The Science of Blown Light Bulbs (And How to Stop It)

If you’ve ever turned on a light to have it dramatically bust to pieces, you’ve learned that Snap, Crackle, and Pop are more than just cereal mascots—they’re the sound of bulbs breaking seemingly at random.

Replacing a burnt-out bulb is a pain, but dealing with an explosion can be frightening when unexpected. Whether it’s a quick sizzle or a dramatic burst, it’s natural to wonder what’s going on and if there is anything you can do to prevent it.

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “why do my light bulbs burn out so fast,” we’re here to help answer your questions in today’s blog. You might even save a few dollars along the way!


How Does an Incandescent Light Bulb Work?

Incandescent light bulbs work under the principle of transforming energy from one form to another. Like heat in a combustion engine will be transferred into mechanical energy through pistons, electricity passing through a tungsten filament is transformed into light.

The shape of the lightbulb, its finish, and its makeup will each affect the type of light that is ultimately produced and how it is spread from the light source outward.

Incandescent bulbs are the oldest type of electric illumination and have been around for almost a century. While Thomas Edison is often credited with inventing the incandescent bulb, a number of others created components and prototypes for the light bulb long before Edison had made his mark on the industry.


Why Do Some Lightbulbs Explode?

A few possible explanations range from the setup of your circuit to the unique bulbs you buy and how they are handled.

Poor Connections – A loose or inefficient connection between the lightbulb and the socket might be why your lightbulb bursts. When the bulb connection is slack or cheaply made, electricity may jump off the metal contact of the bulb rather than pass through it. The bulb’s fitting may become overheated as a result, causing the lightbulb to burst. Fortunately, you can simply avoid this by ensuring your bulbs are constantly tight and correctly screwed in. If it’s a problem with the base, consider replacing or updating it with an electrician’s help.

Oils from Fingers – In industrial or commercial settings (or anywhere that bulbs are powerful enough to light a stage or production floor), the engineering of a lightbulb shape is pitch-perfect. Since the amount of heat generated goes up with the amount of electricity that runs through the filament, temperature regulation becomes one of the most critical pieces of engineering. The oils on human hands conduct heat differently than glass and air, so “hot pockets” can form that will cause the light to blister and burst with prolonged use. Whenever handling industrial lighting, make sure to wear gloves or use a protective cover!

Poor Insulation at the Base – Manufacturers of low-cost light bulbs frequently fail to provide adequate insulation at the bulb’s base. When the bulb is left on for an extended period of time, and the temperature rises too high, the metal base may melt. As a result, the gas contained in the bulb will leak, causing a pressure imbalance that will result in a mini-explosion. Consider choosing bulbs from well-known and dependable brands, and whenever feasible, utilize energy-saving LED light bulbs (both for convenience and long-term cost savings.)

Excessive Wattage – Different circuits are designed to handle different needs. If your lightbulb is attached to a circuit with a much lower wattage than the bulb was designed for, you may experience overheating and eventual breakage.


It’s not ghosts in your circuit or your fault necessarily when bulbs break. As with any electrical component, you get what you put in—for bulbs, that means spending more on your equipment means longer life, better results, and fewer explosions.

When your system is giving you grief even after you’ve accounted for these problems, it may be time to contact a professional electrician. We are experts in the Reno area and are happy to assist you in all of your residential, commercial, or industrial upgrades and maintenance plans. Give us a call, and we’ll take a look.

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