09 January 2010
The use of lights has been a continually evolving part of the system. I started out using round, clear steel and plastic trailer lights with festoon 18 watt (double ended) bulbs. They were cheap, gave good light in a small area and were readily available. I still have one operating in our laundry and toilet, as well as one at the side of the house over the wood pile. These days the lights have a plastic backing and don’t stand up to the continuous duty of being used as house lighting, but if you can find some of the old steel back ones they are a good start, especially for small rooms.
The festoon bulbs seem to come in at a maximum of 18 watts and, depending on the quality, you may have to go through a few before you get one that lasts. Also if you do the math they consume 1.5 amps theoretically, but my ammeter says they only consume 0.5 amps, so there you go.
As previously mentioned the trailer lights are good for small rooms, but for large rooms or where enough light for reading or for detailed work is required like the kitchen/dining room or lounge room they do not give enough light. I even found some fittings that held two festoon bulbs in a boating shop, they looked more professional but the cover/diffuser absorbed most of the light. So much for that idea!
Originally I did a bit of experimentation with a hand held fluoro but is seemed less effective than the trailer lights so the trailer lights were it for a number of years. Eventually I did get onto caravan style fluorescent lights from the same boating shop and gave them a go. They worked very well with a few reservations. At AU$30 ( now available for $20 or so) they were still reasonably priced and with two 8watt tubes they gave considerably better light, to the point where I could read in the lounge room, for less power consumption. You beauty! On the down side each tube cost $4-$5 each (two per light, remember) and under heavy use could last as little as a few weeks. Damn that gets expensive! They are very sensitive to low voltage and while the old trailer lights kept going, getting dimmer and dimmer, the fluorescent lights refused to work and the tubes wore out rapidly. They also show up line losses like nothing else! Mind you, the new digital voltmeter is much better at showing me when I have problems.
Still, up until a couple of years ago, that was the state of the system, fluorescent and trailer lights. Then I discovered halogen down lights – cheap, good point lighting and the bulbs last a long time. I installed two over our bed as reading lights and they have given good service or 12 years or so. Now I have one over the stove, one over the sink and two over the dining room table (lighting this as I write). The down side is that they chew power, and as a hint, use the 20 watt bulbs not the 50 watt ones supplied otherwise you’re likely to give your batteries a heart attack!
The search goes on and when the fluoro in the lounge room finally expired I consulted a specialized 12 volt remote area power shop. They turned me on (if you’ll pardon the expression) to high efficiency fluorescent lights and my, they are impressive! Low power consumption, the tubes are rumoured to last forever. We have had the light (not just the tube) in the bathroom fail after 3 years of almost constant service and I think the high humidity may be the issue but we have also had the one in the lounge room fail and I think it may be due to the low voltage transmitted because of the older, smaller wiring and use of Scotchloks. This is the original wiring and now over 20 years old so I am going to rewire with the newer thicker wire and the screw in terminals.
The light level they produce is as good as any 240 volt light I’ve ever used but the downside (there always is one!) is that they cost $120 each! (bloody hell!) I have installed one between the kitchen and the dining room to give better overall lighting (the point lights don’t illuminate the fridge!) and it works like a ripper! We also have them in each bedroom and the hall and an outdoor one out over the back deck. They are also difficult to get hold of, the average hardware shop has never heard of them, but the specialist alternative power system suppliers such as the 12 volt shop in WA do carry them.