How Many Geeks Does it Take to Buy a Recessed Light Fixture?

The answer, alas, is "div/0 error."

On Saturday we had a houseguest and he offered to help with some work on the house, so my great idea was that we would go to Universal Electric Supply Co. in San Francisco and pick up a second recessed fixture for the upstairs bathroom, then we could frame up the ceiling there. A fairly simple process, right? We grabbed the baffle from the light we have and headed into town with our houseguest in tow.


We spent an hour trying to buy a simple light fixture. They had a baffle that resembled the one we have, but it was for halogen lamps only. (I will note that the lamp, contrary to everything you've ever learned as a normal adult, is actually the thing most people call the bulb. The thing everybody calls a lamp is actually called a fixture. They do this to make architecture students cry in third-year professional practise class.) The one they had for fluorescent lamps didn't match very well. And the guy who was helping us gave us the wrong shape of lamp and a baffle that didn't look right and insisted they were what we were asking for. It probably didn't help that he only spoke a tiny bit of English and kept trying to talk to us in Cantonese as if that would help.

So we decided to wait in line (20 minutes) to talk to a guy who spoke more English. I think it's terrific to live in a place where you can actually run a business where almost nobody speaks enough English to sell a lady a light fixture, but I also really wanted to buy a light fixture.

The line

Then the guy at the counter insisted that the kind of lamp I wanted didn't exist, and got so hung up on that that he was unable to help us get the other things we needed. We finally told him we would get the part numbers for the piece we already had and come back, and high-tailed it out of there, defeated. We've learned a valuable lesson: come in with exact part numbers and you can get almost anything, but Universal Electric doesn't carry PAR30 fluorescent with a gx24 pin connector.

The imaginary lightbulb

And here we have the offending/imaginary lamp. Those pins on the bottom mean that this lamp needs a special fixture that can only take fluorescent bulbs, which is critical to meeting California's Title 24 energy code. The idea being that this is not a fixture where you can have compact fluorescents installed for the inspection and just change them out for incandescents after the inspection. Oddly enough, the inspectors are on to that trick.

(To be fair, we are actually not required to meet Title 24 because of the age of our house, but we are using these fixtures to save energy and also because we really should have to meet the energy code and it's crazy to spend all this time and energy on a room and make it so it wastes even more money over time.)

Looking inside the imaginary bulb

This is, to give the Universal guys a break, not a normal bulb. It's mostly used in ventilation fixtures so you can have a fan that vents around the bulb without having an ugly exposed compact fluorescent. Broan sells them for $20 each, but I found other suppliers who have them at a more reasonable price. Still high enough that I'm glad they're going into all-new wiring and will not be burnt out by hidden wiring problems.

This afternoon I did some looking around on the web and added up the prices of the parts, and it turned out that just ordering another fan fixture was cheaper than buying all the pieces of a second recessed figure separately. So I did that. Maybe I should have done that to begin with.

posted by ayse on 11/19/12