Thursday, September 29, 2011

Let There Be Light

Every day that I don't blow myself up is a divine miracle and someone should report it to the Vatican. Or whatever you do when miracles happen.

So I've gotten pretty good at rewiring old lamps, right? I've done several successfully and I'm getting more comfortable with electricity which normally scares me to death. When I finished rewiring my last lamp I even plugged it in barefoot. For all the other ones I made sure I was wearing my tennis shoes with the thick rubber soles while I held the plug with 2 fingers and didn't touch anything else.

Now that lamps are old hat I decided I could venture out into other areas, like Christmas lights. I've been working on a landscape lighting project for our yard over the past couple of months. It has taken that long to collect all the thrift store light fixture covers that I need.

I first saw this idea on Pinterest when someone pinned this picture from a blog called The Art of Doing Stuff.

Pretty darn clever, right? I see these glass dome thingies all the time at junk stores and they sell for $.50 to around $2.00 each, depending on the size. I have strands of Christmas lights out the wazoo so I was pretty confident I could pull this off.

I started collecting orbs and playing around with how I wanted them positioned. I tried them in clusters but that made them look like space ships to me so I just lined them up as I collected them and I put a string of icicle lights under them for a visual. As I continued to collect and experiment, I discovered there was a problem.

The problem I ran into is the lights. I wanted the orbs to be spaced at least a couple of feet apart but your average string of Christmas lights has bulbs that are spaced every couple of inches and I didn't want random lights to show between my orbs. I thought about burying the bulbs between the orbs under the mulch but I was afraid I would be constantly recovering them so they wouldn't show. The only solution I could see was to eliminate some bulbs.

My strands are the kind that if one bulb burns out the rest stay lit, but if you pull one out of the socket the whole strand goes dead. I thought about just taking a pair of pliers and breaking off the bulbs I didn't need. Their stems would still be in the socket so it wouldn't break the circuit and the rest of the lights would work. But something (rare common sense maybe?) told me that probably wasn't a good idea.

Plan B was to use my newfound electrical skills. I was going to snip off the sockets I didn't want, strip the wires, splice them together, cover with electrical tape and call myself a genius. That seemed like such a simple solution to me. It made perfect sense and I just didn't see any reason why it wouldn't work.

For some strange reason I ran my idea past Jayson before I actually did it. I have no idea why I even mentioned it to him since that's not my standard m.o. I usually get an idea, jump into it head first, then wait for Jayson to drive me to the emergency room. It's a system that works for us.

Even though Jayson is probably not quite as electrically skilled as I am (ahem) he's still pretty handy and he knows stuff. He thought my splicing idea would probably work but he didn't think it would be safe. I fully intended to do it anyway since I was just asking for his opinion not his permission. But after chewing on it for a couple of days I conceded that he was probably right. Considering the number of sockets I was planning to remove plus the fact that these light would be outside in the elements and held together by electrical tape, it probably wouldn't be wise.

I knew I had to come up with Plan C because I already bought 15 glass domes and I wasn't about to let my 20 bucks go to waste. When I tossed my test-strand of icicle lights back into the Christmas light bin in the garage, I notice several strands of those big Christmas lights that we used to put around the outside of the house. I think they're called C9 bulbs? They're just old fashioned outdoor Christmas lights and we have several strands with clear bulbs.

Score! I couldn't untangle those suckers fast enough. These are kind where it doesn't matter if a bulb is burned out or missing. I could just remove the ones I didn't want. Plus we have lots of those metal stem thingies that you poke into the ground to hold the bulb upright.

I grabbed 2 light strands and headed for the power strip that was plugged in next to the front door. The first strand made sort of a buzzing noise when I first plugged it in but then the noise stopped and it seemed to work fine. I thought maybe it had something to do with the lights being stored in the garage for several years.  I unplugged them then went to work arranging my globes and securing the bulbs under each one.
The drought killed our yard. I hope it comes back.
I plugged the lights back in, took a moment to admire the effect, then plugged the second strand into the power strip to test it. The lights lit up, it made the same buzzing noise as the first strand, then it died. I turned off the power strip, unplugged the strand, then spent half an hour scavenging fuses from other strands because I couldn't find my little box of extra fuses.

I had a feeling I might run across some bad fuses but that's an easy fix. It took another half hour to change out the fuses because I had trouble prying the old ones out without shattering them. Plus I discovered that 2 identical looking strands of lights don't necessarily use the same size fuse.

Once strand #2 had new fuses installed I plugged it in, turned on the power strip, and saw smoke coming out of the first socket on the strand. I quickly turned off the power strip, removed the bulbs from the strand then tossed it in the trash. It was obviously defective.

This meant untangling another string of lights and checking the fuse which turned into another tedious half hour. Once I had what appeared to be an acceptable string of lights, I plugged it into the power strip where my one good strand was still plugged in, then I sort of cautiously flipped the switch on the strip. I was really hoping I didn't see smoke again.

There was no smoke this time but there was a much louder buzzing sound right before all the bulbs on both strands started flickering and the power strip turned itself off, as it's designed to do when something isn't right.

I immediately realized there was nothing wrong with either strand of lights, it was the power strip the whole time. I unplugged the lights then unplugged the strip to examine it. It was a heavy duty black power strip with a bright yellow cord and it looked fine to me.

I turned it over to examine the back and that's when I saw it. "CAUTION: FOR INDOOR USE ONLY."

Oh. That power strip has been outside in my flower bed for the past couple of months, probably filling up with water every time it rained, which fortunately hasn't been that often. And there I was, repeatedly plugging Christmas lights into it when they're already just a fire waiting to happen.

In my own defense, the power strip is black and yellow and heavy and it looks like one of those outdoor extension cords. I thought it was an outdoor power strip. I can admit when I am an idiot but this time I think the manufacturer of that power strip is at least partially responsible due to their deceptive product design.

I have a basket of extension cords and power strips in the house so went through it looking for one that specifically said it could be used outside. They were all for indoor use only. I have a box of outdoor extension cords in the garage and found several that would have worked but I really wanted to be able to plug both light strands into one cord without using any kind of dangerous adapters.

In the bottom of the box I found an outdoor extension cord with 3 outlets attached. It's the only one we have. I think we may have bought it specifically for Christmas lights several years ago. I was so excited, I grabbed the nearest sharp instrument I could find to cut off the cable tie I'd used to hold it together.

The nearest sharp instrument happened to be Jayson's Jack The Ripper Knife. It looks like this one and I think it's actually a linoleum knife but for some reason it just makes me think of Jack the Ripper.

I know what you're thinking and no, I didn't cut myself. I carefully slid the curved blade under the zip tie then pulled the knife away from my body. It sliced through the plastic tie like I had planned, but it also sliced through a section of the extension cord, which I had not planned. It went all the way through the outer covering of the cord and I could see a tiny piece of what looked like internal wires that were also covered. In other words, there wasn't any naked metal showing so I figured I could just wrap it with electrical tape and pretend it never happened.

I plugged both strands of my new landscape lighting into my definitely not severed extension cord. When I plugged the cord into the wall there was no buzzing sound and the lights on both strands were actually much brighter now! I tell you, I'm an electrical genius.

I'll have to take an after dark picture another day since we're having a little thunderstorm right now and I don't want to jinx my stay of electrocution.


Anonymous said...

this is so come up with the best ideas and I just totally enjoy your descriptions of how you manage to get it all to come together. Your new home looks amazing by the way, love that brick! Sandi Marr

donnaj said...

great idea-
as for the yard, should just be dormant (like ours is) and come back next year-provided we get any rain again) ever.
glad to see you didn't score a trip to the ER too! always a plus.