Check for shock and fire hazards when replacing ceiling fixture bulbs

Next time you change a lightbulb in a ceiling-mounted light fixture, it might be a good idea to check for something that may have gone overlooked in the past: heat damage.

Past use of incandescent lightbulbs with too high a wattage is a common culprit for the damaged ceiling light fixtures that are sometimes seen in homes and businesses.

How did it happen? Sockets accept bulbs of many different wattages, so a 75-watt bulb could have been used in a light fixture that was only meant for a 60-watt bulbs.

Since the closed design of many ceiling fixtures traps heat, the brighter bulbs generated more than the ceiling fixture was designed for. And that leads to damage.


It’s a problem that is far less likely to happen today, now that incandescent lightbulbs have been phased out and consumers have made the switch to using LEDs, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) or eco-incandescent lightbulbs.

These energy-efficient bulbs generate significantly less heat than comparable incandescent bulbs used to, so they don’t damage the ceiling fixtures that house them.

Recognize the signs

But even if you’re no longer using those older incandescent bulbs with too high of a wattage, and have switched to cooler-running lightbulbs, the damage will remain. And it could mean there are potential shock and fire hazards in your home.

Fortunately, it’s relatively simple to check for damage. Disconnect the power and remove the glass cover from the ceiling light fixture. The common telltale signs of heat damage are:

  • Burned or disintegrated plastic sockets
  • Wires that are exposed or missing insulation
  • Brown burn marks on the fixture housing near the bulb
  • White colored wires that have turned brown from overheating
  • Wires repaired with electrical tape and loose or damaged socket-mounting brackets.

light fixture wiring

If you see any of these, consider calling a professional to assess or repair the damage.

Consider an upgrade

If your fixtures are OK, then just make sure you’re using the right lightbulbs. LED (light-emitting diode) lightbulbs are a good choice for ceiling fixtures because they give good color quality, high energy efficiency and “instant-on” performance.

Just make sure the LEDs in your fixtures say “suitable for use in enclosed luminaries.”


If you’re replacing or adding a ceiling fixture, consider using an integrated LED fixture that has no light bulb sockets. These units are manufactured with an array of LEDs already inside the fixture.

They’re efficient, inexpensive and they’re rated to last for years and years. You won’t be worrying about lightbulbs for a long, long time.

© 2016 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is for informational purposes only. All recommendations are general guidelines and are not intended to be exhaustive or complete, nor are they designed to replace information or instructions from the manufacturer of your equipment. Contact your equipment service representative or manufacturer with specific questions.

John A. Weber

John Weber is principal electrical engineer for HSB. He has over 25 years’ experience in solving facilities and electrical engineering challenges.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.