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How-To: Wireless Ceiling Fixtures Part 1

A while back, F. had the idea that it would be great to have a set of hanging light fixtures over the entryway table. But the challenge is there’s no wiring in the ceiling, and it’s a 1920s-vintage house with a vintage stucco ceiling. Trying to run cable up there would open up who-knows-what, and the ceiling would never look the same.

“Someone should be making LED lighting that can run wirelessly,” we thought. If you look around your local home improvement stores you’ll see plenty of inexpensive little LED lighting gizmos that run on batteries. So why does installed lighting need to run on 110 AC?

So we looked, on line, in stores, catalogues. Nothing this side of $500 at least. Time to get creative.

First we found these cool little LED spotlights at Costco. $15 for a three-pack, we bought several and experimented. We put a couple in the china cabinet, and one on the wall next to the stereo. The best thing: they can be turned on, in a group, with a remote!

Everything, including Duracells, is included in a almost-impossible-to-open pack.

Update: These can be a problem. Like any device that’s waiting for an IR signal to turn on or off, they drain power continuously monitoring the sensor. What that means in real life is, the batteries burn out way too quickly. I’d like to re-do these with a more lightweight lamp that operates with a pull chain or some other kind of mechanical interface.

Next we needed the right kind of shade, along with some kind of bracket to hold it all together. Table lamps can be expensive, but at a trip to Ikea we found these:

The Orgel line has a lovely brushed-nickel base, topped with a Japanese crinkled-paper shade. It comes out of the box like this:

When you pop it open, it looks like this:

We brought one of the LED elements and the remote along, and tested it to make sure that the sensor worked through the shade. It would have been a deal-breaker if it hadn’t. But it did!

Making something out of parts like this, getting the nice brushed-nickel base, the cord and all that which we’re never going to use, one might think it’s wastefully expensive. Wasteful probably; expensive, not at all. Ikea had these lamps for $10 each. Update: Save all the pieces, because at some point you might want to re-assemble them as table lamps. It’s pretty easy to reverse this process.

So far we’ve got three LED fixtures, and three shades, and we’ve spent $45. But how do we attach it to the ceiling? Continuing our trip through Ikea looking for something else, we found this system for inexpensively hanging fabric curtains from a wire:

We’re only going to use five pieces from each of three of these $15 packages. The actual hanging of the fixtures will be covered in Part 2.

Assuming you’ve already popped open the shade (following the package directions) here’s what’s next. Begin by taking out the set screw that holds the socket fixture to the base.

The socket unscrews from the stem, though it’s tight so you’ll need to hold the bottom with a pair of pliers while you twist the socket off with your other hand.

Then pull some cord out of the stem so you have room to work.

The socket is in three parts, the base, the top, and a ring that holds the shade on. Unscrew the base from the top so you see this:

Keep the ring separate for now.

Using a screwdriver, disconnect the two wire leads. You won’t need the internal bulb-holding part of the socket any more, so set it aside.

At this point, you’re done with the lamp stem, base, and the internals of the socket.

Next we’re going to make a new center stem. This will secure the socket to the wire hanger. Take this piece from the Dignitet package you bought at Ikea.

Noting that it’s reverse-threaded, take it apart.

One end has two tiny allen bolts; the other has a single hole that goes all the way through. Take the one with the hole and thread a twist-tie through it. This is just to make sure that, if the socket is a little large (as one of ours was) it stays secure.

Then just wrap it around and tie it. Don’t worry about cosmetics here, this part is buried deep inside where no one will ever see it.

Take the That piece goes inside the socket base, and the piece with two allen bolts goes into the top. Push them in and (remembering they’re reverse-threaded) screw them together.

Now you can take the top section of the socket, and the shade, and thread the socket parts through the metal mounting bracket inside the shade and tighten it securely.



Now we’ll prepare the LED light unit. Take one from the package, pop off the back, lift the battery lid and load it up with the supplied AAs.

As you re-attach the battery cover, notice the little switch that toggles between I and II. This corresponds to the same setting on the remote control unit. Set all your lights, and the remote, to the same setting so that one click will turn them all on or off.

Then click the back on securely. We’re next going to use the pair of velcro pads to attach the LED fixture to the mounting ring. First, use the ring to stencil it’s outlines onto the backing paper.

Peel the backing paper off, and push the ring securely onto the sticky pad. Then, cut out the outer ring and inner circle from the paper and position them around and inside the ring. This is to keep gunk from accumulating on the sticky sections still exposed.

Then peel off the paper from the back side of the velcro and attach it firmly to the back of the LED fixture.

With this all put together, gently thread the locking ring into your assembled shade/socket assembly. Only thread it until it touches the center shaft. If you push it on any tighter you’ll be pushing the velcro off of the locking ring, and the LED fixture will just fall right out.

As you assemble them sit them on a counter this way, with the LED fixture on top, overnight. This gives the glue a chance to set. We may decide later to add some extra protection by wiring them in; we’ll need a way to do it while still making it easy to change the batteries.

Line ’em up with the sensors pointing to you (it’s marked on the edge of the LED fixture), and you should be able to click your remote once and have all three turn on and off simultaneously!

Tom

Tom McGee has been building web sites since 1995, and blogging here since 2006. Currently a senior developer at Seton Hall University, he’s also a freelance web programmer and musician. Contact him if you have the need for a blog, web site, redesign or custom programming!

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