Basic Troubleshooting Strategy

Lights, pumps, plants, and equipment all fail on occasion; being able to troubleshoot effectively can save time, energy and money.

Let’s say Hypothetical Hank goes in to check his hypothetical indoor garden and in his single light garden the light isn’t on when it should be. Where should he start troubleshooting?

Cheapest, Easiest, Most Likely, Fixes First

While it could be true that the solution to the problem will involve an electrician rewiring the outlet that the ballast in plugged into, a better place to start is checking to see if the lamp is turned on. Plenty of problems stem from the O-N/O-F-F master power supply toggle switch being in the O-F-F position. It costs nothing in materials and little in labor to check, so that is almost always the cheapest and easiest fix to try. If it corrects the issue then the problem is solved. If not, then it is eliminated as a possibility and the next easiest, cheapest, and most likely cause is checked. In this example, it would be reasonable to next check the timer and visually inspect the light fixture to verify nothing has become unplugged. Verifying the electrical outlet has power can be done by simply plugging something else into the outlet and making sure it turns on (a version of the tactic of “replacing with known good component”).

Assuming everything appears to be correct, the bulb will usually be the next logical suspected cause. Again using the principle of cheapest, easiest, most likely fixes; the bulb is a component that is known to fail more frequently than the ballast, and it is cheaper to replace than the ballast. One exception to this would be if there was something adding weight to the “most likely” of another component, such as the discovery of scorch marks on the ballast.

To eliminate (or at least greatly reduce the likelihood of) the bulb (or any particular piece of equipment) being the cause of the problem, there is a tactic commonly used:

Replace with Known Good Parts

If a suspect bulb is replaced with a known good bulb, and the lamp lights, the suspect bulb is usually the cause of the problem. If the known good bulb doesn’t light, try swapping out the ballast with a known good ballast and so on. By replacing one component at a time, the guilty component can be identified. Once identified, it can either be repaired or replaced. If no solution is found, a multiple component failure should be tested for.

By using a combination of these two tactics, unnecessary expensive fixes can be reserved for when they are needed. By starting with the cheapest, easiest, most likely fixes and escalating them as needed, troubleshooting can be organized in a logical fashion, and less like making random guesses while hoping for the best.

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Grubbycup was raised on a family-operated organic dairy farm in central California.