Antique Light Fixtures and New Light Bulb Rules – Part 2

Note the pan chandelier in the upper part of this picture. It has glass shades and downward-facing lights which can trap a lot of heat.

Note the pan chandelier in the upper part of this picture. It has glass shades and downward-facing lights which can trap a lot of heat.

There is no doubt that the changes that have taken place with respect to light bulbs will cause problems for owners of antique lamps and ceiling fixtures.

Lamps that have cloth shades with wires that clip onto a light bulb may become obsolete and end up in a landfill unless they can be retrofitted to use a harp assembly. I tested a Noma halogen 60watt bulb with a similar lamp that I own. The halogen light bulb is much smaller that an incandescent but, unless your wire clip has metal fatigue and does not spring back into shape, it should work with most lamps.

One caution about using halogen bulbs: Make sure that your fabric shade is a good distance from the lightbulb. I have a 1920’s lamp that I love. It has two lightbulbs, both which can be turned on separately by pulling on individual chains. Halogen light bulbs are not suitable in this situation because the bulbs would be too close to the fabric shade and a fire could result.

The biggest challenge  will be for light fixtures that have exposed light bulbs such as pan chandeliers. (See picture of dining room)   Regular twist-style compact fluorescent light bulbs are inappropriate because they would look seriously out-of-place.

If  fixtures have clear or frosted glass shades, as shown in the picture, skip the halogen bulbs altogether. Halogen bulbs burn much hotter than incandescent ones. That means that, in light fixtures where the bulbs hang down, the amount of heat moving up into the fixture would heat the wiring leading to the socket . Add a glass shade that captures and holds this heat and you have a perfect recipe for an electrical fire.

LED bulbs have longevity and low heat output but they are only suitable where they cannot be seen.

LED bulbs have longevity and low heat output but they are only suitable where they cannot be seen.

The bulbs with the lowest heat output and longest life span are the LED lights, but they are also the most expensive by far. There are some LED’s that are shaped like an incandescent light bulb and these will work fine in antique fixtures where the bulb cannot be seen.  Unfortunately they are butt-ugly!

Chandelier bulbs are still available with small or regular base sizes.

Chandelier bulbs are still available with small or regular base sizes.

Thankfully one can still buy bulbs with chandelier bases as well as the larger, regular base. These can be used in some of the fixtures mentioned above.   Vanity lights , that for some reason have not yet been phased out, are another option.

White bulbs suitable for vanities can be used where there is no shade and the bulb is exposed.

40 Watt white bulbs that are suitable for vanities can be used where there is no shade and the bulb is exposed.

I still have a lot to learn about how to use these new bulbs but forgive me if I bemoan the loss of those wonderful hand-tinted incandescent light bulbs you could buy for antique light fixtures at one time. I doubt that any of the new bulbs will ever mimic the wonderful, warm glow of the old.

Do you know of some other options for antique light fixtures?

Light fixtures with downward-facing light bulbs have fewer choices.

Light fixtures with downward-facing light bulbs have fewer choices.

To learn more check the many articles and web sites on line.

Written by Johanne Yakula, author of “Historical Interiors of Alberta” A Guide for Restoring and Decorating your Heritage Home.”

4 responses to “Antique Light Fixtures and New Light Bulb Rules – Part 2

  1. Hi Joanne…replica incandescent bulbs can be bought stateside. We get ours through Barnlights….you can find the company listed in Old House Journal, Old house interiors and Victorian homes magazine. We bought barn light fixtures from them for our garge and found they carried the bulbs too.
    Beverly laPorte

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