Wednesday, December 01, 2004


This past weekend, Mike and I attempted our greatest home improvement feat yet: we replaced the dining room light fixture. When we moved in, the room had a very standard, 5-bulb, frosted-shade, brass-armed fixture. It was much too vanilla for my tastes. During my mother’s and my shopping extravaganza in October, we found a gorgeous chandelier at Kirkland’s. However, in the crush to move everything else in and get unpacked, it remained boxed up and obstructed dining room traffic for over a month.

By the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I felt like we had made enough progress on other projects that we could finally install the fixture. I have never worked with electricity, but Mike, with all his bragging about his college electrical engineering course, was confident that he could handle the wires.

Taking down the old fixture was easy. The medallion was screwed to the outlet box and the weight of the fixture was held by a center screw. Mike pulled the wire nuts off and disconnected the wires. After a quick trip to Home Depot for electrical tape and light bulbs, we were ready to rock and roll the installation. However, we were soon stymied when our chandelier parts and our outlet box parts did not match up.

According to Handy Ma’am, there are two ways to attach a fixture to an outlet box: via a mounting strap or a center-threaded stud. A mounting strap is affixed to the outlet box by two screws on its perimeter. Our fixture came with a mounting strap, but the strap was too long and its screw holes did not line up with the screws on the outlet box. Our outlet box is also fitted with a center-threaded stud, which looks like a big fat screw coming out of the ceiling. I was determined to get the chandelier up, so I started taking things apart in an effort to use the stud, discarding the mounting strap. It looked possible, but I had two problems. First, the stud screw threads and the fixture collar threads were different sizes. Second, both screw ends were male. I needed a female part that would accommodate a different size screw on either end. I was confident that this was a common problem and that Home Depot would have my answer.

In the past, I have been rather disappointed by our local Home Depot. Call me an ageist if you will, but I don’t feel confident about a home improvement store that always seems to be staffed by teenagers. The consultation desks are manned by apparently 15-year-old girls. How can they help me with my flooring or cabinetry needs? The boys are no better – they hide out in the cleaning section, joking and roughhousing. However, Saturday seemed to be my lucky day because the store was staffed with all sorts of crotchety old men. I was sure that one could help me.

I was directed to a centenarian in the lighting department. I explained my problem and held up the two males that I needed to join. After scratching his head, he said that it sounded like something I would have to custom order. Disappointed, I left him and began to scour the electrical section. On an end cap, facing the back wall, I found a Screw Collar Loop Kit. A variety of parts were jumbled inside the plastic bubble – including a mounting strap, a collar, a nipple, a hickey, and locknuts. Confused, I read the following revelation on the back: “For older installations with 3/8-IP (5/8 OD x 1/2 ID) nipple at the ceiling box, screw the 5/8” ID locknut on this nipple. Then tighten the hickey on this existing nipple against the locknut.” Most of this was unintelligible to me, but I was encouraged by the phrase “for older installations” and decided to buy the package and give it a shot.

I think I impressed Mike when I pulled out the hickey and locknuts and, lo and behold, I was able to join the stud and collar! We evidently had an “older installation.” Perhaps we were supposed to involve the packaged nipple in the connection, but I think our fixture collar has an attached nipple.

With the chandelier now suspended from the ceiling, Mike easily joined the fixture and ceiling wires. I was dispatched to the basement to flip the breaker switch. As soon as I turned the electricity on, Mike shouted “Turn it off! Turn it off!” in a panicked voice. Sure that a fire had erupted, I ran upstairs, expecting to see smoking wires and a scorched ceiling. It turns out, that his “panic” was just a joke that he repeated every time I turned on the breaker. We had to separate and rejoin the wires twice more as we figured out how the wires were supposed to snake through the collar so that the medallion (which covers the ugly outlet box) was flush against the ceiling.

In conclusion:
1. We now have an elegant centerpiece in our dining room
2. Electricians must be a perverted bunch. (Who names a part “hickey” or “nipple”?)
3. The old people don’t seem to be anymore helpful than the young people at Home Depot
4. Mike can correctly join wires. (He still won’t tell me how he knew which wires to join. It is all a grand mystery.)

We are all set for our housewarming on Saturday!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to sound like a broken record or anything but...Home Depot....LAMMMME. The only thing they are really good for is being open at all hours....other than this you better know what you are doing there, cuz nobody else does!

3:31 PM  

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