Incandescent Lighting Repair

Where were you when the lights went out? This Fix-It Guide tells how incandescent lighting works, what often goes wrong, how to identify an incandescent lighting problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple instructions for how to replace an incandescent lighting fixture. In most cases, however, all that’s needed for incandescent lighting repair is bulb replacement.

How Does Incandescent Lighting Work?

Incandescent Lighting Repair

An incandescent light fixture is relatively simple, requiring only a firm mounting and electrical power wires.

An incandescent lighting fixture is simply a system that requires an incandescent bulb, the oldest type of electrical lighting. Incandescent bulbs contain a tungsten wire filament that glows when electricity runs through it. These filaments are relatively fragile and don’t last very long. Newer lighting systems use gas (see the Fluorescent Lighting Fix-It Guide) or gas and a filament (halogen) to produce light more efficiently. Because incandescent lighting is simple and the bulbs are inexpensive, they will be with us for a long time.

What Can Go Wrong with Incandescent Lighting?

Of course, bulbs can burn out. But what can be wrong if you replace the bulb and the fixture still doesn’t illuminate? Lighting fixtures can be cracked, wires can come loose, and sockets can fail. Fortunately, all are fixable by the do-it-yourselfer.


Incandescent lighting fixtures typically have a label to tell you the maximum power they can safely deliver to a bulb, measured in watts (W). For safety, don’t install a 75W bulb in a 60W fixture.

How Can I Identify an Incandescent Lighting Problem?

If the light fails to glow when you turn on the switch, first try a new bulb of equal or lesser wattage. If the new bulb doesn’t illuminate, but other electrical things on the same circuit still operate, you may need to replace the entire fixture or a component.

Fix-It Tip

Broke a bulb in the fixture and can’t remove the base? Cut a potato in half and, with the light switch off, insert the potato over the broken base, then unscrew the base.

What Do I Need for Incandescent Lighting Repair?

You can easily find replacement parts for incandescent lighting fixtures at your local hardware store. The tools you may need include these:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Wire cutters
  • Multimeter to test the electrical circuit

What Are the Steps to Incandescent Lighting Repair?

Incandescent lighting fixture replacement:

  1. Turn the circuit off at the electrical service panel.
  2. Remove the light cover and unscrew the bulb(s). Some lighting fixtures are mounted on a short threaded pipe called a nipple.
  3. Disassemble any hardware holding the lighting fixture in place. You may need to remove trim to find hardware or fasteners.
  4. Pull the fixture from the electrical box.
  5. Disconnect the fixture wires from the circuit wires. They may be connected with electrical nuts or with electrical tape.
  6. Take the fixture to an electrical or hardware store for a replacement. You will need to match wattage as well as make sure that the mounting holes correspond.
  7. Follow the fixture manufacturer’s instructions for preparing the fixture for installation. In most cases, remove insulation from the last 1/2 inch of the wire, connect like to like (black-to-black, white-to-white), and attach the wires with nuts or electrical tape.
  8. Attach the new fixture to the electrical box using mounting screws, then tighten the screws.
  9. Once the fixture is installed, turn the circuit on at the electrical service panel.