Illuminating rules about home's lights during winter


JANUARY is a dark time of year, and that makes the debate over the household lights even hotter. These days you can't count on much sunlight for illumination. This week the sun vamoosed shortly after lunch. OK, that is a slight exaggeration. But the irrefutable fact is that when it is dark outside, you gotta turn the lights on inside.

While this statement is not exactly brilliant, it is one that makes households quarrel. My home, for instance, is splintered into factions over the burning of the bulbs.

The younger members believe in letting the lights shine even when no one is in the room to enjoy them. This, of course, drives me crazy and drives up our electricity bill to the point where I think BGE should bestow us with most-favored-customer status.

Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than to walk into a room and find the lights blazing, tossing out more candlepower than is needed for a House Beautiful photo shoot, yet no one is in the room to bask in this reflected glory. I stomp around snapping off lights, thinking of my father, who instilled in me a deep disdain for the unattended lamp.

Then there are the creatures of darkness, those who happily move about in dim light. I married one. She has been known to turn off the lights when I am still sitting in the room, in the Barcalounger, pondering the meaning of life, or whether the Colts will beat the Patriots. Part of the dance of our lives is she turns a light off, and a few minutes later I turn it back on.

My view of illumination, which of course is eminently sensible, is summed up in what I call the five-yard rule. If a member of the household is not within five yards of a light bulb, it can be extinguished.

There are exceptions to the rule. One of them deals with Christmas lights. You do not have to be planted within five yards of the Christmas tree to have its bulbs glowing. But you do have to be somewhere in the house. The same is true for outdoor holiday lights. When those bulbs are burning, you have to be on the premises.

Around Baltimore we have trouble prying ourselves loose from Christmas. Holiday decorations stay on homes much longer than tradition or good taste dictates. Maybe this happens because our winters are so dreary or because we have a tendency to revel in past glories (such as the splendor of Christmas, the 1983 World Series or the 2001 Super Bowl) that keep us going in dark times.

In previous years I have scolded people who were tardy in taking down their holiday decorations. But last weekend, I was reluctant to dim any bulbs, even though the traditional end of the holiday season, Jan. 6, or Twelfth Night, had passed.

Yet duty called. Taking advantage of the unusually mild weather, I removed the string of big outdoor, C-9, bulbs that had given the back yard a multicolor aurora. Earlier I had hauled the denuded Christmas tree to the Poly-Western parking lot, where it met its mulcher. These were dull winter chores.

There was one bright spot in this gloomy routine. I brought a fluorescent kitchen light back from the dead. For days I had struggled with it, trying the usual resurrection tricks. I jiggled the switch. I cleaned the metal pins on the ends of the bulb, or tube, with steel wool. I snapped in a new tube. Still, darkness prevailed.

Then I snagged a new starter, a stubby device sold at hardware stores. As its name implies, the starter gets some types of fluorescent fixtures going. I snapped the starter in, rotated it clockwise, the tube flickered to life and my world brightened.

It is better, I surmised, to fix one light than to curse the darkness. Provided, of course, that the five-yard rule is observed.

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