Electrifying Stucco for the Throne…

…or something like that.

One of the limitations of The Cupola building was its lack of a “public” bathroom.

Perhaps 100 years ago, a bathroom was installed upstairs among the doctor’s offices, but it has long since been abandoned. The offices haven’t been used since the 1940’s, but it appears (based on “recent” plumbing repairs) that the employees of the pharmacy continued to use/maintain the small bathroom (no sink) until, I’m guessing, sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s.

Around that time the sewer-line upstairs (cast iron) cracked and instead of replacing the 100-year old line, they simply installed a toilet on the mezzanine for employee’s use and routed its outlet to a good line. The mezzanine is a half-floor, originally built for storage, covering roughly the back 20′ of the building in between the 1st and 2nd floors. It is accessible from downstairs via a short, steep staircase.

In order to get the sewer line out of the building, they had to install this toilet on a platform so the line could exit through an old window.

throneThe result is a toilet, on a platform, on the mezzanine, with no walls, curtains, sink, etc…and a clear view of the top of the stairs just to keep you entertained whilst you are there.

Everybody that’s ever seen it…has…without prompting…universally and instantly dubbed it, “The Throne”.

You are truly…king of all you survey when sitting on this thing.

We’ve had customers…mostly female…in ’emergency’ situations…use “The Throne” in utter desperation, but it is obviously not an ideal installation.

At least two of them left muttering, “Any port in a storm.” One lady wondered if she needed to sign a release for the Candid Camera episode we were obviously filming.

So…yeah…it’s established that the ‘setters’ don’t like “The Throne”. It is also…significantly more of a challenge than you might expect for us ‘pointers’ because of the very low ceilings. Accuracy and ballistics experience are required…and “instant start” is paramount…as cleanup is difficult due to its rather…unique…design.

Also, the nearest place to wash your hands is downstairs on the retail floor.

As we are currently not open for general business, one of my projects is to replace “The Throne” with a pair of ADA compliant bathrooms on the ground floor. Not an insignificant (or cheap) project, but it meshes in with other work I’m doing in the selected area.

It is a significant challenge…as my floors are concrete in this building (they replaced the wood floors with poured concrete WAY back in the day) and it would cost thousands of $$ to cut through them and get sewer lines sufficient for toilets installed.

Yes, I have a solution. We’ll be documenting that here as we go. That is…of course…assuming I ever get to that part.

serviceentranceSee, as you might know from my other writings, everything’s connected…so step one of replacing “The Throne” is to…do electrical work, of course! (Or perhaps step one of doing electrical work is to replace “The Throne”…I may be unclear on the particulars.)

I am updating and relocating the breaker box to make future plans for the building easier, and in order to do that I need to replace the main service entrance (also on the mezzanine). I would like to do this BEFORE the bathrooms so that all new wiring/lighting is correctly installed and into the new breaker box.

Saves the extra work of redoing things later.

I am also removing some old wiring and service equipment from back in the day when somebody installed about 400,000 watts of electric heat (long defunct).

respiratorHmmm…of course…step one of doing the electrical work…is to re-point and re-stucco the wall…so of course…in my quest to build a new set of bathrooms on the ground floor, I spent most of Monday knocking off and hauling away several hundred pounds of loose stucco and fine sand from the mezzanine.

Note the picture above…ALWAYS wear a good quality dust mask when destructing 150-year old loose stucco.

It’s no wonder the wife thinks I’m nuts…as I come dragging home exhausted and covered in very fine/sandy dust she asks, “Weren’t you supposed to be doing plumbing?”

LED T8 Retrofit

The short version:

–Replaced some of my T8 florescent bulbs (standard 4′ bi-pin bulbs) with LED T8 bulbs.
–HALF the power consumption for the same light.
–TWICE the life of florescent bulbs. Better/more consistent light as well.
–Eliminates the ballasts (another expense). ALSO eliminates the hum!
–Easy to do…and…ME LIKES!

The What

Standard 2x4 T8 (or T12)  fixture.

Standard 2×4 T8 (or T12) fixture.

Currently The Cupola’s main retail space has a acoustic grid/drop in tile ceiling, with the standard 2’x4′ florescent fixtures found in most retail space. The grid was installed sometime in the 70’s we think, over yet ANOTHER dropped ceiling (framed) installed in the 50’s.

Eventually we intend to pull the dropped ceilings out and go back to the 16 foot Victorian ceilings, but for now, they are finished and make heating/cooling the building economical.

Commercial electricity is expensive due to outlandish demand/delivery charges so I try to cut usage where I can. LED lighting technology is fast becoming “the way”.

For security reasons, two of my interior fixtures are wired “always on”. They are on 24/7/365. This is so, closed or not, there is light in the building. Bad guys can’t hide. Security cameras can get good pictures of them. ED209’s can get faster/clear locks on targets…

Both of the lights in question were failing to some degree…some bad bulbs and a couple marginal/bad ballasts…so it was time to do some sort of service. Bad ballasts EAT bulbs so the proper way to service these fixtures is to replace all the ballasts and bulbs and be done with it.

Since these are on 24/7 they are responsible for a significant amount of my power consumption.

I figured it was time to try something new.

The How

So one of my projects yesterday was to replace some of my T8 fluorescent bulbs (the standard 4′ tubes) in The Cupola Art building with LED T8 tubes. I am showing this in the standard 4-bulb 2×4 commercial drop-in fixture, but you could do it anywhere you have florescent bulbs.

The LED tubes eliminate the ballasts in a florescent fixture so a rewire of the fixture is necessary. It’s a simple job but if you don’t know what you’re about around electricity, get an electrician to do this. It should take a competent electrician less than 20 minutes per fixture do to this.

First you need some of these:
These are T8 LED tubes. They are available in a wide array of color-temperature choice (from warm-white/2700K to stark-white/daylight 5500K) so make sure and choose the color you prefer for your application.

color_chartWe went with 4100K as it’s a good match for “cool white” which is the majority of our bulbs, and also is a good color for background lighting in a gallery situation. Combined with (to be added later) warmer spot lighting on the art it will give a good atmosphere for viewing and events.

LEDRetrofitBadClipsI also recommend changing the bulb-holders…as they get quite brittle with age, they are cheap (about 60 cents each), and it makes the rewire go so much faster (wires “push in” to these holders so existing ones are troublesome to remove).

LEDRetrofitOldGutsFirst, I removed the ballasts and bulb-clips (commonly called ‘tombstones’ because of their shape).

LEDRetrofitRemoveThisStuff In most fixtures this stuff just snaps in and out with minimal tools.

LEDRetrofitNewHoldersThe LED bulbs only need wiring to one end…a hot and a neutral to each lamp holder…a diagram will come with the bulbs…so for the “dead” end I just inserted new lamp holders into the bracket…

LEDRetrofitSnapIn…and snapped it back into place.

LEDRetrofitWireTombstonesFor the “live” end, I salvaged wiring from the old ballasts (they were dead/questionable anyway) and ran a hot and a neutral to each bulb holder, leaving the ends exiting the bracket long enough to reach the fixture wiring. The black is the hot, the white for neutral (typical in AC wiring installations)

LEDRetrofitDoneIn short order I had the fixture buttoned up and installed the tubes. Presto! Light!

Just that easy.

The Why

“But but…” sputters many, “LED! Expensive! Dim! Blah! NOOOOooo! We don’t like change!”

There are MANY advantages and no actual downsides to this installation…yep, the bulbs cost more than florescents but that really doesn’t matter in very short order.

First, let’s do some math, shall we?

Two fixtures. Eight bulbs. With the ballast consumption factored in that’s 320 watts. On 24/7 consumes about 233kw/h per month. With commercial taxes and all I end up paying 15 cents per kw/h…so I spend $35 per month just operating those lights.

The LED replacement bulbs eliminate the ballasts and require a pretty simple rewire of the fixture…

They consume half the power for the same light. Seriously. The retrofitted fixtures, on 24/7, use about 111kw/h per month. $17 worth of power.

So…I save $18/month…just on those two fixtures. I also didn’t have to buy a ballast or 4.

Now…these bulbs can be expensive…standard price is coming down but seems to be around $20 at the moment.

I got these on an EXCELLENT sale at 1000Bulbs.com for $8/ea so in just 4 months they will have paid for themselves JUST IN THE POWER SAVINGS ALONE. If you factor in the cost of the repairs I would have needed anyway…the payoff is MUCH faster than that. Instant even!

Repairing one fixture the old way:
-4 new florescent bulbs: $8
-2 new ballasts: $24
-8 new lamp-holders/tombstones: $5

Retrofitting one fixture with LED T8’s:
-4 LED T8 tubes (got ’em on a fantastic sale): $32
-8 new lamp-holders: $5

Well lookee there! Because of the sale and required repair anyway, this was a zero-cost conversion. The $18/month in power savings is instant payback! I LOVE it when a plan comes together.

Even at full price for the LED tubes, they’d have payed off in 4 months if you factor in the old-style repair cost, and they should last nearly 6 years on 24/7.

I bought even more LED tubes when they had the sale for the back of the shop that I’m remodeling, and even at full price, any fixture that needs attention (bulbs/ballasts) will get retrofitted.

Other savings:
-Commercial meters multiply your power consumption based on a “peak demand” and come up with some sort of delivery charge that can easily double or triple your bill. These bulbs reduce my peak demand and reduce the multiplier (to what, I don’t know…the formula they use to charge me this fee is a closely guarded magical secret).
-The bulbs last twice as long (50,000 hours) as florescent.
-In the two fixtures I converted I needed to replace the 8 existing bulbs (about $2/each) and 4 ballasts (about $12/each) so the cost for the LED conversion was about the same as a normal repair of the fixture.
-One more bit of math…if/when I do the rest of the main floor fixtures…that will save me slightly more than two dollars PER DAY per shift that I have the main lights on. (up to $60/month just on power!).

Besides the long life, lack of ballasts, and extreme energy savings, here’s some more advantages to the LED tubes:
-VERY low UV component compared to florescents. UV is damaging to art, eyes, plastics, paint, and such.
-UV is the component of light that attracts bugs. For outdoor lighting LED lighting attracts REMARKABLY less bugs than other sources of light.
-Lumen output and color temperature drift…florescents lose a LOT of their initial lumens and their color output drifts within a few short months of installation. LED’s do not.
-LED’s come to instant full brightness, even in cold weather. No start-up flicker. No warm up period. These that we installed are indistinguishable in brightness or color from a new florescent bulb.
-Florescent bulbs suffer a substantial “ding” in their life if you turn them on/off very much. LED’s do not.
-No flickering. No darkening ends.
-No mercury. No gas. Nothing toxic.
-No hum. Ever. This…for me…is a big deal. HUGE even.
-During air-conditioning season…the half power consumption of the LED’s means half as much heat inserted into your environment for your HVAC equipment to remove. More reduced costs, and this is NOT insignificant. In my small commercial space, my lighting “heat” load is just over 8500 btu/hr. That’s 3/4ths of a ton of air-conditioning capacity…which is 15% of my cooling total capacity! Cutting that loss in half (thus saving me 7% or MORE on mild days of my air-conditioning costs PLUS whatever efficiency factor the A/C equipment uses to remove those BTU’s) is significant, especially given the long air-conditioning season here in northeast Texas.

The Where

I purchased the LED T8 tubes and replacement lampholders from 1000bulbs.com. The sale I got these tubes at (for $8!) is long over, but their full price on LED tubes is reasonable as well.

I use this company for ALL my lighting needs, even household…as they carry the quality stuff, the new stuff, and generally the pricing is the same or less than the crappy stuff often found at the big-box stores. I’ve had GREAT service and products from these folks for several years and HIGHLY recommend them.

Sign up for their email list (they don’t abuse it) and you can save even more…they have a lot of sales.

Questions or comments? Comment below or ya’ll know where to hit me up.