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Adding Wall Sconces

Wall sconces are ideal for hallways, stairways, and any room that needs indirect accent lighting. Installing a wall sconce is similar to adding a new light fixture. The only difference is location and the type of fixture box used. As with ceiling lights, you can control as many lights as you want with one switch, or control one or more of them from two different locations by using three-way switches. It’s ideal if you can secure the fixture box to a framing member as well as the drywall or plaster. Use one of the standard retrofit boxes.

1. Cut holes and run cable. NOTE: Shut off the power. Find a junction box or a receptacle with power you can use. Cut a vertical hole for the switch box and horizontal holes for the sconce boxes. Run cable from the power source to the switch and from the switch to the openings cut in the wall for the sconces.

2. Wire the sconces. Fasten cable to the boxes, allowing an extra 8 inches of cable to protrude at each box. Attach the boxes to the walls. Strip the sheathing and the wire insulation, and make the connections. Note that wires travel both into and out of the first sconce fixture box. Wire the switch.

The Uses of Sconce Lighting:

■ Wall sconces provide a splash of indirect light that creates the illusion that a room is larger than it is. For this reason, and because they are commonly placed slightly higher than eye level, keep the bulb wattage low.

■ In most cases wall sconces work best in conjunction with other lights rather than as the primary light source for a room. They work well for ambient light but are insufficient for specific tasks, such as reading.

■ Install sconces 72 to 78 inches high. Any lower and you will bump into them; any higher and they will seem designed to light the ceiling rather than the room.

■ Typically it makes the most sense to add wall sconces to one wall where accent or indirect lighting is called for. A few sconces go a long way, so keep them spaced more than 6 feet from each other.

3. Install the sconces. Tuck the wires into the box, screw a mounting strap to the box, and attach the sconce to the mounting strap. Secure the switch and its cover plate, and test.

Installing Under-Cabinet Lighting

A kitchen is a brighter, more r\ pleasant place to work when its countertops are illuminated by under-cabinet fixtures. Under-cabinet lighting provides a sparkling decorative effect and gives you excellent task lighting. A 120-volt system requires hours of fishing and installing fixture boxes in one of the most crowded and complicated areas of the house. An attractive alternative is the low-voltage system shown here. Low-voltage halogen lights operated with a remote-controlled, surface-mounted switch can be installed in a day and look as good as a more permanent system.

1. Install lights and transformer. Determine a location for each light fixture where it won’t shine in your eyes as you work. Halogen lights get hot; they can be safely attached to wooden cabinets but should be kept away from plastic and paper goods. Remove the trim ring and lens from each fixture base and attach them with screws to the underside of the cabinets. (Be sure the screws are the right length so they do not poke up into your cabinet.) Align fixtures so the bulbs aim in the same direction. Drill small holes to allow the wires to pass into your cabinet, and plug their ends into the power block located inside the cabinet. Coil excess wire inside the cabinet. Connect the power block to the transformer. Drill a hole and run a wire from the transformer to a 120-volt receptacle.

2. Assemble the lights. Once the fixture bases are installed, snap the lens cover onto the reflector ring. Some under-cabinet lighting kits come with a warning label to attach inside the cabinet door to caution users about the heat of the units.

3. Install the switch. The switch operates by battery power, so it can be installed anywhere in the kitchen and requires no wiring. Attach the switch housing by screwing it to the wall—use plastic anchors if you can’t find a stud. Screw the cover plate to the switch housing.

Fluorescent Under-Cabinet Lighting - The low-voltage halogen lighting shown here is a convenient improvement when cabinets are already installed. If you are in the process of installing cabinets, consider installing thin (1- to 1 1/2-inch thick) fluorescent lights under the cabinets. To install fluorescent lights, run standard electrical cable behind the walls. Run wires behind the cabinets if possible so you won’t have to patch the walls. Or use raceway wiring attached to the underside of the cabinets.

Installing Special Switches

One of the easiest ways to enhance your home’s electrical system is to install special switches. Wiring them is rarely much more difficult than installing a standard switch. Choose from a wide variety of options. The single-pole dimmer (shown at right), for instance, is touch-sensitive, like a modern elevator button. Touching its flush plate turns lights on and off. Holding a finger on it adjusts the light level. Even that minimal effort isn’t necessary with the motion-sensitive switch. It turns on a light fixture whenever someone enters a room then stays on for a prescribed amount of time.

Be aware that some switches have limitations. For example, an ordinary dimmer can only handle up to 600 watts, so it may not be able to operate a chandelier. For higher-wattage fixtures, buy special dimmers able to handle 800, 1,000, or 1,500 watts. If you have ground wires, they all should be connected together in the box, no matter what kind of switch you are installing. NOTE: Shut off the power before installing the switch.

Single-pole dimmer - Most dimmers have a set of leads, or short wires, instead of screw terminals. Hook up a single-pole dimmer as shown. Most dimmers are deeper than conventional switches, so you may have to rearrange wires in the box before you can fit one in. Don’t force dimmers, because they crack easily. If there are too many wires, order a thin-profile unit.

Pilot-light switch - This switch has a bulb that glows when its fixture is on. Connect the black feed wire to the brass terminal on the side that does not have a connecting tab. Pigtail two white wires, and connect them to the silver terminal. Connect the black wire that leads to the fixture to the terminal on the side with the connecting tab.

Three-way dimmer - Three-way dimmers have three hot leads. Before you remove the old switch, determine which is the common terminal—it will be printed on the switch body, and/or the screw will be darker-colored than the others. Hook the common wire to the new switch’s common lead, and connect the other wires.

Motion-sensor switch - An infrared beam detects movement and turns on a light fixture. A time-delay feature lets you choose how long the light remains on. Connect the neutral wires to each other, not to the switch. Connect the black feed wire to one lead. To the other lead, attach the black wire that runs to the fixture.

Time-delay switch - With this type of switch, you turn a spring-driven dial to set the switch so it will turn off a fixture after a delay ranging from 1 to 60 minutes. Connect the black leads to the black wires in the box, and connect the white wires together, not to the switch.

Double switch - This unit has two switches that fit into a single-switch space. Attach the feed wire to a terminal on the side with the connecting tab. (This tab enables the wire to supply power to both switches.) Connect the two wires that lead to the two fixtures to the terminals on the other side, and connect the white wires together, not to the switch.

Fluorescent dimmer - Fluorescent dimmer switches connect in the same way as incandescent dimmers, but you must equip each lamp with a special ballast. Remove the fixture. Mark the wires with pieces of tape so you’ll know where to refasten them. Remove the lamp holders and disconnect their wires by poking into the terminals with a nail or thin screwdriver. Remove the old ballast and install a new dimming ballast. Reconnect the lamp holders. Reinstall the fluorescent fixture. If more than one fluorescent light is connected to a dimmer switch, all the bulbs must be the same size and share the same ballast.

Cord dimmer - You can purchase in-line cord dimmers for lamps that do not have switches. Some, such as this one, automatically pierce the insulation when you put the unit together. Others require stripping the wires before assembling.

These switches not only give you greater control over your lighting but can save money as well. A dimmer switch enables you to operate a bulb at less than its full intensity so you save energy and prolong the life of the bulb. Time-delay and pilot-light switches keep you from burning lights unnecessarily. Programmable switches save money and provide security while you are on vacation. You can program them to turn lights on and off in a pattern that makes it appear you are at home.

Adding Surface-Mounted Wiring

If you do not want to cut into your walls, fish wires, and patch and paint afterward, consider surface-mounted wiring, often called “raceway” wiring. Surface-mounted components are available in metal or plastic and are comparatively easy to install. The system’s main drawback is the way it looks. But for informal settings—a basement or a work room, for instance—it is a convenient alternative. NOTE: Shut off the power before tying into existing receptacles.

Baseboard channel - Decorative and functional plastic baseboard channel can be added onto existing baseboard or even substituted for it. This type of channel is designed to simultaneously carry household wiring, coaxial cable, and telephone and computer lines. Extension boxes with receptacles, phone jacks, and coaxial hookups can be added along its length.

Plan the job. Check your local codes. They probably limit raceway wiring to dry locations where the walls are not subject to damage (as they are, for example, in a garage). Map where you want the pieces to go and measure carefully for all the runs. Take your plan to your electrical supplier and have a salesperson help you choose the parts you need.

How the pieces go together - A raceway system begins by tapping into an existing circuit at a receptacle by using a “starter box.” This extends the existing outlet so it can match up with the wall-mounted channel. Twist-away holes allow you to exit the box with raceway channel from any direction. Additional receptacles— as well as switches and light fixtures-—mount directly on the wall. Begin by selecting a receptacle on a circuit that has enough capacity for additional outlets.

1. Start at the box. NOTE: Shut off the power. Remove the receptacle and install the starter box, onto which the receptacle will be reinstalled as shown. Map out the system from this starting point.

2. Cut and assemble components. When you measure the channel sections for cutting, take into account every elbow, T, and other connector. Cut the channels with a hacksaw and a miter box. Use extension connectors to tie the ends of channels together, and T and elbow connectors at corners. Measure carefully from the floor and use a level to make sure the receptacles are at the same height.

3. Attach components securely. The channels will be bumped by furniture and normal household traffic, so take care to attach them securely. Attach channel back by locating studs and drilling screws into them where possible. Use plastic anchors for places where you can’t reach studs.

4. Run the wires. Run the wiring and hold it in place every foot or so with specially designed clips. Be sure to leave 6-8 inches of wire at each outlet so you will have room to strip and make connections.

5. Make the connections. Connect all fixtures and receptacles. Connect to the existing receptacle, turn the power back on, and test the new fixtures and receptacles. Install the snap-on covers for the channels, fittings, and boxes.

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