Thursday, April 7, 2016

Converting Can Lights to Layout Lighting - Outlet Prep

I always used to roll my eyes when I heard "older" folks talking about how their sight would get worse with age. I've worn glasses & contact lenses since I was 5 yrs old, but it's only been within the last few years that I've discovered I actually need reading glasses in addition to my contacts.

I guess I'm one of those "older" folks now.

And along with this I've also discovered that the more light I have, the easier it is for me to see (well, duh) - and that's especially true with the layout.

Soooo.... I decided I needed Much More Light over my recently-expanded layout. Here's where I started out:

Actually not too bad, all things considered. These are fairly bright (150 watt?) indoor floodlights mounted in recessed cans in the ceiling - thus:

There were 7 of them in the room I expanded into and while the light was certainly adequate, it was spotty and I wanted to do what I'd done in the rest of the layout - have florescent tubes evenly - and brightly - lighting the railroad.

At first I'd considered just replacing the bulbs with those funky outlets-that-screw-into-light-fixtures. But even I - as a non-electrician - decided that was a bit too risky. So Pete and I came up with another solution: converting the cans themselves to outlets that I could plug the florescent tubes into. BONUS: the outlets, being in the ceiling, would keep all those cords well out of the way. I figured it was the next best thing to having custom-built the space with a ceiling outlet circuit installed.

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Now, before I go any further, I want to issue the following warning/caveat/statement:

While I have a rudimentary understanding of typical household wiring, I am not, nor have I ever, been an electrician or claimed to be an electrician. What follows is merely how I - as a NON-electrician - went about converting my can lights into outlets to use for model railroad lighting. 

Ok, now that that's out of the way... Before I even started, I knew the first thing I needed to do was to figure out whether my existing circuit could handle the load of all these lights. Here's how I went about it:

I determined I'd need 30(!) shop lights, each with two 32 watt T8 florescent bulbs. I next found the circuit breaker in my breaker box that controlled the existing lighting. Thankfully, it's a 20 watt breaker (most household breakers are only 15w) - likely installed to accommodate the high-wattage floodlights. I calculated the load of my new lighting this way:

30 fixtures, times 65 watts (2x32w plus some fudge factor) totalled 1,950 watts. I then divided that number by 120 (volts) and came up with 16.25 watts - well within the limit of my 20 watt breaker.

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Once I knew I could accommodate my lighting, I next needed to make up the outlets. Here's some supplies I needed (since I have a drywall ceiling):

I used these both to provide something for my new outlet panels to screw into, AND to mount the lights.

Hooks to screw into the anchors to hang my lights. #10 size matched the screws that came with the anchors.

Outlets, of course. And outlet boxes (not shown here, but you'll see them later)
 I tasked poor Pete with the job of making up the outlets (he'd done it before and I trust his work) while I made up the new mounting plates from scrap masonite (former fascia material) . . .

My masonite panels are 8x8". I placed the outlet box face down in the center of the panel and traced it.

Drilled out the corners to accommodate my saber saw. . .

and cut out the hole. This panel is for a single outlet.
 Once I'd made up a bunch of mounting panels and Pete had gotten some outlets wire up, it was time to put the two together:

Double outlet, mounted
A bunch of mounting panel/outlet assemblies ready to go!
We had a bunch to do, but the work progressed steadily. By the end of the afternoon, I had enough ready to install. Next time, I'll show you how I did the actual can-light-to-outlet conversion.

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