By Gil Johnson

Most homes or apartments have two different types of light bulbs—incandescent or fluorescent bulbs that screw into a light fixture or lamp and fluorescent tubes that snaps into a ceiling or undercounter fixture. (See the General Lighting article for more information about these types of light.) Most fluorescent tubes are 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter and 1 to 4 feet in length.

You will probably not need any tools to replace a light bulb in a lamp or ceiling fixture unless there is a glass or ceramic reflector around it. Those are normally held in place by three small set screws around the circumference of the fixture, or by a decorative fastener in the center. Generally, fixture screws and fasteners can be loosened by hand, although occasionally a straight slotted screwdriver is needed.

Ceiling or under-counter fixtures for tube-type fluorescent bulbs may have a plastic or glass reflector surrounding them. Most often these can be removed without any tools by pressing or pulling along one edge, thereby “popping” it out of the slot it sits in. If the fixture has been in operation for some time, there may be a lot of dust particles or even insect bodies lying on the enclosure. Simply wipe the enclosure off with a damp cloth before replacing it.

Step-by-Step: Changing an Incandescent or Fluorescent Screw-type Bulb

  1. Be certain the electricity is turned off.

  2. Be sure to allow enough time (five minutes or so) for the bulb to cool off to avoid being burned.

  3. Firmly grasp the base of the bulb nearest the fixture with one hand and the socket into which the bulb is screwed with the other hand. This will prevent the socket from turning and damaging the connecting electrical wires.

  4. Remove the bulb by turning it counter-clockwise. In most instances, only a small amount of twisting action will be necessary to remove it.

  5. Occasionally, the bulb will appear to be stuck and more force may have to be used. Always grasp the base of the bulb and NOT the glass or ceramic part as this could break in your hand. If the bulb breaks, take care as you withdraw your hand as jagged glass remnants can cause cuts. You may have to grip the edge of the broken bulb socket with pliers or some other implement to remove it.

  6. Once the old bulb is removed, screw in the new bulb turning it clockwise.

Step by Step: Changing a Fluorescent Tube-type Bulb

picture of fluorescent lamp bulb showing plug ins
  1. Be certain the electricity is turned off.

  2. Be sure to allow enough time (five minutes or so) for the tube to cool off to avoid being burned.

  3. Grasp the tube near either end with your thumb and two fingers and turn in either direction. A half turn or so should enable you to remove the tube.

  4. You’ll notice that the tube has two pins at either end that fit into slots in the fixture, thereby completing the circuit. With a replacement tube of identical size and wattage rating, locate the two pins and align them with the slots on either end of the fixture.

  5. Slide the tube upward until the second pin is in the slot, then turn the tube a quarter turn or so until it is firmly in place.

  6. Some fixtures have circular fluorescent tubes which snap into three spring-loaded clamps. The bulb is plugged in with a two- or four-prong plug that must be unplugged before removing the bulb.

Tip: Most ceiling or under-counter light fixtures are controlled by a light switch, which creates a safe environment when turned off. Lamps can be switched off and unplugged as an extra precaution. In very rare cases, you might wish to turn off the circuit breaker or remove the fuse that controls that circuit, but this should only be necessary in the case of a serious electrical problem. In such cases, the best thing to do would be to call in a licensed electrician.

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