system. Both of these are things that I highly recommend you ask a technician for help with. If you don't know how to tell that a light bulb is out, you don't know how to check your home's power supply and fixtures for electrical problems.
The sad truth is that you really can't just fix an LED bulb. They're made to be cheap and easy to replace, meaning they're not exactly designed for repairs and upkeep. Your best bet here is to just replace the thing - especially if you see burn marks inside. That's not a good thing to just ignore.
Light bulbs tend to live longer lives if they're LED rather than incandescent or "normal" light bulbs. LED lights tend to live up to 10 years (25,000 hours of use), while "normal" bulbs only live around at most 2,000 hours.
This makes LED lights a better budget choice, especially because they're generally more power-efficient. This will save you money in the long run, but they're also a bit harder to troubleshoot and install - though not by much.
As much as it sucks, you're going to have to throw away a lot of light bulbs in your life. You'll eventually get used to throwing them out, but it's hard to make that decision at first. Just remember - they're designed to be cheap so that you buy more, so it's not your fault that they break. Unless, that is, you're using them to play catch. Then it's on you.
If your light bulb is out, try the shake test after letting them cool off. This is generally the easiest way to tell when a bulb has failed and will take nearly zero effort on your part. It's also important to ensure that your bulb is actually busted by putting it in a new socket that you know works.
This will prevent you from throwing out multiple bulbs before you realize there's an issue with your home, rather than a light bulb. In short, just be sure to pay attention to your light bulbs and replace them regularly and you should be set!
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