I often get called out to slap up new ceiling lights customers have purchased from the likes of Homebase, John Lewis and Argos, but simply hanging a new light is often not as easy as you might think...


It used to be the case that everyone had plain white plastic ceiling pendants, and to introduce a bit of colour or style into a room just meant dangling your lampshade of choice from such, but these days there are all sorts of pretty looking light fittings which are designed to be fitted in place of a pendant or rose. The trouble is, they’re often designed by people who don’t have to install them and can be woefully inadequate for the wiring you’re actually likely to encounter protruding from your ceiling. Many a time I’ve come across DIY dad who, having been lumbered with the task of putting up the blingy new light, has climbed the step ladder, unscrewed the existing rose and found to his dismay that there are many more wires than he expected lurking within...

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At this point anyone not familiar with what they’re looking at should climb back down the ladder, put it away, fetch a cold one from the fridge and give someone like me a call, but sometimes perseverance sees through, sadly often unsuccessfully, with an end result that flicking the switch makes a loud bang in the fuse box, or suddenly other lights on the same floor are found to no longer be working.


This is all because in most UK houses you’ll find the lighting is wired in a method called Three Plate, also known as Loop in/Loop out. Instead of there just being a simple line, neutral and earth in the rose, there will be a L-N-E feed (loop) in, a feed (loop) out to the next light in the chain, and a cable going off to the switch for a line out and switched line return. Just to add to the confusion, on pre 2005 houses the neutrals will be black but the switched line may also be black and the line wiring will be red.... but the switched line may also be red. If modified or installed since 2005, you’ll see brown and blue instead of red and black, but again the switched line may be coloured either blue or brown depending on what mood the installer was in on the day and whether they bothered to use any colour coded sleeving to correctly identify the function of each conductor.

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What all this means is that not only will there be more wires than expected, but the same colours may be serving different functions so if you don’t take note of what went where then you may find your new light won’t turn off, the breaker/fuse pops when you switch it on, it doesn’t operate at all or the lights in other rooms on the same circuit no longer function.


If replacing lighting in a cloakroom or bathroom, then there may be even more wires in there to service a fan. In that case you may see another cable which has three cores plus an earth, and these cores may be coloured red, yellow and blue (pre 2005), or brown, black and grey (post 2005). The red or brown would likely be a permanent line conductor while one of the others will be switched line and the final conductor will be neutral. Although there are preferred combinations, which is what actually depends on the installer, and careful note needs to be taken if they haven’t used colour coded sleeving to identify the function of each conductor.


But the manufacturers of stylish light fittings usually don’t care too much, so what we end up with is something ridiculous like this:

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Note the teeny tiny rose portion on this Homebase light fitting which is demonstrably not fit for purpose as a like-for-like replacement where three plate wiring is in use, i.e. in pretty much any home in the UK. Already there’s very little room in there what with the lamp wiring, bracket and crappy connector block, and this luminaire has been designed just for a single cable to enter it leaving no room to accommodate all the wires that actually spew out from the ceiling.


In the pictured example we’re in a bathroom so we have four cables, loop in, loop out, switch drop and the supply for a timed bathroom fan. We also have a mixture of wiring colours with older red/black and newer brown/blue cores, although at least the installer has used brown and blue sleeving to aid with identification. The CPC’s (earths) are not sleeved in this picture and need to be, it’s just that earth sleeving has a habit of falling off when you’re at the top of a ladder!


Any botched attempt to get all this wiring to fit into that stupid little enclosure will be impossible to achieve professionally, and may result in poor connections or nuisance tripping. The only fix for this mess is to pull all the wires back into the attic, properly junction them using a nice maintenance-free (e.g. Wago) solution, then drop down the single cable that this fitting needs.


While that sounds like it shouldn’t be too taxing for a professional, it can take a long time to do properly, especially if access in the attic is poor or if it is boarded. If you have several lights and you're being charged by the hour instead of a fixed rate then the time can clock up. If this kind of situation is on the ground floor and there is no attic access above then you may be scuppered as proper junctioning may require a larger hole in the ceiling just to get the junction enclosure stuffed up there, but that silly little rose base won’t cover the damage to the plasterboard so you're stuck with a filler repair/repainting job.


If you have a concrete ceiling as in some flats then forget it, there’s nowhere to lose the wires. You’ll simply *have* to purchase a luminaire that can accommodate all the wires and junctioning.


While we're at it, let's name and shame John Lewis after we came across two examples of their lighting wares which we had the misfortune to be asked to install this week...

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This annoys the hell out of me; we have a metal light fitting here, but rather than admit to it being a Class I luminaire which requires an earth, they pretend it's Class II by installing the world's smallest connector block encased in plastic. The only cable this crappy connector can take is a two-core flex. So what on earth is the installer to do with all the single insulated wires coming out of the ceiling? A bad installer or DIYer will leave them in the rose portion of the fitting which means it is no longer double-insulated, and if the metalwork goes live there is no earth return path for safety. A good installer will be forced to either double-insulate all the cores if there's room to safely accommodate them, or junction all wiring externally and to ensure only a two-core flex with two layers of insulation enters the rose. It's massively time consuming to install safely and properly, and the customer doesn't expect it to be so labour intensive, and therefore expensive, because they figure it'll just be 'one-off, one-on'.

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Above, another Class I John Lewis luminaire pretending to be Class II. If it's metal, don't pretend it doesn't need an earth! Presumably John Lewis do this so their blingy fittings can be installed in older homes where lighting circuits lacked earth wiring, but in reality thousands of these metal fittings end up improperly installed every year leaving a shock risk to anyone touching it to change a light bulb.

NotAmused


Also, what the hell is with this John Lewis abomination? Young Dior here is having to thread all of these silly plastic 'crystal effect' things around the light because it doesn't come pre-assembled. No wonder he looks so blimmin' miserable! Not only is this incredibly time consuming, but as it turned out some parts were missing in the box so now the customer is having to get extra bits sent out and we have to go back to complete the installation.


John Lewis charge a premium price for these luminaires, yet they come with halogen rather than LED lamps (very last century), require labour intensive electrical installation and significant on-site assembly.


If you’re looking at fancy new lights that have been built to look good while lacking in installation practicality, then be prepared to have to hire in a professional to install them. Also be prepared to have to pay for a job that may take much longer than you imagine, because any professional sparkie worth his salt is going to have to perform some junctioning wizardry if those lights are going to work safely and properly in the long term.


And no, using screw blocks, wrapping them in tape and poking them into the ceiling hole is not an option. If you’ve hired a professional and you catch them doing that, ask them to pack up their tools and leave!