LED Technology, More Light, Less Wattage

Unless you have been under a rock for the past 3-4 years, LED light bulbs have been creeping into the stores for about the last 8 years. As with any new technology, the initial cost is higher than normal, however, as manufacturing processes are refined the prices start falling. As an early adopter, I started fiddling with LED bulbs in 2008 and wrote my first article on using LED bulbs in a landscape lighting system in 2009. Back then, a MR16 based bulb was about $25. Today that same bulb is  less than $6.  (See Whole House Landscape Lighting)

Additional incentive to move away from incandescent bulbs driven by our government will result in incandescent bulbs being just specialty bulbs and less for general use. The prime directive in their initiative is to reduce consumption of electricity, and for the most part this is what most of the published propaganda supports. Most all written documentation shows you a comparison chart to reach a near equivalent lighting level with a huge savings in consumption.  HOWEVER there is a secret the government is not telling you. With this change in technology, many existing fixtures can actually supply more light (using LED’s), without being dangerous or exceeding the wattage limitations of the fixture design. So, what does this really mean; With traditional lighting wattage limitation in fixtures are all based on using incandescent bulbs. In older houses, it can be difficult to get more light in certain places of a home without making major upgrades or adding more fixtures. If you live in a house built before the 2000’s there are typically fewer light fixtures and outlets causing it to be difficult to get more light in a room without calling an electrician by adding lights or outlets.  With an LED bulb replacement you may be able to get a lot more light out of the same fixture without risk without exceeding the wattage limitation of the existing fixture. There is one simple rule: Never exceed the manufacturers wattage limitation of an outlet or fixture. This rating is usually stamped or labeled on the socket or fixture

Just for a moment, lets get in the weeds to understand why this will work. Here are a couple of definitions that will help in understanding the concept.

  • Wattage: In simple terms, a watt is considered a unit of power. It is not really a measurement of light. But since the invention of the incandescent light bulb we have used the consumption of power (wattage) rating as a reference to the light output. As for an incandescent light it consumes a lot more power than  light produced. An incandescent light consumes (by generating heat) about 90-95% of its power to produce the amount of light it produces. In other words, its about 5% efficient.
  • Lumens: Simply put; Lumens is as a measurement of the total amount of visible light, regardless of the consumed power or wattage. So, even though there is a relation, they don’t exactly correlate.  

An incandescent bulb heats up a metal filament (tungsten) in a controlled environment (bulb). That metal turns super hot resulting in both visible and non visible light as well as a lot of heat. Where a LED (light emitting diode), radiates light in a narrow spectrum, without the high amount of heat found with the incandescent bulb.

Heat: Since LEDs radiate light, they emit very little heat. In comparison, incandescent bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat and CFLs release about 80% of their energy as heat. LED’s use about 75% less energy to produce the same amount of visible light. This should be the  AH-HA moment for you. 

LED Chart

Taking advantage of the LED:  Lets say you have a fixture that is rated at 60 watts, like maybe an old recessed kitchen light found back in the 1950’s. Its in the correct location, but you want more light. So without changing the fixture (assuming the socket and wiring is intact), you can upsize the bulb to a 2600 lumens equivalent, and still only use 30 watts of power. As a measurement of light you went from 800 lumens to 2,600 lumens with an increase of over 3 times the light of the original 60 watt bulb!! Impressive huh!! Granted the government will recommend that you replace the bulb with the 7 watts (800 Lumens)LED bulb. By using the 2600 lumens bulb you can increase your available lighting without having to change the fixture or exceed the wattage limitation. Granted you will about 23  additional watts of  power, but I don’t even have to do the math to tell you its a lot cheaper than having an electrician add new fixtures. The chart to the left is a simple conversion of standard bulb wattage’s vs. lumens.


Basic Lamp Inspection

With all the Restoration, Repurpose and Reclamation programs on TV, its easy to get inspired to pick up an old fixture and bring it home. However, buying used fixtures/lamps that appear to be working correctly might still have hidden problems. I regularly get asked to look at a lamp  and “just check it out” to see if its okay. As with any of my projects, safety is number 1, and making sure the fixture remains compliant with the  electric code and the original UL listing  is very important.

pre purchaseI have been on the hunt for several months to find my mother in law an old 70’s vintage swag lamp. It took a while and we crossed many state lines until we found just the right one. The picture is from the location we bought it. As you can see it was working. So why would I want to take it apart? Just to check it out!  So, I disassembled it to clean, inspect, repaint the metal surfaces and total rewire if required. As with most any hanging type fixture with the bulb below the socket, there is a natural tendency for the rising heat to make an impact on the above wiring. As expected, I found brittle and decayed bad wirewiring above the socket. After seeing the condition of the wiring  I wondered why the fixture was working at all! Overheated wiring is the sleeping giant of lamp and light problems.  Most wiring is rated at 105C (or 221F), and in most correct applications will be fine, however when a bulb greater than the lamp rating is used, the wiring will be the first component to suffer.  You may never know it until the wiring is disturbed. Once disturbed, the insulation can disintegrate and potentially cause the wires to touch each other. You know where the story goes from here. Always follow the bulb ratings requirements as listed on the fixture.

After working on this fixture, I thought it would be a good time to review the basic inspection process that I do on a lamp/light fixture to insure it is in proper working order.

  1. Physical Review of the Lamp: Is it relatively clean, does it appear to have been stored outside? Fixtures left outside can rust as well as rodents can get to places unseen to chew on the plastic wire insulation.
  2. Manufactured or Custom: In general, lamps that were manufactured in mass generally were designed and built to a specification. Typically they use standard lamp parts and overall meet the design criteria necessary for long term use. Custom lamps can be made from most anything (bowling balls, table legs, vases, etc.). Good custom manufacturers follow the same criteria. On the other hand, I regularly run across lamps that were hand built, but failed to ensure proper safety for long term usage. Many of them I can fix, but for various reasons a bad design can cause premature failure, in turn, it may not be a good lamp. The two most important items with custom lamps is 1)quality of workmanship and 2) proper heat dissipation.
  3. good bad wire comparoWiring terminations: Most failed wiring is at the terminations. Frayed/broken wires, premature insulation failure, loose connection can all impact the safety and performance of the light. In this picture the bottom wire has decayed insulation and has turned black in color due to excessive heat.
  4. Polarity: In a simply lighting circuit there is a “line or hot” side and a “neutral”. Those terminations should be consistent from the plug to the socket to ensure the hot termination is in the base of the socket not the shell. This is tested with a VOM meter.
  5. Polarized Plug: Similar to #4. The larger prong on the plug goes in the larger hole in the wall socket, which is the neutral side, maintaining the polarity through the entire circuit.
  6. Wiring Size: Not usually a problem with US manufactured lights, but most lamps/lights originally designed to work in a different country could have undersized wiring for use in the US. After determining the wire gauge, this can be addressed in multiple ways including, 1)rewiring the lamp or 2)simply lowering the wattage of the light bulb to be used.
  7. Bulb Sockets: Sockets show wear for various reasons, (metal contacts and cardboard insulator) regardless of the reason; noticeable wear in the socket can be resolved by replacing it.
  8. Grounding circuit: Lamps have polarized plugs, but light fixtures require a grounding circuit. This could be a green wire, or a small bare wire, or even a black wire with green tape that is attached to the body of the light fixture.
  9. Switches: Most switches tell you when they are bad and there is little indication they are going bad; not a lot of  in-between. They can be good today, and bad tomorrow.
  10. Dimmers: Inspect for 1)free movement, 2)ambient temperature to touch, and full range of light from the bottom to the top of the dimmer movement.
  11. Physical Integrity: Most all manufactured lamps include metal parts. Many of them are soft metals such as brass which can be fairly easy to bend or break. With that said it is not uncommon to have to occasionally tighten up some of the parts to keep everything in alignment.
  12. Top capVentilation: As you can see in this picture of the top cap of the same swag lamp; there is virtually no ventilation for the heat to escape. Just for safety sake, I added some ventilation holes in the top cover.
  13. Light it up: The final test is to power it up and let if run. Depending on the type of lamp, I may let them run for 30 minutes or so with the highest rated bulb. Mainly looking for heat problems with components and if it smells.

Here is the finished lamp. I left the light off to take the picture. You can see the small holes I added to the top section. Additionally, I used an LED bulb as they drastically cut down the amount of heat. Look for a later post on LED bulbs.

Finished Lamp


Recent Lamp Projects:

Before and after update on kitchy end table lamps

Besides the normal repair and restoration of customer lamps, we also pick up lamps in our travels. Many times we use these to test new methods and processes. Or in some case, it’s just for the fun of it, just to get the creative juices flowing!! This one was just for fun. If you look around flea markets or antique malls, there are a bunch of ugly ones out there. It can be a challenge to figure out how to make them current. My wife picked up this pair at a local trades day. Looking at all the choices she had,  these would not have been my pick. Since she carries the “designer” title in this organization, She gets the first and last vote. The first picture is the before and after comparison of one refurbished next to one original. (Yes we have two of them). Follow the story to see the process.

Lamp Assessment: The lamps were loosely assembled which can be an indication the base may be cracked (they were). Electrically, it didn’t mater as they would be completely rewired. We have sources for newly manufactured bases, but I try to use as much as I can of the existing fixture, unless we are going somewhere totally different. The decorative  base was a bit tarnished, and through my discovery, it is cast aluminum with a brass finish.

Disassembly: Once taken apart, we discovered some  problems. As you can see, over the years of service, past owners have continued to tighten up the fixture head. In doing so, it caused the light aluminum base to crack. These cracks result in a constant give or looseness that will alway be a problem if not properly repaired.

resurfaced basePer the Epoxy basedesigner, she did not want to fully respray the base as she wanted to retain the natural  petina of the base. Unfortunately, polishing did not work out since there was a loss of finish in some areas. So, we had to re-coat the bases to bring them back.

The Restoration Plan:

  1. The base will be rebuilt using 2 part epoxy, to add strength to the original base
  2. The base exterior color matched to gold details found in the ceramic base.
  3. All exposed brass hardware will be replaced as to match the bright gold finish
  4. Total electrical rewire
  5. Replace base felt.

The Restoration:

  • As you can see, we rebuilt the base interior to add strength and support to the structure.
  • The base was refinished with an industrial grade material to match the gold highlights in the ceramic body.
  • We polished the exterior ceramic surface to reveal the natural highlights of the design.
  • The brass hardware was replaced with new parts. Harp saddle and final.
  • We replaced all the electrical parts including the socket, switch and cord. The wiring and cord were replaced with a period correct lamp cord and plug end.

During the dry fit process, I realized the base was uneven, so I had to resurface the base so it would sit flat on a table. Then I added a new felt skin to contain the exposed portion of the base.

As you can see in the final picture, the designer picked out a bright red shade with added trinkets around the lip. It may be hard to see, but there is a red detail in the ceramic body.  As she told me, the intent was to capture the kitschyness of the style and to not take it too serious, she did and I didn’t… Actually, in the right place, I kind of like them……… However, they can be yours:). 001


Rodale Industrial Desk Lamp Model 87 Restoration

While on vacation a couple of weeks ago, we were able to pick up a few lamps along the way. We typically look for the ones that appear on their last leg and are sitting off in the corner. Sometimes they end up as parts, other times they can be brought back to life. In this case, I found this Rodale #87 behind a display case. In the 30’s and 40’s, the American Industrial Age was in full swing. Several manufacturers made these highly durable desk (goose neck) lamps for businesses and manufacturing settings. The first picture is before we started.  Follow the story to see the process.

Lamp Assessment: The lamp was intact and other than the cord, appeared functional. Electrically, it didn’t matter as it would be completely rewired.  The decorative base was a bit tarnished, and clam shell cover had a couple of “character dings” in it.

Disassembly: I took the lamp apart and found it structurally sound. The goose necks are usually the problem in these types of lamps. Sometimes they can loosen up because the inner flange is just flared to keep them in place. This one looked good. These lamps were built tough.

Per the designer, she wanted to leave as much of the patina as possible on this one. It had some white speckles, from some unknown source. So the plan is to just clean it as best as possible.

The Restoration Plan:

  1. Use light bodied solvent to clean the surfaces
  2. Lightly polish
  3. Replace the electrical socket, switch and cord
  4. Re-surface the base so it will sit flat and not wobble and add felt to the base.

disassembledsurfaced bottomThe Restoration:

  • The cleaning and polishing proceeded as expected. I did take a little of the finish off, but not enough to change the appearance
  • We replaced all the electrical parts including the socket, switch and cord. The wiring and cord were replaced with a period correct lamp cord and plug end.
  • Using 80 grit sand paper combined with a flat surface, I was able to smooth the base. Then I added a piece of felt to the base so the metal surface would not scratch a desk top.

FinishedAs you can see in the final picture, the appearance didn’t really change much in the picture as that was the plan. If you look close, you can see the built in paper clip holder and pencil rest. To add a 21st century touch, I also dropped a 2g zip drive on the base as well.  I consider this a survivor project as it turned out to be a nice functional, safe working lamp that will give many more years of service.  I like the way this one turned out, I may actually keep this in my office for a while. If it grows on me, it may stay.

If you have an old lamp on its last leg, let us help you bring it back to life or give it a new home. We can either keep them intact as we did this one or do a complete “like new” restoration.


2 Responses to Blog

  1. Nice research Rob. The math bears out your conclusion that LEDs are less costly of the life of the bulbs compared to the alternatives. I wonder whether 20+ years is what one can realistically expect from an LED bulb’s lifespan. I remember expecting 10 years or so from CFLs but never saw that ever. When I would put in a new CFL, I would write the installation date on the bulb’s socket for reference. Usually I’d have a CFL last for about 2 years max. I hope LED bulbs last 20 years but I’m wary of those claims. All my LEDs have installation dates written on them.

    • homeownerbob says:

      Thanks for your comments!! From my experience the life cycle of an LED is all about the electronic driver (the little chip at embedded in the base of the bulb/emitter) that makes it light. The early series of bulbs didn’t last very long at all, but with time and the more reputable providers getting behind the technology helped extend the life to a reasonable expectation. You pose a great question about, how long will the last as my belief is; it really depends on how long the manufacturer want them to last because we see LED’s in the automotive industry that can exceed the life of the car +10 years or better. Most any manufactures will do their best to optimize their profits through cost reduction while still maintaining customer expectation.

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