Vinyl roof soffit covering (C) D FriedmanExterior Lighting Troubleshooting FAQs
Questions & answers on installing & repairing exterior lighting

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Exterior lighting installation & repair questions U answers:

This article answers reader questions about problems encountered with exterior lighting at buildings: lights that don't go on, lights that won't turn off, exterior lighting bulb types, locations, wiring, enclosures, and weatherproofing.

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Exterior Light Choices, Installation, Troubleshooting

Unsafe outdoor lighting (C) D Friedman

Question: how to move soffit lights

(Nov 20, 2012) Kyle said:

Can you move existing exterior soffit pot lights? They were installed in the wrong place.



Sure the lights can be moved. It will probably entail replacing some of the soffit covering material and running some new wire to avoid the violation of leaving any buried junction boxes in the old locations. It's not likely to be a technically-difficult job.

Question: fixing corroded exterior light fixtures vs wiring

(Dec 1, 2012) dale plisco said:

if a series of outside can lights are corroded from water damage from above, after problem is fix, does the wiring also need to be replaced in addition to getting new waterproof or damp & dry cans?


Dale, it makes sense to me to have an electrician inspect wiring and all connections for corrosion or water damage, repairing as appropriate.

Question: fireproof rings for soffit lights?

(Feb 3, 2014) Monte said:

Do you need to have a fire proof or limited combustible ring between the box and the vinyl soffit?


Monte, if you are using a lighting fixture rated for outdoor use and if we are talking about the light fixture itself - the clearance requirements vary and are read on the fixture label.

If you are asking about an electrical junction box, as those are normally affixed to wood framing (itself combustible) I'm not sure that there would be a different requirement for proximity to vinyl.

Question: use extension cord for outdoor floodlight?

(Mar 9, 2014) Rob Blakeslee said:

I want to install a floodlight on the exterior of my home to illuminate the American flag I display.

My homeowners association is forbidding me from drilling though the wall to properly install the fixture. They want me to just run an extension cord down the wall and under the garage door to an outlet inside the garage. I want to do this to code.

I have unsheathed 14 gauge conductor and will run it through conduit to a dedicated circuit in the electrical panel. Can you help me locate the electrical code which applies to this installation? I believe the homeowners association is telling me to improperly install this fixture. Thanks for your assistance.


Extension cord wiring is not going to meet electrical code if permanently installed. In a temporary user, connected to a GFCI receptacle that would be ok. But do not run extension cord wiring inside conduit. It is not rated for that application, may overrHeat, or be unsafe for other reasons. And won't comply with code so I'm doubtful that you'll find a code citation.

Question: difference between temporary extension cords & permanent electrical wiring?

What's the difference between permanent installation of the extension cord, verses just using one? Is it the cord, having it stapled or otherwise mounted? I find your comments super informative, so I thank you for your advice. Sophia Liam |



"permanent" installation of an extension cord includes affixing the cord to a building surface or routing it through walls or ceilings or in similar outdoor insntallations. In those applications conventional electrical wiring (armored cable or non-metallic cable) of proper conductor size should have been used.

The concern in part is that the insulation properties, heat resistant properties, and weather or other exposure resistant properties of extension cord wire are not suitable for permanent installation and in such use risk breaking down, leakage, damage, electrical shock, or fire. A related example of bad use of extension cord wiring other than running it through a wall is the routing of extension cords under carpets.

Extension cord wiring is not designed nor rated to withstand foot traffic, added heat loads that come from being enclosed or hidden in a wall cavity or under a carpet, etc.

Question: how to fix a motion sensor light that won't turn off

10/27/2014 Dennis E. Reed said:

I installed model# P5661-71 motion light on my porch,it's night outside and the light stays on all the time.
I live 25' from a main road and with the porch height the light is 7'high from the ground.I have tried the
sensitivity switch on low and high setting and it doesn't help. Is there any hope that I will be able to
have the light work the way it should ? e-mail address-



When I find a motion sensor light that won't turnoff

1. I turn off the circuit for 5-10 minutes, then turn it back on to be sure the controls have been re-set

2. Check the settings on the sensor to be sure the sensor was not left in "test" or "ON" mode

3. Check that the sensor is not pointed at something that keeps the light on - constant motion, people, etc. or that its sensitivity is not too high (which you've checked already)

4. Check that the light and sensor were properly wired according to its installation instructions

If all of these steps check out as being correct, I try replacing the sensor.

Question: Outdoor light won't turn on and has a burnt mark

(Nov 1, 2014) Debbie said:
Have switch in house that controls outdoor light on porch, electrical outlet about 50 ft. away and motion sensor light over carport. Turned the switch on so I could use the electrical outlet and noticed porch light did not light up. I assumed light bulbs were burnt out, replaced them and still it does not work. The electrical outlet works fine and the motion sensor light comes on. What is wrong with porch light? Also, the porch light caused a burnt mark and I had it replaced by an electrician, but that was many years ago. Thanks.



Sounds like shorted wires or a failed switch - I would turn off the circuit (for safety) until an electrician can find and fix the trouble.

Question: changed bulb but exterior light still wont' turn on

(Jan 3, 2015) ron said:
I have exterior wall mounted lights (one fixture on each side of the front door) they have three bulbs each, one burned out I replace it and it still does not work, same thing on the other side of the door. Could this be corrosion and I need to spray something n the socket?


Ron it seems odd for the same failure to occur in the same socket on two different fixtures. I'd shut off power and then look closely into the sockets themselves - for damage, corrosion, or loose components. Just spraying something (like WD40) might help but is by no means a repair. I'd also look for an open electrical splice or bad connection: the most common problem source.

Question: can't find switch for outdoor entry light

(Jan 8, 2015) Anonymous said:
I've been in my house for 15 years, was built in 1975. I have yet to find the switch for my outdoor entrance light. It has a Light sensitive Lighting Fixture and has finally burned out. But I can't find any switch and I don't know where the wiring goes to. It's always been in the on position I guess. The bulb is a GU24 regular Flour. bulb...with 2 prongs. ( Not a screw type ) How the heck can I finally solve this problem? Even a electrician couldn't find it!!!

Reply: start at the electrical panel


I suppose it's imaginable (since people have tried just about everything in one way or another) that someone hard-wired a light with no control or switch.

It's also possible that someone covered-over an electrical junction box (improper practice).

Start tracing the circuit by finding the breaker in the panel that controls the light. See what else is turned on or off by the breaker (or fuse) to help ID the circuit. An experienced electrician should be able to use instrument(s) to actually trace the circuit through the building.

Question: outdoor LED fixtures stopped working - no way to replace bulb

(Apr 5, 2015) Keith said:
I purchase two years ago three bronze outdoor mounted LED light fixtures. I did not keep the boxes as I thought I'd have them working for a very long time. Well, they've stopped working. There is no bulb inside to speak of as they seem to be welded on, and no where on the fixture does show who the manufacture is. I did find that a company called Luminaire in China seems to make led. My question is can the led be replaced? Or can the actual manufacturer be found?


Keith I would be surprised if a light fixture did not provide for bulb replacement.

Use our email at the CONTACT link at page bottom to send me some sharp photos and I'll do some research as well.


Question: code requirement to seal the outdoor light fixture against water

(May 12, 2015) Darren said:
When installing an exterior light fixture, is it required by code to seal the fixture to not allow water running down wall into the fixture?


Thanks for this question, Darren.

1. An exterior light fixture must itself be waterproof including at points where wires enter the fixture

2. The electrical junction box onto which the exterior light fixture is mounted must be an exterior-use-rated box which therefore by design must also be waterproof. (Typically a gasket included with the light fixture's mounting base seals to the edges of the junction box.

3. Depending on when, how and exactly where it is installed and on the surface around or onto which the junction box is installed, additional sealant might be needed around the junction box where it contacts the building wall (or soffit) to keep water from entering the building wall cavity from rain or wind-blown rain.

Building codes address these details by requiring the use of listed, approved electrical exterior fixtures and components outdoors.

Question: what LED bulbs can go into recessed lights in soffits

(Sept 29, 2015) bobdoyle43 said:
My house and garage have 39 recessed soffit cans installed in 1981. How do I find the correct LED bulbs to replace the soft white BR40 flood lights?


Good question, Bob, as some LED bulbs say right on the package: interior use only. You *might* get away with using an interior bulb outdoors in a dry location but I'd not bet that the bulb tolerates the combination of moisture and temperature swings. Look for an LED bulb rated for outdoor light, or for one of the new LED floodlights.

Question: where to buy plastic item that holds switches in the on or off position: source of switch locks for light switches

(Oct 7, 2015) Dick Lavender said:
About your article "Exterior Lighting Installation, Inspection, Troubleshooting and Repair". The section "Surface -Mount Outdoor Light Fixture Installation" has two pictures. The one on the right shows a faceplate and two switches. I have looked all over (it'd seems) for the little plastic item that connects to the faceplate by the screw and holds the switch in the up position.
Please, do you know of a source of these little plastic items. I am excited to see the picture.
Dick Lavender



I purchased those little plastic switch-locks in the electrical department at Home Depot, but I'm sure you can find them at Loews, and you should be able to find them at your local electrical supplier - or online. The device I like is made by Hillman Companies and sells for less than$2.00. Look for "Hillman Companies 42184 Switch Lock Clear"

Question: light timer got snarled up with rope and tossed loose into a closet

2016/04/11 CECELIA QUATTRONE said:
,I replaced 18 outside wall-mounted light fixtures with new ones at apartment building alright connected to a timer now there was a problem with the timer getting caught up and I'm tied up with some string and rope but when untangling the gears but light timer to be taking and working

Reply: sounds very unsafe and sounds like amateur electrical wiring


I'm unclear on just what the problem is with your light timer or timers - surely you don't have 18 lights all run by one timer? Anyway, if you are having to tie up an electrical device with string something is very wrong, and perhaps unsafe. Perhaps if you use our page bottom CONTACT link to send me some sharp photos I can better understand the problem and can offer a suggestion.

Reader follow-up:

sorry that wasn't very clear I was replacing the light fixtures at an apartment building where they keep their fuse box and the timer to turn on and off the exterior lights is very very messy and in throwing stuff into the closet where everything is a rope or string got caught around the dials of the timer and doing so got tangled in all the components I guess you could say preventing the timer from functioning and getting all the gears pretty much tied up tight to where they couldn't go around anymore so I basically had to untangle the Rope and when I did that of course then all the gears started to function again but while tied up with the Rope is it gotten so tangled up that it was starting to pull the timer box off the wall I'm not at the location right now so I can't really send you a picture but the timer did appear to be working after I untangled the Rope or string from the gears the dial started going around my problem then was when I turned on the timer and the and the power from the fuse box only part of the lights went on does my problem lie in the timer or in the light fixtures that I just installed how do I troubleshoot where do I start to look first to solve my problem and what do I look for

Moderator reply:

Good grief: lucky the building has not been set on fire. This sounds totally unsafe and even incompetent. You don't want an electrical timer to be

- left with its cover open exposing live wires
- left loose, not mounted permanently
- left where debris can get jammed into the timer and where it also serves as kindling for a fire.

Nevertheless, once you turned the timer "ON" if some lights went on and not others, AND if all of the lights are on the same circuit, then the problem is in the circuit, not the timer. The timer is a single device, right? IT doesn't know which lights are on or off.

You need help from a licensed electrician. Making mistakes with electrical wiring risks fire or death from electrocution.


Article Series Contents

Also see our discussion of lighting requirements over stairs, at LIGHTING OVER STAIRS & AT EXITS and see LIGHTING, INTERIOR GUIDE for details about lighting fixtures, bulbs, and indoor requirements.


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