Today, many manufacturers are cutting a lot of corners to bring lighting to market while at the same time meeting two growing needs: Satisfy consumers who are demanding inexpensive lighting, and meeting the manufacturers own need for higher profit. The end result is lighting fixtures with inferior components and a very short lifespan.
At left is the end of a chandelier arm less than five years old at the time of this writing. Clearly the plastic socket used was not up to the task demanded of it. The ensuing short circuit, the cost of an electrician, the cost of re-building the chandelier, and finally the cost of re-installation, have suddenly made this inespensive chandelier quite the opposite!
To DIY or not to DIY
The Hidden Dangers
This is the elbow of a swing arm lamp that had been 're-wired' at an antique store and then sold. Actually, the person who supposedly re-wired the lamp simply ran a new cord to the base of the lamp, and connected the wire to the old cord running up through the column. This left a dangerously fatigued wire in the arm which shorted out soon afterwards when the customer got it home and adjusted the arm. You can clearly see how badly the wire has deteriorated in the picture to the left. In this case, I assume the antique dealer did not know how to open the arm up or how to run a new wire into the arm. My point is, never trust an old lamp even if it is working now, because damage can be hidden within the lamp itself. Evaluations are usually free and well worth the time.
What In The World?
This was a very strange situation involving a chandelier less than two years old. I was told the chandelier litterally exploded one day when the light switch was turned on. This is how it came to me, with several sockets shattered and burned. I have never seen anything quite this bad when it comes to lighting. Below left is what the wires looked like inside the arms of the chandelier. In the potograph I am pulling the wire straight out of the arms in this condition. The insulation had been rotted away in several of the arms. But this must have happened all at once for so many arms to be affected. My theory is something got insde the arms that reacted with the wires, but how it got in there is anybody's guess. I am thinking a cleaner of some ilk, but the customer offered no further information. Below right is the only unaffected socket out of five.
Although this is slowly becomnig a moot point, it is still a problem brought to The Lamp Repair Shop on a regular basis: The over-watting of lamp fixtures. Above left is a good example of what happens when 60 to 100 watt bulbs are used in shade holders where heat cannot escape. This type of short-circuit creates a fantastic, yet dangerous display of sparks, noise, and burning metal thrown about a room. The solution? Replacing the metal sockets with industrial ceramic sockets, thereby eliminating the problem with deteriorating insulators and heat. The only drawback with this solution is the lack of a switching mechanism in the socket, so the fixture has to be operated from a wall switch.
I hate to admit how many times I see this in people's homes, and the owners always say the same thing: It works fine. And yet, there is not an electreician out there who would walk away from this light and say it's fine. Nor would I.
Suffice it to say, when wires get this badly frayed, it's time to get the light re-wired. There should be no excuses. A few dollars and some time without this light could save a few hundred thousand dollars an a most definite shock.
ne of the most important -yet often neglected - safety features on an electric lamp is its insulator(See figure 1- A). This insulator is used to prevent the socket's interior thread(Figure 1-B) from making contact with the socket's exterior(Figure 1-C). It is the failure of this insulator that causes most of the short circuit problems brought into the shop for correction. Unfortunately, many of the shorts happen when people are putting a lightbulb into the socket, and the bulb's thread makes contact with both the interior and exterior of the socket at the same time. the resulting short circuit can be very dramatic, as in figures 2 and 3 below. Figure 3 was a particularly bad event in which the bulb disintegrated in the customer's hand, causing nasty cuts and burns.
In order to melt brass, as in figures 2 and 3, one has to reach a temperature in excess of 2,500 degrees F. During a short circuit, that happens in a fraction of a second! So what's the best way to prevent this from happening? Make sure you inspect the insulator and look for crumbled material, soot, burns, etc. They are
very easy to repace, and are inexpensive. Also, unplug your lamp when changing light bulbs!
alogen lights are the worst lights I have ever worked on( so bad that I no longer offer repair services for halogen lights). They burn notoriously hot, and are usually made with low quality components that cannot handle the heat generated. This heat, by the way, is a colossal waste of energy. Added to that, a significant amount of cancer causing ultra-violet radiation gets emitted when the bulbs are illuminated. I just don't see the benefits of using these lamps.
In figure 4 above, you see two 500 watt halogen bulbs of a style often found in floor lamps. The one on top is brand new. The bottom one came in on a lamp that was flickering, according to the customer. The glass is actually melted. I have found several sources that say glass needs temeratures in excess of 3,000 degrees F. to become melted like this. When inspected, I also found that the mesh screen used to keeps things off the bulb was discarded, and the UV radiation sheild was discarded. I was told it was to make changing the frequently burned out bulbs easier. Imagine a moth flying into a 3,000 degree bulb, or a curtain being blown over it.
In figure 5, take a close look behind the halogen bulb. this is one of those European inspired desk lamps with a 12 volt, 35 watt bulb. See the aluminum heat sheild? It's been melted! Imagine putting your hand on that to adjust the lamp.
his lamp came to me after a do-it-yourselfer had a go at it. The work shows a complete lack of understanding electricity and how it works. To convert this old oil lamp to electric, an unprotected socket was simply jammed into the center and called "good enough". Needless to say, when pluged in the bulb literally exploded and the socket welded itself to the side of the lamp. I guess the moral of this is if you are the least bit unsure of how things should work, or how dangerous it could be, seek a professional's help.
By the way, when this came to me, I was told the socket was defective. Yeah, the socket was...
To the right is a socket that came from a chandelier in a 1.3 million dollar home. The ashes are the socket's insulator. This is the condition of every single socket from every chandelier in the home (44 chandeliers in all)!