Let there be light



Well, it’s done. I successfully finished my lighting improvements in our basement.

I hate overhead fluorescent lighting. I’m talking about the old-fashioned two-tube, ballast-controlled fluorescent fixtures. Oh, they’re fine for in a garage, work room or laundry room, but as main lighting for any other room, ugh. At my old job, I’d unscrew the fluorescent bulbs in my office and use a banker’s lamp on my desk.

In the basement, when we moved in, the main area had five fluorescent fixtures up in the T-bar ceiling. So far, I’ve eliminated two of them, and a third is on death row. Years ago, I pulled down the one in the bar area and replaced it with a four-bulb track lighting fixture. This time around, I yanked out the fluorescent fixture that’s in the heart of the open-concept basement.

But I also split it off the circuit that powers the bar lights, and did some additional rewiring.  A few years back, I added three pot lights under the shelf above the back bar. Nice accent lighting and very useful when washing up glassware in the bar sink — I can see what I’m doing! But those lights were wired to an extension cord, which had a switch on it (hey, the wiring came with plugs, what can I say?). I changed that and wired them to a wall switch.

I installed a dimmer for the main bar lights beside that switch.

And then I went to Western Equipment, which in my experience is the best place to go in Chatham for any electrical needs (that’s where my father-in-law went, and I picked right up on that). I walked out with six pot lights, bulbs, cover fixtures, and about 25 metres of indoor wiring.

The power source for the project was near where I pulled out the old fixture in the main part of the basement. But I wanted to put the switch at the other end of the circuit. To the Internet I went, seeking the wiring solution. I must say, there are tons of useful websites for do-it-yourself types. I came across several, such as this one.

There were two ways to wire the circuit, the simplest of which was to run power to the switch and through it to the lights. It just meant using more wire.

Armed with a wiring plan, I decided where the four pot lights would go, and started removing ceiling tiles.

With the help of special clips, I easily attached the pot lights to the T-bar. From there, I ran wiring from the power source (without connecting it yet) to the dimmer switch I was installing for these lights, and back out to the pot lights.

The lights came with a new form of connection. Rather than using traditional marettes that you twist onto the end of the joined wires, the pots came with a click-in joiner for each wire, including the ground. Each slot had two extra openings, so it was a cinch to connect wiring from the switch, as well as wiring that headed off to the next light.

In surprisingly short time (for me, as I am notoriously slow at D-I-Y projects), I had the pot light circuit complete. Then I killed the breaker and wired it into our basement ceiling lights circuit. It all worked!

I was leery of the final phase — cutting holes in ceiling tiles to correspond with the lights. The pros would use the appropriate hole saw that would go on the end of a drill, but I didn’t want to spend $60 on something I planned on using a half-dozen times. Instead, I raided my daughter’s geometry set, borrowing her compass and setting its radius as just over half the diameter of the pot light.

I made sure each pot light was centred in the width of the ceiling tile, and then measured one edge of the fixture to the nearest lengthwise end of the T-bar.

From there, I went to my workstation (our bar) and measured the matching point on the tile, put the pencil tip of the compass on that mark, measured the centre distance widthwise for where the metal point should sit (this should be the exact centre of the round fixture), and drew a circle.

Out came the knife.

I should say that I cut on the good side of the tile, as I didn’t want any fraying of the tile occurring on that surface.

After replacing each tile, I loosened the cone of the fixture and brought each one down into the ceiling tile, locking them back into place. In went the bulbs and on went the directional fixtures.

This was all surprisingly easy, but that was made so because of research online and past familiarity with electrical wiring.

My family’s reaction to the ongoing process was quite humourous. I’d put in the lights one afternoon — but without replacing the ceiling tiles — by the time my daughter came home from school. While I was on the phone, she came downstairs, looked up at the lights and asked if they were working (I gave her the thumbs up). She smiled, clicked on the lights and started doing her homework.

My wife, while impressed with the results, is always a little leery of my do-it-yourself work. To illustrate her confidence in my abilities, in the middle of last night’s thunderstorm, the power flicked off for a second. I was sitting in the basement, finished with cutting and placing the second of four ceiling tiles around the pot lights. I heard her rush out of her chair and head to the top of the staircase.

“Are you all right?”

She feared I’d gotten zapped to the point of knocking out all power in the house.

A long time ago at our old house in Lindsay, I gave her reason for such worry. I’d cut corners and work on the odd live circuit. Pretty stupid in hindsight, but I only got shocked perhaps twice, and a jolt from 110 volts didn’t seem like much more than a tickle. Of course, that was through my thumb to my index finger, so it never traveled through my entire body…

As I said, stupid.

This time around, I killed the power, or never hooked it up until needed. And I still have two pot lights waiting to replace another of those darned fluorescent fixtures. This one is down in my daughter’s corner of the basement. But she does have an old Aerosmith wall hanging of mine hanging over that light, so I may not be so quick to change things.





    • LOL. I didn’t do it very quickly, but it did get done. Now I want to put up more to yank out the other fluorescent fixtures.


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