Light Housekeeping: Further Adventures in Off the Grid Lighting

By , March 13, 2014

In the last post (see Light Housekeeping) I said a pair of burned out bulbs motivated me to get our cabin lighting under control.

After years of washing dishes lit by the single light in the kitchen, I installed a “thin lite” fixture directly above the sink. I’d found it in the shed (see In Praise of Packrats) cleaned it up, added a fuse for safety, and tied it into the DC line. This greatly improved visibility in the sink area, until the day it burned out.

Right around then, I had to replace the living room’s edison base fluorescent bulb. When I did that, I decided to install globes over that light, and the edison socket in the kitchen area.

Plastic globe with food canister bale holder (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Plastic globe with food canister bale holder (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

I found plastic globes that would fit over our bulbs at a town rummage sale several years ago, but I’ve been slow to mount them. The easiest mount seemed to be wooden, but the best method would be to cut some large holes using the right size of hole saw, which are a bit expensive. Even then, the resulting mount would likely be similar to those found in most homes: a ring with 3-4 screws, which need to be adjusted just right to hold the globe in place. I’ve always hated these; simply changing a bulb becomes a frustrating, delicate operation.

Instead, I recycled the bales from a set of glass canisters that had broken a while back. Suspending them from the fixtures with wire, I managed to rig a holder for each of the globes that is almost but not quite as frustrating and delicate as the screw mount method. The result: better diffused light in our living areas, which conquered the “bare bulb” effect.

Unfortunately, while installing one of the globes, an unfortunate, slight flick of a screw driver broke one of our few remaining fluorescents! Add extreme fragility to the list of drawbacks for this type of bulb.

Meanwhile, I puzzled over the shorter life of the fluorescents. I researched, and found a couple of possibilities.

I now suspect that we’re losing fluorescent bulbs when we equalize the battery bank, which we do every 60 days. I haven’t confirmed this, but I believe the fluorescent lights may not be able to handle the higher charges.Each fluorescent has its own operating range, temperature and power level. I don’t think the original owner ever protected the circuits from overcharging, and we’d never done that ourselves. We may have literally burned out the ballast or bulb with the equalization. I know that the last one burned out right around the last equalization.

Supposedly, we should be able to find a simple fluorescent loop to replace the bulb for the kitchen fixture at any hardware store. However, after checking our town’s three hardware stores, a marine shop, and an auto shop, we failed, so I went online. While shopping for the replacement, I began looking at edison base alternative bulbs for the rest of the cabin.

Alternative bulbs are expensive, no doubt. The trade off comes when (if) they last longer. I began to look at LED cluster bulbs. These are more electronically advanced than fluorescent bulbs, use less energy, and don’t require the warm up period mentioned in the previous post. I found a few possibilities, and ordered one of each to “audition,” along with bulbs for the sink fixture. I say “bulbs” plural, because the best price I found for the loop came when I ordered a set of 10!

The bulbs arrived last week. I’ll describe the results of the LED bulb tests, and the biggest surprise of the project, in the next post.

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