Light Fixture Wiring Problems

You replaced a light fixture and now it doesn't work - you've got a light fixture wiring problem! Here's how to solve it.


Author:  Terry Peterman      Replacing a light fixture is a common DIY project, and generally doesn’t cause too much “head scratching”.   However, there are times when you think you’ve followed the right steps, made all the appropriate connections and yet the light fixture doesn’t work – you’ve got a light fixture wiring problem!

I received the following e-mail from a website visitor who was experiencing problems after replacing a single lamp light fixture with a three-lamp light fixture.  In the following video and text, I discuss how to troubleshoot light fixture wiring problems.


A Common Light Fixture Wiring Problem

Q: I have a three-light fixture it came pre-wired. I’m replacing a single light chandelier light fixture. I wired it up the same way ground to ground white to white and black (hot) to hot but only one of the three lights works. What did I do wrong? The fixture is in a hall way that can be controlled by two different single switches, one at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom of the stairs.     – Brian


Troubleshooting Light Fixture Wiring Problems

A: It’s not likely that you did anything drastically wrong here Brian, and the fact that the light fixture is controlled by a 3-way switch network is irrelevant.

The problem could be something quite simple, yet easily overlooked – check to make sure the light bulbs you are using in the fixture are good.  It might be just a matter of replacing two bad bulbs!  However, if that isn’t the case, you’ll have to dig a little deeper to determine the light fixture wiring problem.

Without actually seeing the fixture, and given your description of how you connected it, everything sounds okay except the part where you say “ground to ground white to white and black (hot) to hot”. What concerns me here is that you probably had more than one set of wires coming out of the new fixture that needed to be connected.

Let’s look at this fixture, which is a two-light fixture, but the concept is the same.

See here that you have two sets of wires that need to be connected in order for both of the lamps to work.  Unless the fixture you had has connections somewhere internally inside the light fixture itself, you most likely missed two of the three sets of wires.

Below is a diagram that shows what the problem may be with your three-lamp fixture.

Light Fixture Wiring Problems

Steps to Correcting a Light Fixture Wiring Problem

Here’s what we need to do to correct the problem.  Pull down the new light fixture and see if you missed a couple sets of wires tucked somewhere inside the canopy.  Sometimes the manufacturer ties the wires up in nice little bundles and secures them by wrapping the ground wire around them and it’s possible that you didn’t look close enough and missed them.

If that doesn’t solve your problem, then you likely have a defective light fixture with either a problem with the connections to the lamp-holders, or the lamp-holders themselves.  Either way you should be able to return the fixture to the retail outlet that you purchased it at for a replacement, or a refund.

Troubleshooting a light fixture wiring problem often involves a little backtracking to make sure those all important wiring steps were not missed.  Eliminate any of the most probable causes and systematically work through until you can identify the reason.  And remember – safety first!

Not sure if you want to tackle this type of home wiring project yourself?  Remember: Can’t do it yourself? Get help from a qualified electrical contractor/

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