Friday, March 8, 2013

Laundry room lighting ideas

Tag line: Blasted ballasts.  (I didn't want to use that phrase to name this post because folks searching for laundry room lighting ideas might not find it.)

It's definitely our year to upgrade light fixtures.  First the dining room, then a child's bedroom, and now the laundry room.  This past weekend, as I was getting the household chores underway, I flipped on the laundry light switch only to hear a loud "BZZZ..ZZZ..ZZTTT". 
This electrical ballast had blown.  Basically, the guts inside this device had shorted out. 
As is usually the case at our home's relatively low price point, our builder delivered a standard unglamorous tube fluorescent fixture in the laundry room ceiling.
Here is the fixture shown with the cover taken off and the two tube lights removed.  These fixtures are only about $22 to buy retail (here's a roughly comparable example).  It looks shiny and new, doesn't it? That's because it was barely three years old when this failure occurred. 
Here's the kicker regarding this type of fluorescent unit:  the fixture costs about $22, but common 2-light ballasts cost about $16 (example here).  So once the fixture's original ballast dies, it's arguably a write-off. 

That being the case, I was inclined to replace this whole fixture, rather than just its ballast.  In my opinion, there's nothing like a cheap four-foot fluorescent to turn a home into a machine shop, appearance-wise.  In my opinion, these things are so ugly that they're downright depressing.

The question then became, replace it with what??  We don't have sufficient space for most other lighting options.  By Houston suburban standards, our home is intentionally* close to being a "starter" floor plan model (see our cost allocation strategy here).  As such, we don't have a laundry "room" per se.  We have a five by nine foot void space connecting the kitchen to the garage.
* Quality over quantity: I'm glad we decided to choose a smaller house, but it does require extra thinking on issues such as this. 

Screengrab from a recent Culture Map Houston article titled "Hottest New Home Trends". 
It requires extra thinking because we have shoe-horned the following assets into those forty-five square feet of space which must also serve as a hallway to the garage:
  • A full-size front-loading washer and dryer
  • A 22-cubic foot upright freezer
  • Six linear feet of clothes hanging racks
  • Fifteen linear feet of open shelving which extends all the way up to the ceiling
  • Our second microwave oven (more on the double microwave concept in a future post). 
In order to maintain shelf clearance in such a small footprint, we simply can't have a large light fixture in that space. 
As I was crawling the web looking for laundry room lighting ideas, I came across this amusing entry by the DIY/lifestyle bloggers known as The House of Smiths.  Their laundry room appears exactly the same size as ours, and they addressed their clearance issues by swagging their chosen fixture very close to the ceiling.

Their chosen fixture, of course, is the very same fixture we chose a few weeks ago for our daughter's room.  But because of our shelving configuration, this would not work in our laundry room. 

Screengrab courtesy of The House of Smiths.
In particular, our fixture had to be as shallow as possible.  Not only do we need clearance to access the top shelves, we're constantly dragging ladders and other equipment in from the garage.  Any dangling or deep fixture would end up getting smashed.

After an exhaustive search of both low-end and high-end choices, this is the fixture upon which we settled:
A Hampton Bay flush-mount fluorescent.  I don't think it's available at Lowes, but I got it off the shelf at the League City Home Depot. 
As of March 2013, the on-line reviews at this Home Depot website were pretty grim.
Uh-oh.  Great price, but less than three stars.  Why??

Collage of review screengrabs courtesy of Home Depot
So basically what I'm saying here is that I, a savvy DIY-er, chose to replace a light fixture with obvious ballast problems with yet another light that appears to have ballast problems.  Why?? 
Because of this:  Save your box, save your receipt, so that you can claim it if the ballast fails.

It is possible the ballast issues are occurring industry-wide right now.  If that's the case, it makes sense to me to buy cheap.  That way, I get the same amount of hassle but at a lower price. 
This is the same decision tree I used to select a microwave oven after our builder-installed oven failed twice within its first 24 months:  When everything on the market appears to suck and it doesn't seem possible to side-step the problem by buying up, it then makes sense to go for the best warranty at the lowest achievable cost. 

But there's also another key reason why I chose this fixture.

As I mentioned in this post, good art cross-references itself stylistically, and home design is simply an applied art form.  Cross-referencing is king - it's the principle that makes everything seem to "go together".  In this case, I chose this ballastly-challenged fixture in no small measure because it stylistically echoes the washer and dryer as well as conforming to our dimensional limitations. 
The hubster hard at work.  That's the bottom portion of the fixture in his hand.  The coincidental similarity leads to a cohesive look for the room.   
I don't particularly like the specialized bulbs that this thing takes.  It's not like they can be picked up at any convenience store. 
But those bulbs were another trade-off because stylistically, this thing works in our space.  And it goes together very easily, with the bottom portion attaching via three decorative nuts. 
And voila, the final result.  I'm contemplating whether to have a betting pool on how long its ballast will last.  But the thing will sure look better than a tube strip in the meantime. 

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