In the world of electrical lighting, you might think that any fixture works as well as any other fixture. After all, its main purpose is to be a repository for a screwed-in light bulb, and then with a flip or flick of a switch, the bulb will light up. This simplicity is what has made artificial lighting so popular from from the days of the original Thomas Edison invention. However, when new bulbs don't work in old fixtures, there has to be a good reason, and it's time to find out why.
Before any testing or even contemplation of this problem takes place, always think safety first. Dealing with electricity like this can provide a nasty jolt if you are not careful. If you don't need the power on during a test or when checking the actual wires and connections, always make sure the power is switched off at the breaker panel. When dealing with electricity, it is always better to be safe than be sorry.
Bulbs and their Bases
Over the years, many styles of bases were used in light bulb construction. The standard base produced for most home lighting applications is called the Edison or A-Type base, and most houses will have come equipped with these style sockets. However, one can never be sure about older houses and homes. Candelabra, intermediate and mogul bases were also some of the more commonly manufactured bulb sockets, and specific bulbs with the appropriate bases were made to fit them. These are some of the more typical styles that one might find, but there were other styles made for more specific bulbs as well.
What this means is, some of these older bases are so close to a common type, that the bulb may seemingly screw in, yet never make the correct contact, and therefore, refuse to light up. The best way to test this is to remove an older fixture and replace it with a modern one. This might solve your problem right there, because if suddenly a screwed in bulb works in a brand new socket, you will have discovered the problem, and all of your non-working light bulb sockets will need to be replaced.
There are three electrical components for every light bulb socket. The socket itself, the switch, and the house wiring.
Using a simple circuit tester, available at any hardware store, you can check the continuity of the actual socket itself. If the circuit tester shows power in the socket, then some type of bulb has got to work. If a standard base bulb does not work, the reason is because it is a non-standard base, and the socket will need to be changed out to a standard fitting type.
If the circuit shows no power at the socket, there is wiring problem, at the socket itself or the wall switch that turns it on. With power off, check the wiring on the socket and make sure the wires are tight on the connectors. If any wires are cracked or burnt, replace the socket as they are inexpensive and can be found at any hardware or department store. If there is still no power to the socket after that, the wall switch needs to be checked for power and proper wiring.
Check all wires at the switch with the power off, and if any cracked or burnt wires are noticed, change out the wall switch. Once wired up again, turn the power back on and check the socket for power with your circuit tester. Once again, if there is power at the socket, a light bulb has to light.
If you check a multiple amount of sockets for continuity and none show any power, this could very well be a whole house wiring problem. Old houses with old wiring don't last forever, and if there is no power to any socket, it is time to call in a qualified electrician to handle the job.
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