Intro: LED Upgrade for High Wattage Church Pendant Lights
Churches and Houses of Worship can present a number of interesting problems as you try to make them energy efficient. One problem we faced in greening my historic church, Grace Episcopal in Medford, MA, was finding a good quality energy efficient and dimmable replacement for the 300W incandescent bulbs used in the hanging pendants in our sanctuary. The pendants were originally designed for 500W bulbs with mogul bases, but sometime before anyone can remember the adapters to a medium base were used and the bulbs switched down to 300W. As it was, they were not providing enough light, so we began looking for solutions. We tried a bunch of things, but nothing on the market met all of our needs short of completely replacing all of the lighting fixtures. Then we came up with this upgrade kit and have had it used every Sunday and many days of the week for over 2 years.
The basic solution is to use UL-listed lamp parts to create a special screw in replacement that uses 6 dimmable LED bulbs with a custom built fixture to replace each 300W incandescent bulb. We used 60W equivalent bulbs so ended up with about 120% of light, but using only 1/5th of the energy.
I need to give a big thank you to Jim Pearson, Jr. who helped me design and did the fabrication for these upgrade kits. Without his help, this project would never have come out so well. Also, thank you to the Green Grants program from the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts that helped fund the purchase of the 48 LED bulbs for the church.
Step 1: Assemble Parts & Tools
Each Fixture Needs:
- 6 LED dimmable lightbulbs - I like the Philips EnduraLED line of bulbs and we used the 60W equivalent (i.e. 10W actual) in our fixtures. You could use even bright LEDs which were not available at the time we originally designed this fixture.
- 3 Twin Porcelain Lamps Sockets with Flange Bushings and leads - We used porcelain as we expected it would be more durable and did not add too much to the weight. We got the ones with a single pair of wires (i.e. you cannot control each side of the fixture separately) to reduce the number of wires we'd have in the conduit.
- Medium Edison E26 based flanged adapter with leads
- 1 1-inch diameter metal conduit - Ours ended up being 4 1/2" long. You can vary the diameter as well, but remember you are going to need room for all the wires and wire nuts.
- 1 Metal Conduit Coupling with Set Screw - We modified ours by cutting of the threaded portion to give a more secure base to attach the flanged adapter.
- 3 lengths of threaded brass lamp rod - you can cut a longer length.
- 6 nuts for the lamp rod
- 2 wire nuts
- 2 small metal screws - You use the screws to connect flanged adapter to the coupling
- Drill & Bits- preferably a drill press
- Wire cutters & strippers
- Screw Driver
- Gloves - metal shavings hurt, so be careful
- Hack Saw
- Voltage Meter - for testing
Step 2: Cut Conduit, Coupling and Lamp Rod to Desired Length
Depending on the size of your hanging fixture you may want your upgrade kit to be bigger or smaller than ours. We ended up after some experimentation with a PVC prototype with our conduit length being 4 1/2" long and the lamp rod being 1 1/2" long.
We also had to modify the coupling to get a secure attachment to the flanged adapter, so we cut off the threaded section.
Step 3: Drill Holes in Conduit
Drill 3 evenly spaced holes in the conduit near one end. The diameter of the hole should be sufficient to insert the lamp rod, but you do not need to tap it as we will be using nuts on either side to secure it in place.
A drill press is very help in drilling into the round conduit, but it can be done with a hand drill if you are careful.
Step 4: Secure Flanged Adapter to Coupling
Drill two small holes carefully in adapter as the material is very brittle. Mark and drill the holes into the top of the coupling to align with the holes in your adapter.
Carefully screw in the screws by hand being sure to not over tighten.
Step 5: Test Fit Lamp Rods and Conduit
Make sure that the wires are long enough to connect to the flanged lamp adapter.
We ended up working from the bottom side of the conduit and then when we're all done pulled the wires and wire nuts through to the top. If your wires are too long, trim then, but be sure to leave yourself enough slack to connect everything together.
Step 6: Assemble the Lamp Sockets
Be sure to put the nut on the lamp rod before inserting it and then the second not on the wires before wiring them together.
You may find it easier to feed the wire nuts through the conduit if you have not secured the lamp rods with the nuts.
Step 7: Wire It Up
Connect the lamp adapter wires to the lamp socket wire with wire nuts. Be sure the nuts for the lamp rod are on the wires before connecting them.
White to white and black to black.
Feed the wire nuts and wires carefully through the conduit.
Step 8: Secure the Coupling to the Conduit
Attach the coupling to the end of the conduit and secure with set screw. Make sure this one is tight as it needs to support the weight of the fixture.
Step 9: Test the Fixture
It is much easier to test and identify a problem with the lamp on the ground and it is when you're standing on top of a 14 foot ladder.
Make sure each of the six sockets works as intended and all the nuts and set screws are secure. If you do not have a lamp socket you can easily test from, use the volt meter to make sure that the lamp adapter is correctly wired to the lamp sockets.
Step 10: Install the Led Upgrade in the Hanging Sconce
We found it easier to install if we first installed the top three bulbs and then screw the adapter into the light socket. Then we installed the remaining three balls on the bottom which were easy to access.
To replace a ball pump, which hopefully won't happen for a few decades with the LEDs, you will likely need to unscrew the adapter from the fixture and take it down to easily be able to replace the top bulbs.
Step 11: Replace the Dimmer Switch (may Be Necessary)
After we installed the upgrade kits, we discovered that the dimmers we had would flicker occasionally at lower settings with the LEDs. Each switch had 2 hanging pendants on it, which meant we had 12 LED bulbs. We were able to get through to some engineers at Philips and were directed to certain dimmers, namely the Lutron MACL-153M-SW Maestro 150-Watt Multi-Location CFL/LED Digital Dimmer. After installing these, the flicker problem was gone. Now that LEDs are more common place and the dimmers are more advanced, I suspect you can find other less expensive dimmers that would work with the large number of LED bulbs in parallel.