Fluorescent Light Repair: How to Replace a Socket

A square, fluorescent lighting fixture in a tiled ceiling.
  • 1 hours
  • Beginner
  • 25
What You'll Need
Voltage tester
New socket
Paper clip

Fluorescent light repair is something that everyone who owns one should learn. Not many modern homes use fluorescent lighting, which means replacing them may prove too costly for most. Fluorescent bulbs are filled with gas which throws off the light once electricity ignites it, and these bulbs will eventually fail. However, these lights tend to last, as do the fixtures, but occasionally, a socket, or tombstone, may need to be replaced. Follow the steps below to meet success quickly and easily.

Step 1 - Make Sure the Socket Is to Blame

Fluorescent light repair is often a battle of trial and error. To discern if the socket is actually to blame, turn on the light and listen for a loud hum and a clicking noise. Also, check to see if the light flickers. If this is the case, then the bulb is the problem, not the tombstone. Another sign that it's the bulb is if the casing is blackened or dark gray.

If neither of these matches your circumstances, then you can try another easy solution before going ahead and buying new parts. Sometimes, the contacts of the socket may simply require cleaning. When you remove it, wipe it down and clean the contact points with the isopropyl.

Step 2 - Accessing the Socket

This is a fairly easy fluorescent light repair job, but you still need to make sure that the electricity is turned off. Cut the power at the light switch as well as at the main circuit breaker to ensure your own safety. After shutting these off, be sure you’re in the clear by using a voltage tester to check that there is no power to the light.

Gently and carefully remove each of the fluorescent bulbs by rotating 1/4 turn and pulling them straight down from the fixture. Place the bulbs down on a very flat surface. It is also a good idea to brace the lights against something to keep them from rolling off the work table.

Look closely at the fixture to examine it for screws. Most fluorescent light fixtures will only have two screws holding the ballast cover in place. Remove these screws, and then carefully remove the cover. This gives you access to the tombstone which you can then easily remove.

Step 3 – Swap it Out

If the socket itself looks worn or brittle, you will likely want to just change it for a new one. Fluorescent tombstones are easy to find at any hardware store and just as easy to switch out.

The sockets for your bulbs are sometimes held in place by a metal plate that can be popped right out, usually with the aid of a screwdriver. Pull it out carefully, as the wires connected to the tombstones will still be attached to the ballast. Disconnect the wires from the bad socket and slide it out to free the space for the new one. Slip the wires into the contacts on the new socket and pop the holder right back into place.

For lights that don’t have these metal holding plates, it’s even quicker to pop a bad tombstone in and out. Usually, they are either secured with a screw or simply hooked into place on notches cut into the metal fixture. Pull the damaged part out and use a long, straightened paper clip inserted next to the wire to release the tension spring connector holding it in place. Do this for any wires connected to this socket before switching it for a new one. You should only have to insert the ends of the wires into the new connectors to secure them in place, but some will require the use of that paperclip again. Put it in the hole as you did previously to open the spring. Slide the wire in and then pull the paperclip out so the spring can clamp on the wire end, holding it in place.

Reconnect the new tombstone the same way you took the old one out.

Step 4 – Finish and Test

Replace the ballast cover, making sure the screws are tight. Then, place the fluorescent light into the fixture by pressing it straight up until it clicks in place. Finally, restore the power and test the light to be sure the problem has been solved. If not, you will have to entire check the other socket on the other end of the bulb, or look into replacing the wiring or the ballast itself.