Pulling Together


Domestic Sabotage: Tormenting Homeowners

For the last few months there's been a light not working in my bathroom. It’s a recessed downlight hidden behind a bezel I couldn’t see how to remove so I’ve been putting it off all through the Summer. After all, in the Summer I hardly have to use the lights in the bathroom as I rarely go in there when it’s dark.

Now it’s Autumn, and the clocks have gone back, and so it’s a different matter. It’s time to replace the faulty bulb. So, last night I searched on line for servicing recessed downlights as it was unclear how to get at them. The ceiling concerned is under an inaccessible roof void where major building work would be needed to gain access from above. That seemed a bit extreme to replace a bulb.

Most of the results returned by the search were for shops and electrical suppliers selling downlights, but there was one video showing how to maintain them, so I viewed it. I saw an Australian showing how these lights could be gently pulled out of the ceiling, unplugged from a 3-pin socket which could be pulled through behind, and replaced with an identical unit. Then it was just a case of pushing the wiring back through the hole, holding the spring clips in their raised position and inserting the new light through the hole. The clips would spring back above the plasterboard and retain the unit in place until the next time it was gently pulled down. It looked so easy I decided to tackle the job straight away.

Well, maybe in Australia. I doubted British downlights would have a plug and socket in the ceiling. British house wiring just isn't like that, but then the unit he replaced didn’t have a replaceable bulb. All I needed to do was pull the unit out, find out how to dismantle it and replace the bulb, and slide it back in.

I got as far as pulling it down, but when it had descended about an inch and a half it stuck firm and although I tried coaxing it further, it was clear the clips were at the end of their travel, projecting at right angles across the ceiling and preventing the unit being withdrawn further. Unlike the Australian ones, it seems British downlights, once in, are not designed to come out again. I could just about hold the case while I tried to turn the bezel, which I thought might unscrew. It was very stiff. Eventually, I tried turning it clockwise, and it did move. Was it reverse-threaded? Not really, it was a combination of a thread and spring clips, but it did suddenly come off. Now I could see the bulb. To my surprise it was a filament type, not the LED I had expected, but it was a GU10 fitting so with a little effort I was able to twist it out. Of course, removing a GU10 bulb is the easy bit. Getting one back in at the back of a narrow tunnel, when there are no tapers to guide the lugs into their slots (what was the designer thinking of, and how did it get passed as a standard with such an obvious flaw?) is not easy at all. It can take anything between five minutes and an hour to get a GU10 bulb lined up with its holder. The slightest error in alignment and it just won’t go in. To make matters worse, I was attempting this after dark, so I had the lights on and I realised as soon as the bulb did go in it would light up, dazzling me as I tried to twist it into its retaining slots. I persisted and eventually got it in, replaced the bezel, not as easy as it looked, and pushed it back up. It just about held, but the edge of the ceiling was noticeably chipped by all the manoeuvring. I had only intended to replace the faulty one, but the discovery they were tungsten and not LED meant I should change them all, but not a task to be attempted in the dark.

Today, I replaced two of the other three. The third turned out to be a low-voltage unit with a metal frame above it and a lead evidently going to a transformer which would not go through the small hole in the frame. Not that one then. The third one was the hardest. The unit was at an angle and apt to retreat into the void though its over-large hole. Hard as I tried to straighten it, the high side would not come down. Trying to hold the light in reach and insert a new bulb took nearly an hour. Every time I tried, plaster dust fell into my eyes as the crooked holder abraded the board. I tried to stay calm but my anger rose as I struggled to complete the job. By the time I had finished the plaster was so chipped I will need Polyfilla and the spring on the lower side was too weak to keep the unit in position. I found it hard to resist the idea the designer of the GU10 bulb holder should have been taken out and punished the moment he suggested it. What was wrong with the traditional bayonet fitting? Not the most enlightened of thoughts, but after so much effort for something which should take a couple of seconds, it’s hard to stay rational.

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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