Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A new porch light and a surprise ending

Last May the porch light over the entrance door went out. When I put in new fluorescent tubes they failed to light up.  So that meant the ballast was burned out and I would have to replace the entire fixture.  Replacing just the ballast was above my pay grade. 

The new light worked great for about three months and then the bulbs burned out.  Another 3 months later and the replacement bulbs burned out.  Another three months later and the same thing happened. At $13.00 for two bulbs this was going to be a $52 a year expense, plus the hassle of getting out the ladder and opening the fixture to replace the bulbs.

So I decided to replace the fluorescent bulbs with energy efficient LED bulbs.  I found a supplier of LEDs that claims their product will last 100,000 hours. Do the math -- at 4 hours a night that almost eight years.  I hope it becomes a problem down the road (grin).

I had to remove the entire fixture from the side of the coach so that I could work on it more easily.  Below is the part of the light that held the fluorescent tubes.  The cordless mouse is for scale.

When I removed the plastic ends that held the tubes, there were gaps in the aluminum base that needed to be covered up so that I could affix the ends of the tubes.  A Foretravel friend from Fredericksburg, TX made the same change to his light and he sent me a small ABS plastic strip that I used to cut small tabs.  First I made templates to size so that I would only have to cut each strip once. Sandy’s cutting board was pressed into service.

At the end of each LED tube is a small end cap with a self adhesive tab that can be used to stick the light into place.

But just to be on the safe side they also enclosed some of the smallest screws I’ve ever worked with.  I drilled a 1/16th inch hole in the end and put the screws in place.

Next I slipped three sections of clear vinyl tubing over the two sets of wires.  I “stole” this idea from my Foretravel friend, Brad Bissonnet.  The vinyl tubing helped contain all 4 wires in a neat row and protects the wires where they will touch the side of the fixture when it is totally assembled. 

Then I went outside and prepared the two wires that supply 12 Volt power to the light fixture.  At the end of each wire I crimped a butt splice that has a special end which shrinks water tight when exposed to a small open flame.  I used an Aim-N-Flame gas grill lighter.

Wednesday morning I began the final installation by attaching the light fixture to the side of the motorhome.  Once everything was in place I hooked up the wires and threw the switch and…………. nothing happened.  I knew the wires were hot.  Upon closer examination the hot wire had become separated from one of the splices I made yesterday.  I hate it when that happens.  Then the project went south.  I determined that I would have to connect new and longer wire leads inside of the coach and push them through the dime-sized hole in the outer wall.  But stupid me thought that the hole on the outside of the motorhome was in an exact straight line with the hole inside of the cabinet. So I pulled the one remaining length of old wire completely into the inside of the coach.  Well, crap.  It was not in a straight line.  In fact the outside hole was five inches higher than the inside hole and there was only a 1/4 inch gap between the walls for me to fish  new wires in place.  But with a bit of ingenuity and Sandy’s great help we got it done. 

Then all I had to do was connect the wires and put the sides and lens of the light into place.  That went well. 

This is what the fixture looked like after I connected the wires and secured them in place with ZIP ties, but I forgot to take this picture, so I borrowed the one from Brad Bissonnet, my Foretravel friend, who was so helpful.

And here is our renovated porch light ready for nightfall.

As I was putting my tools away things took a nasty turn to the south.  As I was putting a bungee cord around my telescoping ladder, the cord came apart and flew up and hit me in the mouth.  As I type this I am waiting for a 5:30 appointment with a dental surgeon to have one of my two front teeth extracted and a bone graft inserted into my upper jaw. So a $50 upgrade to the light fixture now has a $2500 to $3000 dental bill attached.
Hmmmm.  As I remember I started this project to get away from an annual $52 cost for light bulbs.  $3000 would buy a ton of light bulbs.
Stay tuned.


  1. Ouch! I am glad that I am too lazy to start such a project. I hate ladders. I fell off one two years ago and now will only use a step ladder.

    I hope the dental work goes well and painlessly.

  2. Soooo sorry to hear about the teeth! Man, that really hurts physically and financially!

  3. I am so sorry about your mouth. What a terrible thing to happen. I hope both you and your wallet recover correctly.

  4. Oh no George, you aren't kidding? I had dental surgery done and had to have my mouth wired shut for 11 weeks (some folks said it was a blessing) but I know it was NO fun. You have my utmost sympathies in this.

    David wants to know, did the bungie break or just snap apart from where you were trying to hook it?


  5. Ouch! That is one expensive DIY project.

  6. David,

    The two connecting ends became unconnected.