Monday, 8 November 2010

Lightbulb Moment

It struck me as being rather silly that, having splurged all our savings on the shiny new space-age roof, we were still stuck with 19th-century lighting in the kitchen. Yes I know, Halogen Downlighters are the weapon of choice for illuminating all those freshly-made-over homes in programmes like Changing Designs, Home DIY and Grand SOS, and they do look like miniature UFOs, but they are essentially little heating elements that happen to give off a bit of light as an aside, and use a technology that hasn't moved on a lot since that nice Mr Swan and his idea of a glowing filament in a vacuum.

The original bulbs in our kitchen had used 50 watts each, meaning each gave out about the same amount of heat as a person. There were 14 of them. Some people think it's ridiculously wasteful to burn nearly three quarters of a kilowatt just to light one room, while others think it's ridiculously nerdy to care. Hmm, guilty as charged.

So, shortly after we moved in, I replaced them all with 20 watt bulbs which were very nearly as bright. A green-minded friend pointed out that by doing this I had met a national target being talked about at the time, to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions by 60% (the target has since become a more ambitious 80%, but I've yet to notice any practical difference). It also looked as if that this was as low as I could go without either taking the kitchen ceiling to bits to get at (and change) the transformers for those lights, or putting up with a very dim kitchen.

For the next three years there the new bulbs all sat, cheerfully putting 280 watts of heat into the space between the kitchen ceiling and the floor of the bedroom above. Until the arrival of the space-age roof, and the realisation that I really had had enough. I think it was hallowe'en that finally did it. Why had I never thought, until then, of gently pulling the entire fixture out of the ceiling and finding out what was lurking beyond, up there in the ceiling space? Come to that, why are there so many little dark spaces in a typical house, full of various busy connections which are so crucial to the smooth running of everyday life, and yet which remain so utterly unknown? There are cities in other continents with whose layout I am more familiar than the layout of the connections in our own house.

I turned off the mains, climbed on a chair and carefully pulled the chrome ring from the ceiling. It turned out that the only thing holding it in place was a pair of sprung "wings". And the only thing holding the connecting wire in place was, the chrome ring itself. Nothing else was fixed to anything, meaning that the entire connection (including that cursed transformer) could be eased out through the hole.

That was the difficult bit!

The easy bit is, buying fourteen cool versions of "GU10" bulbs and their connectors, getting out wirestrippers and a screwdriver, and getting on with it.
The amusing sequel includes being asked by various people, how did you do that?, and the possibility of a whole new volume of light-bulb jokes...

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