I have a love-hate relationship with outdoor lighting. For one, I like it to be rather dark outside when I’m trying to sleep. I don’t even like the full moon coming in my windows keeping me up.
I also like to go outside and look at the stars or take pictures of thunderstorms, and it’s hard to do that with streetlights and my neighbor’s floodlights on the corner of the house.
But sometimes I want a little light outside, whether I think it might be snowing, or raining, or that someone could be outside and up to no good and about to break in and get killed because he picked the wrong house to break into. My house used to have a lot of lights outside, including a security floodlight on the back corner of the house, a back porch light with a motion sensor, and a driveway floodlight.
The back corner light, I never used. There’s nothing back there, it’s on a corner with no windows so even if the light was on, the only way to see if someone is plotting my demise or the theft of my flat-screen TV, unless I go outside to look. And of course, that’s precisely the WRONG thing to do unless you’re armed. If some kids ever play ding-dong-ditch at MY house, they’re probably going to go home with soiled underwear. But the back corner light quit a while back. I changed the bulbs, nothing. I don’t know what happened to it.
The back porch light is mounted on the wall, and had a little sensor on it for motion activation. The sensor cover faced the morning sun, so in short order it yellowed and aged and cracked. I knew it was reaching end-of-life when it would come on 67 times a night for apparently no reason other than to scare the ever-loving shit out of us (since the back porch light is right outside the back bedroom door). Finally I noticed the sensor itself cracked and there was a hole into which rain could get, and I covered it with a piece of thick tape, effectively rendering it useless. Intending one day to replace the light, I put it off, finding much more interesting things to do, like watching grass grow…
But the straw finally broke on Saturday night. We had gone off somewhere, and returned to our driveway after dark. The driveway/carport light had been acting weird for months. Despite its programming, it would come on for about 8 seconds, and then turn off, seemingly with a mind of its own, and usually at the most inopportune times. It was easy to over-ride by switching the light off and then right back on, but it would then burn all night unless I flipped the switch off. Even then it’s effect was less than exciting. But now it refused to work at all. It was then I resolved to man up and replace the damn lights.
First of all, I went to Lowes for something totally different, on my lunch hour. The last thing I wanted to do was take the wife with me to Lowes. It takes her and my daughter 49 minutes to pick out a kind of shampoo, something as immensely important as exterior household illumination might require me to pack a lunch and have a drink. So I picked out three lights:
The first was my back porch light. Why there’ needs to be a motion sensor on it, I had no clue. So screw the motion sensor. I will maintain control over my own domain, and if I need to turn it on in the middle of the night, I’ll do it myself. I had bought a little wall-mounted light. If you’ve never removed a light and installed a new one, it’s not that hard. It requires four different kinds of screwdrivers, a roll of black tar-ry tape, a set of pliers, a larger set of pliers, and several swear words. Also, half a bottle of bug spray because you’ll attract every insect in the neighborhood, all which will buzz around you the moment you have a screwdriver between your teeth while holding the light fixture up in one hand while trying to screw on the wire nut with the other hand.
The light went up with only 12 trips into and out of the house, and only produced enough garbage to fill one roll cart. It’s amazing how a box barely bigger than a bowling ball can produce so much waste. Those little 11 year olds packing these things in Mexico must be REALLY good at it. I was pleased with the results, and went back to work sweaty and out of swear words. Of course it rained an hour later, reducing the pliers to a pile of rusty junk in just a few days.
The driveway light was another beast entirely. First of all, I hate changing light bulbs, and when I was looking around in Lowes, I saw one of the lights featured LED lights instead of big bulbs. I also seemed bright enough, because strangely at Lowes all the security lights are programmed to come on when you walk down the aisle. So, someone trying to pick out a light is suddenly blinded by the light of a thousand suns. You have to stand really still and wait for the smell of burning skin to dissipate before opening your eyes and trying to read what shelf and bin the light fixture you want is sitting on. Once you figure it out, you have to make a flying leap, grab your light, and roll out of the way of the eyeball searing half-million watts of light bulbs now cracking the floor.
So, I found one, and made it out with only three new types of skin cancer. I figured this would work under the driveway eaves just fine.
This was a bit more complex than the porch light, as I would have to get my old nemesis, the ladder.
I hate my ladder. It is a cheap aluminum extension ladder that I think I inherited. I don’t know if it came with the house or if it was given to me by someone who just had enough of it. It doesn’t want to extend. It doesn’t want to retract. I have to fight it every step of the way, and more often than not I wind up with two equal-sized ladders, both of them too short for the job at hand. Then I swear and go inside for a drink before returning a few days later to put them together and try again.
I got the ladders extended to their full length, got the new light parts set out on the driveway railing, and climbed the ladder. I hate heights, and climbing the ladder is one of my least favorite things to do. First I removed the old bulbs and through them out into the yard away from me. They hit the ground with a satisfying clunk, and even more surprising, they didn’t find the one tiny rock to break them, nor did they bounce together and smash into a million pieces.
Then I removed the screws holding the old light to the box and pulled down. A strange dusty substance and an odd honeycomb-shaped structure filled the box. If you’ve never experienced flat-out fear and excitement, and the desperate need to jump out of the way 15 feet off the ground, try finding a wasp nest in a utility box while you’re on a ladder. By some miracle of nature (or maybe the fact that I love to spray every flying insect with enough permethrin to choke a moose), the wasp nest was long deserted. All it did was give me a case of the heebie-jeebies and almost knock me off my ladder. I scraped the bee remains from the box and loosened the old fixture, tossing it into the yard where it shattered into 6 pieces.
The new fixture’s assembly was a bit tougher. You need four hands. Two to hold the fixture close to being in place, and two to connect wires and attache screws. Since I only had two, I tore off pieces of black electric tape, stuck them to the eaves, and held the wire nuts in my mouth. Black wire, connected, wire nut attached, and tape secured, all one handed. Same for white. Now the thing was dangling in mid air over the concrete by two wires and some hastily applied electric tape. Next was the ground wire (the bare wire). Since white is grounded in a 120v AC circuit, I don’t even KNOW why there’s a separate ground. The people who build electrical stuff also like to paint the ground screw green, apparently with some sort of super lock-tite paint, that holds well enough to defeat most modern screwdrivers. I tied the wires together with another wire nut, and wrapped them around the ground screw. To hell with it. Then by some other miracle I put the screw through the bottom of the unit and got it bolted to it’s little crossbar without dropping the screw.
Done. I adjust the lights, pointing one down the driveway and another into the back yard, and waited for the night. Finally it was dark and I could test the lights. The porch light was nice. It’s cute, in it’s little lantern-looking style with its fake stained glass looking plastic windows. It provides just enough light to see the back porch and into the yard a bit, with one of those fake high efficiency bulbs that says “equivalent to 60 watts” but runs at 28 watts. No, not one of the CFL Swirly bulbs, I don’t allow those in my house.
So then it was time to try the driveway lights. I cut them on and wandered outside into the motion sensor. The lights came on and I was struck by an odd thought. My neighbor’s corner motion light, which I always regarded as a nuisance, was nothing. It was a pitiful candle flame, a key fob light compared to this maniacal bastard light from hell. 40 LEDs the package said. 2200 lumens it said. First, who the Hell measures lights in lumens? Do you ever go in Wal-mart and say to the wife, “Hey get some of those 220 lumen bulbs, because the 185 lumen ones we got last week just don’t cut it.” Who measures in lumens? Scientists, not consumers. Consumers have been tricked for so many years into equating light brightness with watts, that we don’t know how to compare lumens.
But 2200 lumens is a shitload of them. The corner of the light catches the edge of my bay window and lights up the whole kitchen. I think it blinded the stray cat that hangs out in the yard (that damn thing has been there for two years. I’ve never provided a drop of water or scrap of food. It won’t leave, and won’t die. It’s like some sort of super stalker cat). Moths get too close and drop dead, bleached white by the power of this thing. I’m going to have to re-aim it to make sure it isn’t peeling paint from the neighbor’s siding, on his side of the road. I’m sure it would frighten away any ne’er-do-wells or scalawags coming up to the house at night.
I’m not sure either one of us would be able to see each other if that light came on, though.
One more to go. I have to replace the fixture in the back corner of the house, but right now I have some grass go watch grow.