How many dorks does it take to change a lightbulb?
February 16, 2007 7:03 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I have the dumbest homeowning question ever: we can't figure out how to change a light bulb.

Specifically, we can't figure out how to get the glass off of the light fixture in our kitchen to get to the bulbs. We just bought the house a few months ago, so this is our first time dealing with it.

I've looked for set-screws on the metal base; there aren't any. I've tried twisting the glass part in the hopes of unscrewing it; it doesn't move much, and when it does, the metal base moves with it. I've tried pulling down to see if there's a clip mechanism; if there is, it takes more force than I'm comfortable exerting without knowing for sure that I'm not going to rip the thing out of the ceiling.

I've taken a few pictures of the thing (including an attempted close-up of a little slot that seems like it might be part of a removal mechanism, though I can't figure out how); I'm hoping that someone here either has the same fixture (the kitchen was redone in the past few years, and I believe most of the material came from Home Depot, if that helps identify the fixture) or at least has some suggestions on how I can work the goddamned thign off. Cooking in the dark is no good.
posted by COBRA! to Home & Garden (42 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mom has a fixture like that in the bathroom of her rented townhouse. It took her a very long time to figure out how to change the bulb. Eventually I played around with it and found that the glass dome thingy is fitted onto the base through a notch/grove type mechanism. Pressing up on the glass lightly while twisting the pulling down released it. As usual, YMMV
posted by necessitas at 7:09 AM on February 16, 2007


I'm almost certain it's a "twist to remove" that is a little snugger than it should be and it's causing the base to move as well.

Chances are the base is attached with two long screws. If you place your hand on the the bottom of the glass shade and press upward while twisting (maintaining equal pressure) you should be able to pressure it enough to twist off. The base may turn with you, but if you're maintaining pressure it'll still be flsuh against the ceiling and have the screws engaged to allow you to get the shade off. Once the shade is loose you'll need both hands - one to catch the shade and the other to hold the fixture up. Hand the shade off to your wife while you re-attach the fixture and change the bulb.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:10 AM on February 16, 2007


I'm with necessitas. Try pushing up on the glass and turning.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:12 AM on February 16, 2007


We have a couple that are similar, but not identical. They also have a notch in them. You turn ours slightly until you find the notch, then you push up into the notch & pull down. I hate them, by the way, and will be replacing them.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:13 AM on February 16, 2007


In the pics fixture3 and fixture there is a little notch looking thing. If there are two of those opposite from each other, then you might try squeezing on either side in between those notches and see if that releases the shade (if the notches are at 12:00 and 6:00, then squeeze at 3:00 and 9:00).
posted by sulaine at 7:14 AM on February 16, 2007


I think this is one where the glass rotates. I hate those fixtures. Sometimes the glass sticks so hard to the base that it breaks before it rotates. If it is that kind and you do get it to rotate, put a little candle wax on the part of the glass that touches the base to help it turn more easily in the future.
posted by caddis at 7:15 AM on February 16, 2007


I'm with necessitas. Try pushing up on the glass and turning.

I tried that last night, with no luck. There wasn't any room for the glass to move upwards... It's possible that I wasn't pushing up hard enough, or that it's stuck or something.

I should mention, too, that when we try any type of twist, the base and glass now have a wiggle range of maybe 5 degrees.
posted by COBRA! at 7:18 AM on February 16, 2007


In the pics fixture3 and fixture there is a little notch looking thing. If there are two of those opposite from each other, then you might try squeezing on either side in between those notches and see if that releases the shade (if the notches are at 12:00 and 6:00, then squeeze at 3:00 and 9:00).

Yeah, there are 3 notches, spaced evenly around. What looks like an upper rim of the glass part is visible in them.

At least I thought there were 3... now I want to drive home and see if there are only 2.
posted by COBRA! at 7:20 AM on February 16, 2007


It is pretty common in ceiling fans to have the rim of one part with these notches that have to be elongated from opposite sides to get it off. When I was installing one recently, I reflected on how pissed and frustrated I would be, if I was trying to remove that piece and I hadn't read and didn't have the instructions on how to do it.
posted by sulaine at 7:23 AM on February 16, 2007


You should post this to the 'I need examples of bad design' post that was on MeFi yesterday. Jeez.

Three indentations are the key. It's almost certainly a twist trick of some sort. Don't be too timid. At either end of the available motion pull down and observe what is happening to the metal part for clues. (Wear gloves and safety glasses in case you break it with your energetic tugging.)

Rest assured, if you break it, it's easy to get advice on how to install a new lamp than it is to mindread the designers.
posted by FauxScot at 7:30 AM on February 16, 2007


Certainly someone smarter than I am will explain why this wouldn't be a factor, but is it possible the connection gets tighter when the lamp is on and hot? Maybe it will be easier once the lamp has been off for a while.
posted by bondcliff at 7:51 AM on February 16, 2007


Last night we tried it when it'd been off for hours, with no effect.
posted by COBRA! at 7:52 AM on February 16, 2007


I have this problem also. I am reading with great attention. It's been 3 years since one fixture has had it's bulb burnt out.
posted by Danf at 7:54 AM on February 16, 2007


If none of the other suggestions work for you, grab those gloves, safety goggles, and a big trash can and smash away. Try not to break the actual light bulb doing this. Then you may use the fixture sans cover or replace at your option.

After this all the other light fixtures in your house should fall in line and obey your every whim.
posted by yohko at 8:00 AM on February 16, 2007


Call me funny, but I think you should do this - tape or have an assistant hold a heavy duty trash bag to the base of the fixture then hit the cover hard on the side with a hammer. Then replace the whole fixture with something much more sane that can be accessed without fear of hurting yourself.

It takes all of 10 minutes to replace a typical fixture.
posted by plinth at 8:11 AM on February 16, 2007


Dunno if this is the same fitting but another mefi-ite had a similar query and got it answered here.

The pics he posted are gone, but if my memory is right it was the same type of fitting
posted by MarvinJ at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2007


Check eBay to see whether anyone else is selling one like it, and ask the seller. Also check to see whether they sell well, and sell it as soon as you get it off, if so =P
posted by vanoakenfold at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2007


On posting, yeah, what yohko said.

Also, if you really want to try to save it, you can probably keep the base from turning by having an assistant push a screwdriver into that notch.

But I say kill that thing. Smash its mushroomy head in.
posted by plinth at 8:14 AM on February 16, 2007


If all else fails, you might consider driving to the nearest Home Depot or Lowes or whatever, and looking at fixtures there, to see if you can find the same mechanism.

I'm almost certain that it's a stuck rotating release.
posted by fake at 8:15 AM on February 16, 2007


Might be an answer in here.
posted by Otis at 8:19 AM on February 16, 2007


Have you considered calling the previous owner to ask them? When we purchased our first house, we had some questions like this and called. They were great about not laughing and explaining that the swich had to be turned to the on position for it to work.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:28 AM on February 16, 2007


Have you considered calling the previous owner to ask them? When we purchased our first house, we had some questions like this and called. They were great about not laughing and explaining that the swich had to be turned to the on position for it to work.

How'd you get their contact information? Through the realtor?
posted by COBRA! at 8:46 AM on February 16, 2007


I'm completely useless here, but just wanted to say that you have a beautiful dog! Good luck with the fixture...
posted by metasav at 9:05 AM on February 16, 2007


It looks similar to a light I had in my old apartment. It took a few tries, since I was nervous about breaking it, but it turned out I just had to pull (much) harder than I expected. It had little metal tabs that held it in place. Once I had it off, it took a lot more force than expected to get it back on, as well.

With the idea of rotating it to get it off -- I thought this was the solution to a light in a friend's apartment; I ended up pulling the whole fixture out of the ceiling. (It was not put together correctly or securely at all...)
posted by inigo2 at 9:07 AM on February 16, 2007


I'm completely useless here, but just wanted to say that you have a beautiful dog! Good luck with the fixture...

Thanks! She's great, although she still goes from 0 to over-revved-up a little more easily than I'd like...

posted by COBRA! at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2007


I have a few of these in my house. The glass just unscrews (maybe with slight upward pressure).

The first time I tried to change the bulb in one of these I gave up. I just couldn't get it to turn. Then I had to change a bulb in another one, and it unscrewed much more easily. I guess it wasn't screwed in as tightly as the first one I tried. With that success under my belt --- and therefore with less fear of shattering the glass --- I returned to the first one and successfully unscrewed it.
posted by alms at 9:29 AM on February 16, 2007


I'm pretty sure the glass is twisted/screwed into the metal base. You need to get the glass and the base to rotate independently. This can be hard, because the metal base is sometimes attached to the ceiling using a centre pin.. Perhaps you could fashion some kind of wrench, in the spirit of an oil filter wrench, that would keep the metal from moving while you unscrew the glass..
posted by Chuckles at 9:32 AM on February 16, 2007


I had to figure out something like this once -- the fixture had no visible clues as to how to remove it and it stayed in place when twisted.

The answer was pulling straight down. It was held in place by a simple friction device -- pulling down squeezed the metal arc springs past the barriers and the whole thing came off with a disconcerting clank.

Try pulling down with a little force to see if it might just slide off like this.
posted by o2b at 9:34 AM on February 16, 2007


Have you tried gently pulling DOWN on the globe? I have a vague recollection of dealing with a shade/globe that is on a sort of spring hinge that pulls it upward, so that when you pull down on it, it stays attached by one side to a metal clip or hinged ring of some sort. the notches/divets in the sides of the base may be where this hinge/wire mechanism is attached.

good luck!
posted by kuppajava at 9:36 AM on February 16, 2007


I'm with plinth. Tape it/cover it with an old towel/have a friend/spouse hold that bag under it, smack the bastard with a hammer and replace it with something you found at your local mom-and-pop hardware store that makes you love the room way more than before. As you're cleaning up the mess, you'll also discover how to take off the cover for the next poor MeFite in this situation.
posted by nevercalm at 9:58 AM on February 16, 2007


Try pulling down - it might be one of those pesky snap-lock mechanisms.

And be sure to let us know how many MeFites it takes to change a lightbulb! =)
posted by Xere at 10:41 AM on February 16, 2007


IAAME*

I think you're looking at the "slot" backwards. It's not a slot at all; it's a tab that sticks out toward the middle of the fixture. How many of those tabs are there? I'm guessing there are three or more, and they hold it up the same way set screws hold up globes on older fixtures. So the way to release the globe is either:

1. Twist it until the globe releases. You said when you twist it, the base turns with it. If you can get it to twist, you can probably find either a slot that will allow it to drop (a bayonnette-type mount), or it will eventually unscrew. OR:

2. Push it away from the tab to allow enough clearance to let the globe clear the tab and drop down.

I'll look around the web a bit to see if I can find who makes or sells the fixture to see if one or the other of those ideas is correct.

(*I am a mechanical engineer.)
posted by Doohickie at 1:02 PM on February 16, 2007


Oops... read the other posts now... those three tabs almost certainly retain the globe.
posted by Doohickie at 1:04 PM on February 16, 2007


Update after going home for lunch and tussling with it a bit more:

- there are indeed three slots/tabs, and I'm pretty much convinced that they're holding up the glass.

- the glass still won't twist separately from the base, even with pressure up or down. In fact, I'm now convinced that the base has worked a bit free from the ceiling because of my twisting.

- emails have been dispatched to realtors in an attempt to track down the previous owners so that I can ask them about it. And the realtors in question were honest enough to admit that they were laughing at me.

Thanks for everything so far. I'm really, really hoping to work this out this weekend, when I get more time to mess with it.
posted by COBRA! at 1:33 PM on February 16, 2007


For what it's worth, I have a similar problem with my bathroom light fixture. The light went out two and a half years ago, and I haven't been able to replace it. Now I just have a lamp. You also may have to get used to the idea of having a lamp -- this is your life now.
posted by teem at 3:57 PM on February 16, 2007


One more thing to try, hit the metal base with a hot blast from a hair dryer. It will expand more rapidly and to a larger extent than the glass. It just might allow rotation if that is how the glass is removed. You might also try WD-40, but that could make a horrible mess, stain your ceiling, drip on your floor and wreak other assorted havoc.
posted by caddis at 4:06 PM on February 16, 2007


I have that light!
You have to pull straight down, it will pop out. It's held to an inner rim by metal clamps.
posted by bkiddo at 4:48 PM on February 16, 2007


Arrgh - we have a twister like this on our ceiling fan in the kitchen. (If it does twist like ours, and isn't a pull down) use a pair of rubber gloves - when that doesn't work, take a long strip of duct tape, wrap it partially around glass in an arc near the edge, and leave a long strip loose so you can use it like a handle - I've broken 2 of the covers so far when they finally fly off and hurtle across the kitchen. Grrr.....
posted by jalexei at 7:05 PM on February 16, 2007


Don't feel bad. This question is classic, and I believe a question just like it inspired ask.me.
posted by theora55 at 10:10 AM on February 17, 2007


I had exactly this problem. Wound up breaking the glass trying to pop it out just to find out I should have kept trying with the unscrewing.
posted by shanevsevil at 3:37 PM on February 17, 2007


At 5:38 on Sunday afternoon, the heavens opened and a beam of fortune shone down upon South Minneapolis. A lone warrior, weary from a weekend of wrestling with an intractible light fixture, decided to give it one more try before he and his wife broke the motherfucker off out of spite. He curled his right hand in space just to confirm, via right-hand rule, that the sundry twist attempts (some with slight upwards or downwards pressure, most purely x/y-plane, all unsuccessful) had been in the proper direction. And they had. So, not, expecting anything, our gladiator heaved counterclockwise. And lo! With a crack like that of a sniper rifle (say, an AR-15 with a night-vision scope?), the surly bond that had formed between fixture-glass and metal base was released, and the glass revolved, revealing three sockets for sixty-watt incandescant bulbs!

Our hero replaced the bulbs and then the glass. More satisfied with himself than he'd been for years, he kissed each bicep, and then his wife. And all was right in the land.

Thanks, everybody.

Don't feel bad. This question is classic, and I believe a question just like it inspired ask.me.

holy god, I've got that same light fixture in our dining room, and it was also a total bastard to figure out.

posted by COBRA! at 7:30 AM on February 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


Congrats!!!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:22 PM on February 19, 2007


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