`Burned out' bulbs may still be good

Ask The Builder

October 14, 2007|By Tim Carter | Tim Carter,Tribune Media Services

Light bulbs in my home are burning out more quickly than ever. After a few days a new bulb will not work. Are new light bulbs not high quality any longer? When I go to buy new bulbs, it's very confusing. There are so many choices, I don't know which energy-saving light bulbs to buy. Is there a real difference?

Hundreds of thousands of light bulbs are buried alive in landfills or broken at recycling facilities. And there is no doubt in my mind the bulbs you think are bad are still good. They have failed because someone screwed them in too tightly into the socket.

If you look at the base of a traditional light bulb, you will see a droplet of solder. This solder connects to one end of the filament inside the bulb. The other end of the filament connects to the aluminum threads at the base of the bulb.

Inside the socket of the light fixture, you will see a brass tab. When the light fixture is new, this tab is bent upward at about a 20-degree angle. You may have noticed in the past that as you screw in a new light bulb and the light is turned on, the light bulb comes on before the bulb is tight in the socket. This happens because the brass tab makes contact with the droplet of solder.

But some people twist light bulbs into sockets far too tightly. After doing this several times, the brass tab flattens at the bottom of the socket. The droplet of solder is not always consistent from the factory, and if there is the slightest air gap between the solder and the brass tab, electrical arcing occurs between the base of the bulb and the brass tab when the light switch is turned on.

As long as this tiny arc is present the light bulb will work. But the arcing can and does erode the solder. Once the gap between the solder and the brass tab gets too big, the electrical arc can't make the jump. As soon as this happens, the bulb acts as if it has burned out, when in fact it is still good. If you were to remove the bulb, turn off the light and power to the circuit, and use a needle-nose pliers to slowly pull the brass tab up to a 20-degree angle, you would discover the bulb would once again work as soon as you turned the power and switch back on, and reinserted the bulb into the socket.

I understand your confusion about purchasing light bulbs. There are so many choices. But the good news is that newer light bulbs have different technology that uses far less electricity, and some light bulbs make you and all of the things in your house look fantastic.

One of the most interesting products is the halogen light bulb. This bulb produces a vibrant white light that makes colors look crisper, and the bulb stays at nearly full brightness for its entire life.

If you want energy-saving light bulbs, then pay close attention to the fluorescent light bulbs at the retail store. You can buy small compact fluorescent bulbs that will use 75 percent less energy than a traditional light bulb. For example, if you now use a 100-watt regular light bulb, purchase a fluorescent light bulb that is rated at about 25 watts. Believe it or not, it will produce the same amount of light as the old-style light bulb.

You can also buy full-spectrum light bulbs that filter out the yellow light produced when the filament burns. This happens as the light passes through the glass of the light bulb. The rare-earth element neodymium is fused into the glass and acts as a highly effective yellow-light blocker. Because no yellow light escapes from the light bulb, colors of all the things in your home are crisper and vibrant. Reds will be redder, and skin tones will be more alive.

My wife and I use all three of these new light bulbs in our home, and love how they make things look different, especially our lower electric bill.

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. He is a licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker. If you have a question, go to askthebuilder.com and click on "Ask Tim."

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