Please help me come up with a creative lighting solution
October 31, 2007 5:41 PM   Subscribe

I live in university apartment housing with no overhead lighting in my bedroom. When I am in bed trying to study, I sometimes have difficulty reading what I am supposed to be studying due to a lack of light in the room. I wear glasses but not for reading but either way, with or without my glasses, my eyes ache while trying to read. What I think I need is more light coming from behind me instead of from the front of me, where the only light is currently coming from via my desk lamp, whose head I have angled upward and towards the wall so the light hits the wall and diffuses throughout the room to illuminate it as brightly as one 60 Watt bulb can.

The layout of the room:
If you are standing in the doorway to the room, in front of you in a large window with blinds. To the right, is my area with my desk, then my twin extra long bed taking up the rest of the right wall. Under the window are eight dresser drawers, four side by side about to my waist high (I am 5'7" with longer legs). To the left of the door, there is another bed and then another desk. This was supposed to be my roommate's space but no one moved in this semester. I have no idea if someone will move into the room next semester since the housing is for upperclassmen/graduate students/law students and I pay by the semester.

My 13 inch television takes up most of the desk and the chair is not that comfortable for studying for long periods so I generally sit curled up on the bed with my back on the side wall, or I am leaning against the back wall next to the window. There is no headboard to the bed.

University Restrictions:
No extension cords. The only outlet on my side of the room is in the small space between the bed and the desk and the cord of the desk lamp will not reach that far plugged in.
No candles.
No halogen bulbs.
No belongings on the left side of the room (I can be fined for any of the above)

Other notes:
There is about five inches of space between the bed and the dresser and none between the bed and the back wall.
No light really comes in through the window at night since there are only a few yellow lights on the building across the courtyard, which blocks any street light and there are balconies over my window (I am on the first floor).

I did buy a battery powered lantern from Home Depot. It is not really all that bright (it's an overglorifed flashlight) and requires 6 D batteries to run and the batteries die after 20 hours.

Please do not suggest I just study in the library. I like having my television on as background noise. Plus, walking back from the library is not a good idea late at night since the neighborhood is not that great.

Thank you for reading your way though this. I am really at a loss for what I can do to have a light source on the dresser that is bright enough.
posted by lilacorlavender to Home & Garden (37 answers total)
no extension cords? What is this the dark ages? Honestly, get a nice GFI one, how could they possibly bitch about that?
posted by evilelvis at 5:44 PM on October 31, 2007

a) if your lamp does not accept 100W bulbs, find one that does, and use that instead.
b) move the lamp to where you need it as necessary.
posted by LionIndex at 5:45 PM on October 31, 2007

Just get an extension cord. If you really think they will search your room, unplug it and stash it when not in use.
posted by gnutron at 5:46 PM on October 31, 2007

Certainly investigate lamps, fixtures, and stuff like that - but in the mean time go buy a book lamp. You can order them online or find one at your local chain bookseller. I have this one, it works fantastic and the batteries last months with regular use.

Please don't read in the near dark - you really can hurt you eyes that way.
posted by wfrgms at 5:52 PM on October 31, 2007

Response by poster: I know they will search my room. They already have once. That's how I found about the no halogen rule.
posted by lilacorlavender at 5:57 PM on October 31, 2007

When I was in college, my roommate and I used Chinese-style lanterns from one of those home furnishing supply stores. Broken into its component parts, it was basically a lightbulb socket attached to a really long cord, a lightbulb, and a lantern shade (we got a couple of these so we could switch them out). Then we, ah, duct-taped them to the ceiling. Well, I used packing tape. The cord was long enough that when you put the lantern up into the corner of the room, you could easily attach it along the wall and reach the socket without any problems. I am not claiming that any of this was a stroke of brilliance, but it cost about thirty dollars total, it looked fine (for a dorm room), and it didn't do any damage to the room.

Otherwise, I second the people suggesting you get an extension cord, or more lights, or both. Develop a five-second pre- and post-studying ritual of collecting the verboten gear and stashing it in a closed box labeled "Xmas presents - to take home" or zip it up inside an empty suitcase stashed in your closet.
posted by posadnitsa at 6:00 PM on October 31, 2007

I use a small LED headlamp (get one with 4 or 5 bulbs and variable switch). Lots of light just where I want it, and lasts about 30 hours on medium on 3 triple-A batteries. Also, I like the soothing compression of the headband, and the sensation of being surrounded by darkness other than my book - even though I could have whatever light I want I find this works best for me. (I think the lower ambient room light means less overall light is needed to read comfortably as the pupils are dilated).
posted by Rumple at 6:01 PM on October 31, 2007

You might try a professional camera store, they sell flood light fixtures and stands that come with long cords, accept high wattage lamps and have reflectors that swivel to be aimed at ceiling or wall for best effect. Like this one at B&H. Don't get the speciality photo light bulbs, they have a much shorter life.
posted by Fins at 6:09 PM on October 31, 2007

What kind of University is this? It sounds like prison. Have you tried an LED torch or light? Try looking for a manufacturer called Pifco online..they make a variety of innovative lights including small lamps that clip onto books and illuminate the pages.
posted by fire&wings at 6:13 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can you attach things to your walls?
posted by amtho at 6:18 PM on October 31, 2007

Here's what I'd do, but I'm a bit of a mad bastard, and I truly hate idiotic restrictions. Get a suitable lamp (helps if it's the sort that takes common household light bulbs), an extension cord long enough to comfortably reach to where you want the lamp, a set of screwdrivers, and a pair of pliers. For bonus points get the extension cord in the same color, or matching, the lamp's cord. Undo the base of the lamp so you're looking at the electrical guts of it. There should be the cord coming in, the cord should be split and bared at some point, and the bare wires should enter mountings with screws. This is the standard setup for a lamp. If that's not what you're looking at, you need another lamp. Cut the socket (female) end off the extension cord. Split the wires, and bare the ends of them. Replace the lamp's cord with the (former) extension cord, in such a way that it looks like it was made that way. Discard the old cord and the amputated socket. Voila, as if by magic you have a lamp with a cord of suitable length, and no extension cord.

Obviously this voids warranties, may breach laws, etc. If the legal or safety aspect concerns you at all, and you're willing to spend a bit extra, commission a qualified electrician (or appliance repairer) to do it, test it, and pout a certification sticker on it; it's the work of 10 minutes for them.

In the meantime, complain to your student union about: (a) idiocy of forbidding extension cords, especially in light of the above method; (b) selectivity and unfairness of "fining" as a method of rules enforcement, and proliferation of idiotic rules as a means of revenue generation; (c) idiocy of forbidding you to use the vacant side of the room at all even in the complete absence of a room-mate, presumably making you resent the idiotic university much more than you would resent an arriving room-mate.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:19 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Even better, complain to the alumni office, telling them they will never get one cent after you graduate. Alumni money is very much on the administration's radar.
posted by Rumple at 6:25 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

can you squeeze something like this between your desk and bed?
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:34 PM on October 31, 2007

uh... i use something like this.
without halogen bulbs...
posted by aielen at 6:41 PM on October 31, 2007

Ditto-ing LED headlamps - they're pretty good.

Also ditto replacing the cord on your desk lamp, if you think you're capable.

I know some people don't like the light from compact fluorescent bulbs, but they give off very little heat, so you can use a much brighter (higher output) bulb than you'd be able to with incandescent, which might help some. But I hate reading with an over-bright ceiling light; a light from behind/beside the head is so much more comfortable.

Can you class this as an adaptation required under disability provisions? maybe you can claim the inadequate light is potentially dangerous for your eyesight, and force the dumb restrictions to be lifted?
posted by anadem at 6:41 PM on October 31, 2007

You need a brighter bulb if you're going to have a single bulb as your only source of illumination! Small desk lamps often don't take higher wattage bulbs.

Could you get a floor lamp? Maybe get one like this that takes 5 bulbs and has positionable arms, or get one that takes a "3-way" bulb (50W, 100W, 150W). Put it right next to the outlet to the skinny post of the lamp is between bed and desk? Maybe a bit awkward but much more liveable in terms of light quality.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:42 PM on October 31, 2007

dude, what the fuck. no belongings on the left side of the room? because it's for another student WHO ISN'T THERE? you've got more problems than no light to study with: you go to a fucking ridiculous college with ridiculous rules. you're not allowed to rearrage the room some? that's what people do in college. seriously...

but on to your question, can you get a floor lamp and plug it in between your desk and bed?

on preview, i see other people have suggested that as well.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:51 PM on October 31, 2007

Something like this would work perfectly for your needs, but would leave you looking like a tremendous dork. It wouldn't be illegal for your dorm, though.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:52 PM on October 31, 2007

Where on earth do you go to school? It sounds like you could make a complaint to some health and safety board in your state - their ridiculous rules are putting your eyes at risk.
posted by Dasein at 6:56 PM on October 31, 2007

A nice 300 watt torchiere will provide artificial daylight, and if that is not enough get another, they are about thirty some bucks or less each, although all the lawsuits from them tipping over and torching the place have caused a general price increase. They used to be cheaper.
posted by caddis at 7:00 PM on October 31, 2007

My school only checked stuff like that extension cord restriction (thankfully, we didn't have anything quite so absurd) on holidays, so just unplug it over thanksgiving and christmas. You can't get in trouble for storing it, or at least this is the way my school worked. Ask around, your dorm-mates can probably confirm/deny this. Probably more people than you think have not just extension cords but appliances they aren't supposed to have.
posted by advil at 7:13 PM on October 31, 2007

Response by poster: This is my first (and hopefully last year) staying in a dorm at this university or at least, this particular building. The information about being fined for having anything on the other side of the room came from my suitemate who got one last year for having a sweater on the bed on the other side of the room. I really do not mind not having anything there since a) I am not here most weekends, b) I don't really have a lot of stuff here, c) I figure I wouldn't have the space anyway if someone had move in (which someone almost did after getting threatened by their roommate. The one who was threatened spend the night with me until they could kick the one who did threaten out the next morning.)

I do not think the lamp will take a brighter bulb since it was a cheap desk lamp I got at the Christmas Tree Shop. The only problem I can see with having the style floor lamps that have the multiple heads between the desk and the bed is that every time I look up to look at the tv is that light may shine into my eyes.

I am googling around looking at LED lights and I am leaning more towards those that I can attach to the books.

I can rearrange the room, I just have no idea how I can lay out the furniture differently since the space I have to work with is so small and again, the lack of outlets limit my choices. I can attach things to the walls (pictures but no fabric) but I imagine I am limited to attaching things with that sticky gunk not actually putting holes in the wall.

The amount of space I have here in my bedroom for myself is roughly the same amount of space I had when I stayed my freshman year at a different university in a different state. At least there I had a overhead light in addition to the desk lamp on my bed.

I really do appreciate all the responses so far.
posted by lilacorlavender at 7:24 PM on October 31, 2007

Response by poster: I go to school in New York. I am from Connecticut. Some of the suggestions have led me to try and find the handbook they gave me. I cannot currently find the exact one for living in the university housing but this is the fire code information from the general student handbook, edited down to exclude the information on blocking the doors, trees in the building(?!), candles, smoking, and malicious fire alarms.

University policies relating to fire safety are in according with New York state law and (particular county I am in on Long Island) ordinances. Any violation of these guidelines is also considered a violation of the Student Conduct Code.

2. Electric Wall Outlets: All electric cords from devices must be plugged directly into a wall outlet or an approved surge protector strip. All surge protector strips must be plugged directly into the wall outlet. No extension cord(s) are permitted in residential halls. Furniture should not obstruct a wall outlet as to prevent an electric plus from easily being removed from the outlet (without first moving the furniture) [ref; NYSFC F-605.5]
posted by lilacorlavender at 7:32 PM on October 31, 2007

Well, there you have it, get a surge protector with a 6' cord. I have one with a 15' cord in my basement. Fits the letter of the rules quite nicely.

A 15' one at ace hardware
posted by advicepig at 7:58 PM on October 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

So do you go to Hofstra and is this your dorm handbook (pdf)?
posted by mmascolino at 8:13 PM on October 31, 2007

What about a work light? You can probably find one at Home Depot... extra long cord with a light bulb inside a plasitc casing with a hook on top. Something like this maybe?
posted by backseatpilot at 8:29 PM on October 31, 2007

Response by poster: You caught me mmascolino. Thanks for finding that. I knew I read the bit about extension cords somewhere else besides in the fire code and there it is on the list in letter v.
posted by lilacorlavender at 8:34 PM on October 31, 2007

Response by poster: backseatpilot, I think that will be perfect. I can hang it from the dresser. The cord will be long enough, and if they try and count it as an extension cord, I promise to try and fight them on it.
posted by lilacorlavender at 8:43 PM on October 31, 2007

The other thing is that you should be getting friendly with your RA to get a feel for how and when these overly strict rules are enforced. A good relationship with your RA can help you navigate the school beaucracy.
posted by mmascolino at 9:29 PM on October 31, 2007

I gave my twin cousins compact fluorescent torchieres when they began freshman year.
posted by brujita at 10:20 PM on October 31, 2007

From the residential handbook: "Surge-protected power strips may be used only in conjunction with a personal computer when the computer is in operation. The use of such appliances as extension cords or alternative power sources is prohibited by Nassau County fire codes."

Your county sucks.
posted by jacalata at 11:40 PM on October 31, 2007

The cord will be long enough, and if they try and count it as an extension cord, I promise to try and fight them on it.

Isn't there a model with a charger? As long as you keep it charged and you don't work for longer than it lasts, it shouldn't need any cords at all. Two lights, one charger, and you can keep it up indefinitely.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 12:26 AM on November 1, 2007

The restriction on halogen bulbs almost certainly refers to the unshielded, high-wattage bulbs used in those 300W torchieres mentioned above, because their surfaces get hot enough to be an ignition source. There are other bulbs that look more like normal light bulbs but which have, hidden inside their visible glass envelope, a halogen capsule that gives you the benefits of halogen (more light per watt, whiter light, longer bulb life) without the hazard. A blanket "no halogen" rule would only be written by people who don't know what they're talking about.

If you're currently using an A-lamp (generic light bulb shape) in a directional fixture that you've got aimed at the ceiling, then much of the light is getting absorbed by the shade and not even making it out of the fixture. You can improve the situation by getting a reflector lamp, which will send all of its light out of the fixture. An R20 or R30 (these numbers refer to the diameter of the bulb, not the wattage) lamp might fit, depending on the fixture. You could do even better by using a halogen PAR lamp such as a PAR20 or PAR30, which provides about half again as much light at the same wattage.
posted by jon1270 at 4:46 AM on November 1, 2007

The only problem I can see with having the style floor lamps that have the multiple heads between the desk and the bed is that every time I look up to look at the tv is that light may shine into my eyes.

The ones linked are the kind where you can swivel the heads to point all the bulbs at the ceiling.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:19 AM on November 1, 2007

Surge-protected power strips may be used only in conjunction with a personal computer when the computer is in operation they expect you to unplug the computer when you aren't using it?

These regulations strike me as really CYA...if you ever wanted to run for student council, I think you found a platform that the whole student body could get behind.
posted by mmascolino at 6:53 AM on November 1, 2007

If your eyes hurt while reading, it's probably not for lack of illumination. Vision Myths (yes, I realize it's not an authoritative source, but you can Google for a better one if you really need to

Are you constantly reading for long periods of time without breaks? Much of my vision problems at an early age can be attributed to such behavior. I'm the type of person that, once I start a book, I literally do not put it down until I am finished.

It's very common to experience eye-strain if you don't give your vision some 'breaks' while you're reading. Every couple pages, switch your focus to something else - or better yet, take a few minutes to walk around, refill your coffee, etc. Besides, I'm sure you can appreciate the little bits of downtime reading breaks may provide. I find it mentally refreshing to shift focus/distract myself once in a while - let's me approach the material with a different mood/perspective.

That aside, I don't think it hurts to have extra light when reading. Nth getting an LED headlamp - they can be had for cheap, and are pretty useful for a number of activities. I'd also suggest going to the library to read(?) I'm sure if you're at a university they have reading rooms or late-night studies/etc.
posted by s01110011 at 11:48 AM on November 1, 2007

nth-ing LED headlamp.
they're dirt cheap if you buy a generic, and two or three AAA batteries last at least 30-40 hours. petzel claim up to 80-100 hours on some of their headlamps.

they're compact, portable, and you don't have to get up to turn the lights off.
posted by ye#ara at 4:31 AM on November 2, 2007

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