Category Archives: lighting

Ceiling fans and smartphones

(Featured photo by Fannie Mae.)SkillLevel3

When the air is too warm there is nothing like a breeze to make it cooler. But if there is no wind sometimes you have to make your own. My ever-loving wife, “Fannie Mae” (not her real name), is a ceiling fan fan, so it goes without saying I’ve had to install a number of them in our various homes. Since you can replace a ceiling light with a ceiling fan-light combo without running new wiring she thinks the more the merrier.

In the space of two months, I’ve repaired four ceiling fans at three different houses and none of them were ours. This last one was a bit of mystery. The fan worked but the light didn’t. After running through the easy tests (Is the wall switch on? Is the chain switch on? Are the bulbs burned out?), it was time to open up the housing and have a look at the wiring. Fortunately, most of the wiring for the light is in the shallow metal bowl hanging from the bottom of the fan and I didn’t need to take the whole fan down–just the glass globe, which is held on by a fancy nut at the bottom.

ceiling fan "bowl" cover
Ceiling fan “bowl” cover

Three screws hold the metal bowl. Two of them have open slots so that you can loosen the screws a little and turn the bowl a notch to take it off. The third screw has to be taken all the way out and placed in a secure (disclosed) location so that you can screw it back in when the time comes.

I am always shocked, shocked I say, how many wires are hidden in that bowl. (Speaking of being shocked, I made sure the wall switch was turned off before I started poking around. My momma didn’t raise no fool.) One pair of wires was for the fan direction switch (up for winter, down for summer). Continue reading Ceiling fans and smartphones

Goosey LED reading light

Skill level skill3

My ever-loving wife, “Maggie” (not her real name), has been complaining recently that it is too dark to read in bed and that is why she just goes to sleep when she crawls in. Well, maybe. I gave her the benefit of the doubt on this one and ordered a Bruck Ledra Resort LED gooseneck reading light that you mount in the wall above the bed. It has the on-off switch at the business end of the gooseneck so I figured Maggie could be half-asleep and still turn it off. I felt this was an important feature.

Bruck Ledra Resort LED reading light
(Click to see on

This type of light mounts in a utility box in the wall just like a regular light switch or outlet. So I had to cut a hole in the wall, run some wire from there inside the wall and splice it to an existing outlet. This can be challenging but I had a plan. I could get to the back side of the wall that the bed is against by simply going in the little attic behind the wall. I would cut the square hole for utility box from the bedroom side and then go in the attic to feed the wire through holes in the studs to an outlet. Easy-peasy. Continue reading Goosey LED reading light

How to install a utility box

Skill level skill2

A utility box holds a light switch or an outlet and the wires connecting it.

Utility box with a duplex outlet

When you are putting a new box in an “old” wall you buy a box that says “Old Work.” These boxes have swinging flaps on two corners that hold the box tight to the drywall. “New Work” boxes have nails that you drive into a stud and you put up the drywall after all of the utility boxes have been installed.

This is an “Old Work” box.

Trace the box (excluding the tabs) on the wall.

Keep the box somewhere between the studs and at least an inch below or above any wood running horizontally between the studs so that the swinging flaps have room to pivot.

Make several shallow passes on each line with a utility knife to score straight lines in the drywall. It is better to go straight than to go fast or deep.

Keep scoring the drywall until you’ve cut the rectangle all the way through. If it is an outside wall you should be seeing the insulation.

The finished hole should be neat.The visible letters on the insulation are part of longer words. Really.
The box should fit snugly in the hole.

Strip off about 8″ of the outer jacket of the wire. Then strip off about 5/8″ of the insulation of the white wire and the black wire. Push the wires in through the slots before fastening the box to the wall.

With the outer jacket removed, the wires are inserted through slots in the back of the box before the box is shoved into the wall and fastened.

Now use a Phillips screwdriver to press the corner screws in and make sure that they turn the flaps easily. When you turn the screw to the right the flap should turn vertical. Turn the screws back to the left to put them down flush and then slide the box into the wall.

Hold the box to the wall nice and snug and use the screwdriver to push one of the screws all the way in before you start tightening the screw.  If the screw isn’t pushed in first the flap won’t be able to rotate behind the drywall. Stop turning the screw when you feel the flap holding the box to the drywall. Those tabs are easy to strip so don’t overdo it.

Do the same for the other screw.

Now you can attach the wires to the switch or outlet, fold the wires back into the box, and screw the switch or outlet to the box. Screw on the cover plate and you are done.