Or . . . how many DIYers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: depends on the lightbulb. It may be obvious, but there are three important things when changing a lightbulb:
-Make sure the power is turned off before touching the fitting.
- Make sure you have the correct type of fitting before you start, with the appropriate wattage, i.e. is it a screw-in bulb or bayonet fitting, frosted or clear, 60W or 20W?
- If it’s a light fitting high up, stand on something stable and make sure someone else is there to take the old globe from you and secure whatever it is you’re standing on!
Types of bulbs
Traditionally all our homes featured incandescent lightbulbs with the odd old fluoro tube thrown in. Because of their relatively poor luminous efficacy, incandescent lightbulbs are gradually being replaced by more compact stylish fluorescent lights—either energy-saving CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs), halogen lights or LEDs. Your average incandescent lightbulb uses only 10 per cent of the power it consumes in making light; the other 90 per cent is used up in heat output!
Halogen lamps are bulbs where a tungsten filament is sealed into a small envelope filled with halogen gas. They last roughly twice as long as incandescent bulbs and prices are coming down. Some halogen lights can be run from the full 240 voltage of your home’s lighting circuits, but most common are the low 12-volt style, which use a transformer to convert the full power down to 12 volt. Transformers are often plugged in and then the 12 volt output from there is safely handled by a DIYer, which makes these systems possible to install yourself once an electrician has supplied the initial outlet. Most outdoor and garden lighting systems use low-voltage halogens, making them terrific DIY projects.
By changing to low-energy bulbs you not only save on lighting power but also on cooling power! Some people believe that the power needed to turn on a fluorescent light exceeds the power to run it for a long period of time. This is a myth—it’s best to always turn off lights that aren’t needed.
It’s also believed that CFLs can’t be run in fittings with a dimmer switch. In fact some new CFLs can be run on dimmers but not all, so check the label before fitting. The other complaint is about the cold ghostly light these things give out, but they’re now available in ‘warm white’ varieties. There are now even CFLs designed to replace the halogen downlights in low-voltage units. All manner of shapes and sizes of CFLs are becoming available in the US and will soon be available here as incandescent lightbulbs are gradually phased out.
LED lights are known as solid-state lighting (SSL). They are moderately efficient, have a long lifetime but are relatively expensive and not widely available. Technological advances mean that they will soon increase in efficiency and decrease in cost. Watch this space.
In general, dimmer switches do cut down the amount of power used by a light, but the saving is inefficient. A light dimmed down to one-quarter of its brightness still uses half of the energy it would if running at full brightness. If you need to dim consistently, it’s far more effective to put in a lowerwattage globe, and use a lamp if extra light is need from time to time.
Removing a broken lightbulb
Lightbulbs can be accidentally smashed, sometimes the glass comes away when you’re trying to change them, and sometimes they even explode—all of which leave you with the tricky situation of having the metal base still stuck in the light fitting. To deal with this:
- Be sure to not only turn off the switch but disconnect the power, or turn it off at the fuse box.
- Wear protective gloves and safety glasses if working on a ceiling light.
- Try to insert a rubber ball to get a grip on the base and twist it out.
- If this fails, a pair of insulated pliers should be used. Standard pliers can be pushed into the fitting and then the handles spread to grip the inside of the fitting, or needle-nosed pliers can be fed down one edge of the bulb base to grip it.
- Twist it out carefully; don’t force it.
- If the base has become stuck, it will need to be jiggled loose rather than broken with force.
-When a new bulb is fitted, a little spray of WD-40 on the fitting will make it easier to remove next time.
Changing a ‘starter’ and tube on a fluorescent light
Fluorescents also have their tricks of the trade:
- As always, turn the light off before replacing anything.
- Remove the tube by holding the ends of it and rotating it roughly 90 degrees or until the end of the tube can be pulled down and away from the fitting.
- You’ll notice the pair of pins on the end of the tube will have aligned with a little slot in the mounting to allow the tube to come free.
- Under the tube in the metal casing of the light you’ll notice a small plastic cylinder inserted into a hole. This is the starter; the end of this must be gripped and twisted about 40 degrees in an anti-clockwise direction to remove it.
- Any hardware store or supermarket will have replacement tubes and starters. Reverse the process to fit the new ones, being sure not to overtwist the tube when it’s replaced or it may come right back out again.
- It’s good practice to replace both the tube and starter at once for trouble-free, energy-efficient lighting.