One of the most overlooked safety features of a lamp's socket is the insulator (A) that protects the inside of the socket (B) from contacting the oustside (C). This is such an important component because there is electricity in the thread of a socket, and when contact is made with the outside, you get a short circuit like in the photo below. This poses a number of issues, the first of which is fire. As you can see, the brass has melted, which requires a temperature in excess of 1700F degrees! Imagine if that is near cumbustables.
The other serious factor here is that this type of short circuit often happens when people are changing the light bulb. If the bulb goes in at an off angle, and the insulator is deteriorated, the bulb's thread can make contact with the outside of the socket. This usually results in the bulb exploding in one's hand, causing severe burns on top of electrical shock. All in a fraction of a second.
If the insulator is looking burned and/or tattered, it really needs to be replaced. The cost is minor, usually less than two dollars,
and can make the difference between simply changing a light bulb or going to the hospital. If you are local, feel free to bring your in lamp for a quick evaluation. If you are from away, I can easily ship some insulators to you for just a few dollars.
At right is an example of a socket whose light bulb disintegreted in the customer's hand
The Dangers of Halogen Lights
WHY CHEAP LIGHTING IS JUST THAT
Today, many manufacturers are cutting a lot of corners to bring lighting to market while at the same time meeting two growing needs: Satisfy consumers who are demanding inexpensive lighting, and meeting the manufacturers own need for higher profit. The end result is lighting fixtures with inferior components and a very short lifespan.
At left is the end of a chandelier arm less than five years old at the time of this writing. Clearly the plastic socket used was not up to the task demanded of it. The ensuing short circuit, the cost of an electrician, the cost of re-building the chandelier, and finally the cost of re-installation, have suddenly made this inespensive chandelier quite the opposite!
To DIY or not to DIY
The Hidden Dangers Can Be the Worst
This is the elbow of a swing arm lamp that had been 're-wired' at an antique store and then sold. Actually, the person who supposedly re-wired the lamp simply ran a new cord to the base of the lamp, and connected the wire to the old cord running up through the column. This left a dangerously fatigued wire in the arm which shorted out soon afterwards when the customer got it home and adjusted the arm. You can clearly see how badly the wire has deteriorated in the picture to the left. In this case, I assume the antique dealer did not know how to open the arm up or how to run a new wire into the arm. My point is, never trust an old lamp even if it is working now, because damage can be hidden within the lamp itself. Evaluations are usually free and well worth the time.
What In The World?
This was a very strange situation involving a chandelier less than two years old. I was told the chandelier litterally exploded one day when the light switch was turned on. This is how it came to me, with several sockets shattered and burned. I have never seen anything quite this bad when it comes to lighting. Below left is what the wires looked like inside the arms of the chandelier. In the potograph I am pulling the wire straight out of the arms in this condition. The insulation had been rotted away in several of the arms. But this must have happened all at once for so many arms to be affected. My theory is something got insde the arms that reacted with the wires, but how it got in there is anybody's guess. I am thinking a cleaner of some ilk, but the customer offered no further information. Below right is the only unaffected socket out of five.
I cannot say enough about the dangers of halogen lights. In fact, because I have seen the damage they cause, I no longer offer repair services for halogen lighting of any kind, old or new. They are, simply put, the hottest lights on the market, made with the cheapest components out there, and can never be made safe. I am amazed any halogen lamp can earn a UL Approved sticker, but there you have it. Apparently Underwriter's Laboratories never have to repair halogen lights.
In the picture above, left, are two 500 watt halogen light bulbs commonly found in tourchiere floor lamps. The top one is new, the bottom came to me in a lamp that was flickering. The glass tube is actually melted. This alone requires a temperature of over 2000 degrees! How can this possibly be safe? Even worse, the safety devices installed on the lamp were removed from the lamp to make it easier to install the short lived bulbs. This means anything coming in contact with the bulb would burst into flames. Moths, flies, paper, curtains. You get the idea. There is no way I woud put my name behind that lamp and send it home.
Take a close look at the picture above right. It is the head of a very popular style of halogen desk light. Look behind the bulb and you see the aluminum heat sheild is melted. What would happen to a person's hand if it contacted a light hot enough to melt aluminum? What if drapery or school books came in contact? You see my point? And yet it carries a UL Approved sticker as a safe lamp!
My advise? Recycle halogen lamps if you own one. Avoid them when shoppong for new lamps, even if a contractor wants to install them in your home. I repair lamps. I see the damage. And halogen lamps are, without a doubt, the worst lamps ever made, no matter the maker.
Many people come into my shop, discover that a repair costs more than they want or take longer than they are willing to wait, and declare they will do it themselves. This is not only frustrating but it can be quite dangerous.
I use the pictures on the left as a good example. The lamp is an old central draft oil lamp a customer wanted converted to electriciy. The customer could not wait for me to do it, so they had their 'handy-man' do it. Alas, when the customer went to put a light bulb in, the lamp instantly short circuited and the bulb blew up in the customer's hand. They received a very nasty cut and burns all over their fingers.
The lamp came back to me and here is what I discovered. The socket was installed with no insulating protection at all. In fact, it wasn't even attached to the lamp, it was just resting in the tube! This shows a complete lack of understanding of electricity and how it works. Needless to say, the socket welded itself to the inside of the lamp with enough power to melt brass, about 3200 degrees!
So remember, if it takes some time to fix your lamp, or it costs a few bucks, don't squawk. Let a professional do the job and you won't get burned. Why trust somene who 'thinks' they can do it? Imagine what this customer felt during the short circuit!
Although this is slowly becomnig a moot point, it is still a problem brought to The Lamp Repair Shop on a regular basis: The over-watting of lamp fixtures. Above left is a good example of what happens with 60 to 100 watt bulbs are used in shade holders where heat cannot escape. This type of short-circuit creates a fantastic, yet dangerous display of sparks, noise, and burning metal thrown about a room. The solution? Replacing the metal sockets with industrial ceramic sockets, thereby eliminating the problem with deteriorating insulators and heat. The only drawback with this solution is the lack of a switching mechanism in the socket, so the fixture has to be operated from a wall switch.