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Sunday, November 27, 2005

November 27, 2005

Eesh, a Month...again!?!

Well, I guess I've been slacking off here...because I've not updated this more frequently in the last month.

We've been pretty busy with Thanksgiving and all that good well as just the regular fall activities. But enough of the excuses...

Lighting issues...

Many have already heard the story of the yard light, and most of them would shudder and/or threaten bad things if I mention it again. But, this is my space, so here goes the somewhat abridged version.

About a month ago, we had a brief issue with our yard light -- in that it didn't come on for several hours after it got dark. This was a little frustrating but not exactly surprising since the unit was getting old and I figured would need some work eventually.

So, after some discussion and thought, I decided to go with a new 70W High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) fixture (this one gives off an orange-ish light) and replace the older (presumably 150-175W Mercury Vapor fixture (which gave off a bluish-green light).

The primary reason for changing styles was that the HPS fixture is more energy-efficient than any other fixture (MH or MV) available -- yes, I am trying to save the planet. smile I can get approximately the same amount of light (that I need) out of the 70W fixture than I was getting out of a several year old MV lamp. The second reason for switching was related to the close proximity of the light fixture to the house. In other words, we were having a hell of a bug problem last summer (as was noted in several posts here this fall)...possibly in part due to the type of light cast on the house.

I know it's become a bit of an urban legend that those old yellow 'bug lights' actually kept bugs away, but in some of my research about these fixtures, there were some points made about color rendering and the relationship to how bugs 'like' the light. Here again, due to the close proximity of the house to the fixture, we'll see what happens...but anything would be better than last summer.

So anyway, I bought a new fixture at Home Depot one weekend and installed it shortly thereafter. Mind you, it gets dark quite quickly now that we're back on Standard Time...and it's also November in Minnesota. So, one afternoon I break out my 12' ladder and set it up against my 15' yard light pole (which is strapped to the backside of the garage). After removing power to the circuit, I took down the old fixture leaving the mounting arm in place (the new fixture will mount appropriately to the same arm as the old one). While I had the fixture down, I took the opportunity to run new outdoor 12/2 romex to the fixture, replacing the old stuff and actually allowing me to properly ground my Internet satellite dish. So, I put the new fixture up and got it leveled and mounted. All is good.

I then mounted a new double-gang box in the garage (replacing or rather 'expanding' the single-gang outlet box which used to be there) which allowed me to move the outlet and also put in an override switch for the yard light. Yes, this light has the same photoelectric sensor (eye) as the old one and will come on at dusk and go off at dawn, but previously I had no way to completely turn off the light if I deemed necessary. Given the size of our yard and whatnot, I decided this would be a nice feature to have.

Anyway, I finished up the job before dark and waited for the light to come on, which it did as expected and worked beautifully. So, all was well, and the next day I decided to finish up the remainder of the electrical work I wanted to do in the garage (I needed to mount a new GFCI 'wet' box on the outside of the garage, replacing the previous outlet which was there and also protecting the entire garage (and light)). So, I removed the old wet location box and installed the new, much nicer, box and connected the lead to the double-gang box I had installed the day before (keep in mind nothing changed on the work I'd done the day before). All was well, until dark. The yard light didn't come on. At all.

So, Matt went into diagnostic mode. There was power to the garage, the override switch for the light was on (so there was power to the fixture), and nothing had changed with any wiring (aside from the supply power to the garage). So, in the dark, I grabbed a flashlight and my ladder...determined once again to 'climb the pole' and figure out what was going on.

Long story short, every time the pole/fixture shook a little bit (from vibration, etc.), the light would flicker as if trying to come on. This was perplexing, and after some tinkering, I decided to wait until the next day and call a tech support line I'd noticed in the directions. I figured it was probably a bad ballast or ignitor, in either case would likely imply a return to Home Depot for an exchange.

The very nice lady gave me some suggestions, and that afternoon I went to remove the fixture to do some diagnostics on it. As I climbed up to unhook the unit, it appeared to me as though the HPS lamp was possibly burned out. This was not surprising, but could have been the cause of the problem.

So, while inside the garage I did some diagnostics as I'd been instructed. No luck. Everything looked fine...except for the appearance of the lamp itself (which could have burned out due to a ballast/ignitor problem). Particularly convincing (as to lamp failure) was the presence of a small piece of loose glass inside the lamp body, which implied to me lamp failure of an unusual nature. So, I put the fixture back up sans lamp and went to a local hardware store to pick up a new lamp. I figured that if the new lamp fixed the problem (and came on for several days afterward as normal), things were good and I just got a bum lamp in the box with the fixture.

It just so turned out that seems to be the case. The fixture has operated normally ever since, and the yard light is back in its new orange glory.

Miscellaneous Projects

I've tinkered and wrapped up a few random projects around the house, like replacing the fuel oil filter for the furnace, cleaning up the basement for the most part, and so on. Still haven't put plastic on a few of the upstairs windows, but I expect to get to that this week before it gets too cold out. So far for the year we've only burned about 30 gallons of fuel in the eight weeks or so since we've started the furnace; the majority of that (I'd bet 15 gallons) were used in the last two weeks during a bit of a cold spell. But here again, every little bit... I've also managed to change a few common light bulbs to the CFL type, namely the commonly used ones (above the kitchen sink -- which has been there for some time), one in the basement (less common), and a few smaller ones in our office lamps. Of all the light fixtures on the main floor, only the two in the bathroom, the dining room fixture (they don't make CFL's for that type), and the three-way lamp in the living room haven't been converted. We'll see how this affects the electric bill.

Dog to Pasture...

Beth moved Koshka to her 'winter pasture' this last week before Thanksgiving. She's now attached via chain to the aforementioned yard light pole behind the garage. This is a more convenient location for us in the winter since she'll be easier to get to. That, and we're able to plug in her heated dog water bowl (to the aforementioned outdoor GFCI outlet) to keep that ice-free for the wintertime. She seems to like the move so far, except for the fact that she can see us more often (which I think often frustrates her) since one of the office windows faces the garage.

Aside from that...

...I picked up some DVD-R's this afternoon along with a 512MB USB flash drive (I couldn't beat the price -- 512MB for $27 on sale instead of normal $59). I've still got some random (and varied) computer projects to work on here in the next if we indeed get this winter weather tonight/tomorrow/tomorrow night -- 6 inches of snow plus wind -- I might take the opportunity to get some of that stuff done and start really gearing up for One-Act (which is less than two weeks from auditions).

So, until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

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