So we have a kitchen light that has been problematic, with bulbs burning out rather frequently. This is a three-part story.
I switched to incandescent fluorescent bulbs in most of the light fixtures in the house a few months ago. One of the advantages of these bulbs is that they generate more lumens per watt than standard incandescent bulbs. So a 40 watt bulb, for example, might put out 75 or more watts worth of light. This allowed me to put brighter bulbs in the kitchen fixtures, which are rated for 60 watt bulbs. [To be blunt, two 60-watt bulbs inside a frosted glass light fixture are not remotely sufficient to illuminate our kitchen.]
But these somewhat expensive bulbs kept burning out. With some friendly advice at the local Grover’s supply store, which specializes in electrical and plumbing, I was finally able to determine that when you have a light fixture with a metal base and the sockets for the bulbs are positioned pretty close to that base, the heat from the ballast in the incandescent fluorescent bulbs doesn’t have enough room to radiate. See, that type of bulb generates less heat, but the heat is concentrated at the base, which is close to that metal. The burn marks on the ballasts of the broken lights seemed to confirm this theory.
So, these energy-efficient lights just don’t work well in this type of fixture.
I switched to 60 watt bulbs that I had in the garage. Four burned out in a week, and there was some flickering. Not good. So we called in an electrician. He looked at the wiring for the fixture and one of the wires was pretty heavily wrapped in electrical tape. Possibly a sign that the wire was broken and taped back together, or that it had a short of some sort.
But then he went and unscrewed one of my wall outlets to show me that even though it had a three-prong socket, it wasn’t grounded. Now, our house was built in 1948, and it is very common for older houses to have ungrounded outlets. Technically, these should be two-prong outlets instead of three-prong outlets, because that third prong goes to the ground, and there isn’t a ground, so it’s deceptive and useless.
So the electrician wants to replace all my outlets in addition to replacing the light fixtures in the kitchen. He also goes down and checks my breaker box and wants to replace that as well. The bill for all this? About $5,000.
So I did some checking.
Not having a ground increases the risk of electrical surges damaging equipment and of getting an electric shock, which is why we have ground fault interrupter circuit (GFIC) outlets in our bathrooms, where there’s more risk of water hitting the outlet.
But according to my father and a neighbor who is a licensed and well-regarded home inspector, as long as the wires are properly insulated and the outlets themselves aren’t faulty, the wiring doesn’t represent a significant fire hazard. Which contradicts the story the electrician was giving me about how the house was not really safe (we’ve lived here 10 years, for the record).
Moreover, the only way to properly ground these outlets is to run additional wires throughout the house. The electrician wasn’t clear as to just how much wiring he was actually going to replace, but he said the job would take about four days. The way the wiring runs through our house, I’m really not sure how you could run ground wires for all the outlets without knocking out some drywall.
In any case, rewiring the entire house is not an immediate agenda item, nor was it really necessary to fix one light fixture. Also, though the bulbs burned out, the circuit breakers never tripped, which is one likely result of a short circuit.
Today I went to Grover’s and bought a new lightbulb socket, some new GE bulbs, a wall outlet, and an outlet circuit tester, the kind you plug directly into the outlet. I removed the old socket, wired in the wall outlet to the light fixture, then plugged in the tester to determine if the circuit was good. Other than not being grounded, which I knew, it tested fine.
Then I removed some of the old, worn end of the existing wiring, crimped it, put in the new light socket and a new bulb, and left the light on for several hours. No flickering yet. We’ll see if the light bulb holds out for a few days. But I suspect that having a socket without any corrosion, new bulbs instead of ones that were sitting in my garage for who knows how long, and some cleaned up connections may help with the problem.
At least I feel like I did something proactive. And if it doesn’t work, I’ve got the name of another electrician recommended by the some parents from my son’s classroom, who will hopefully be happy just doing the basic job needed to make the light work.
And on the plus side, my dad said that he wanted to help me install new light fixtures in the kitchen AND the basement when my folks come to visit this year. I think I might actually be up for that.