High lights and design

Recently while driving down the highway I noticed a crew changing lightbulbs on a street lamp. This particular street lamp was one of those extra-high poles with the circle of lights around the top that you see only on highways and some industrial or sports complexes. I had occasionally wondered why the transition was made to those poles that were double or triple the hight of standard street lamps. My assumption was that being higher they provided a larger spread of light, and they could be placed in the median so they could provide light to both sides of the highway. However, as I knew street lamps had their lights changed by crews with cherry-pickers, I wondered how these high poles whose heights were clearly beyond the reach of a normal cherry-picker had their lightbulbs changed. The answer to that question was now answered, but more on that in a moment.

Seeing this crew change the lightbulbs reminded me of two homes with the same issue. Both homes had living rooms with high ceilings, which were very nice, but had the same practical issue – changing the light bulbs was difficult.

In the first home, the lightbulbs were standard Edison-screw bulbs, in spotlight style with flat tops. In order to change them, you pulled out a telescoping pole with a suction cup on the end. You extended the pole and attached the suction cup to the bulb. You then rotated the pole until the bulb came out of the receptacle, and lowered the pole to remove the lightbulb. Then you did the reverse, attaching the new bulb to the suction cup, lifting the pole and inserting the lightbulb into the receptacle, and rotating the pole until it screwed in all the way. The process was a bit tricky, but not impossible.

In the second home, which I was involved in renovating, there was a row of lights at the highest point. These light fixtures were embedded into a design element built out of plasterboard. Remembering the first home, I asked the architect how you changed the lightbulbs which were clearly out of reach, even with a ladder. He explained to me that each bulb was held in by a frame that needed a screwdriver to remove, and that the only practical way to change the lightbulbs was to bring in scaffolding and stand up there with a screwdriver to take out the frame, then replace the lightbulb, then add back the frame. You’d then need to move the scaffolding a few times to reach all the lightbulbs.

Form over function? I was in shock. While design is important, how could one install lighting into a home that no homeowner could change on their own? The architect was perhaps a bit arrogant, wanting his design to be perfect and not taking into consideration such practical matters. What happened next truly threw me for a loop. After I had discussed the issue of replacing the bulbs, the design element that the lights were embedded into had to be changed. While the architect clearly was not going to change the lights after they were installed the first time, when the whole area had to be redesigned and reinstalled (I forget the reason, but I seem to recall it having to do with the air conditioning) I thought for sure he would change them to something more practical. Nope, same crazy lights.

So with all that in mind it’s not hard to figure out why this crew changing lightbulbs on the highway reminded me of these two homes.

So how do these road crews change the lightbulbs on a pole so high no cherry-picker can reach it? The crew lowered the lights down from the top on a series of cables. Presumably they simply opened a panel at the bottom of the pole and pressed a button, lowering the lights using a motor built into the pole. When they’re done changing the lightbulbs, they just press a button again and the lights head back up to the top of the pole. Brilliant. Not practical for a home lighting installation, but perfect for highway lighting.

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