history ideas pragmatic historian preservation

Preservation Idea for Vintage Light Fixtures & Lamps

Hubby and I are having a couple of rooms in our house rewired, the back porch, which we are making all-season, and an upstairs bedroom that has no outlets. (The house was built in 1894 and when we moved in, there were only 2 outlets in the entire upstairs.)

We had an electrician over last week to explain the project to him and get a price on it.

As we were talking over our plans to light the bedroom, Hubby suggested using a vintage ceiling light fixture. The electrician was not receptive to the idea. He said that old light fixtures are not generally UL-approved. If they are rewired and the person who did the rewiring doesn’t know what they are doing, the fixture could cause a fire.

Yeah, no. That would not be good.

However, because of the embodied energy in old light fixtures and lamps, they should not be pitched in the trash. What a waste of resources, not to mention the great styles found in lighting from the past.

How to overcome this problem? Trained electricians are probably too busy to fuss around with rewiring old lighting, but people who love to collect vintage lamps and light fixtures (ahem, Hubby) are willing to fiddle around with them to fix them up for reuse.

What if there were a short training course that provided certification for people to rewire old lights and allowed them to be UL-approved?

“UL” stands for Underwriters Laboratories, a title the company no longer uses, and UL works to ensure the safety of products using science.

It appears that UL provides certification for personnel in specific industries (including lightning protection and explosive atmospheres – they’re not messing around!), but they don’t seem to have training for rewiring old light fixtures.

I wonder if Rethos: Places Reimagined, which offers classes in preservation techniques for old buildings, could find a way to work with UL to create a certification course for this.

Full disclosure, my organization, the Morrison County Historical Society, serves as the Central Minnesota Education Coordinator for Rethos and I’ve helped with some of their classes, so whenever I come up with an idea that fits the preservation trades, I think of Rethos first.

If we could get people certified to properly rewire old lighting, we would not only keep light fixtures out of landfills by continuing to use them, we’d also end up with a new cottage industry that would help employ people.

That’s the idea I’ve been noodling around for the past week.

Thoughtful comments welcome.