How to troubleshoot outside night lights

Updated February 21, 2017

Outdoor night lights come in a variety of forms. From sensor-activated security lights to solar-powered decorative lamps, every type of exterior light will stop working at some point. Depending on the type of light, the problem may be relatively straightforward to fix. Lights that form part of a home-security system may be more complicated to repair. Fixing your outdoor night light or identifying the problem should take under half an hour.

Switch off power to the light. Open the casing using a screwdriver and take a look inside. Check the basics first: Try a replacement bulb in the light. Use a cloth to handle the bulb. Teklight, a halogen bulb company, says directly handling a halogen bulb leaves skin oils behind that can cause the bulb to fail prematurely.

Determine whether any water or other material has found a way into the light's casing and shorted the circuit. Clean inside the light fixture or remove it from its stand and remove any water. Check the bulb connections for signs of corrosion or other damage.

Check whether other fixtures on the same circuit are not working. The Circuit Detective, an online resource for troubleshooting home electrical problems, suggests that if one light on a circuit is not working, the best course is to replace that light. If all the fixtures on a circuit aren't working, reset or replace the breaker to try and clear the problem.

If the malfunctioning light is a security light, check the motion sensor. Sometimes the sensor may simply need a wipe with a cloth to restore its detection capabilities. Check that the sensor is pointing in the right direction and has not been blown off target. According to X10, a security light retailer, some lights have trouble detecting directly approaching motion. Angle the sensor so that motion must pass by the sensor. Check the halogen bulb if cleaning the sensor does not restore functionality.

Wipe the solar panel on solar-powered lights. A build-up of dirt or moss can prevent the solar panel from storing the sun's energy adequately. Open the cover, if one is present, to access and change the bulb and check if any water has leaked inside. If possible, empty water from the casing and/or change the bulb. Take the light inside to dry out.

Call an electrician. If none of the above steps resolve or give an indication of the issue, you should consider calling a professional to check things over.


Make certain the power supply is cut off before examining any lights. To be completely sure, consider shutting off the power to the entire house before examining any lights wired to the main electricity supply.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Fuses
  • Spare bulbs
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