The Devil Is In The Details


We all enjoy reading tales of disastrous installations. Call it schadenfreude: finding glee in the misfortunes of others.

However not ever tale of troubled installations has a tragic ending.

Indeed, I’ve had experiences on projects that I’ve likened to a roller coaster: thrills and chills along the way, peaks where everything looks great, followed by terrifying plummets into valleys of despair where it looks like you’re completely screwed, yet the ride comes gently to an end, safe and sound.

The first story that comes to mind that fits the bill was a monster project: A home with much electrical in it as an office block.

To help our design for the lighting control, the client supplied us with the catalogue of the project’s custom light fixtures, and her electrician carefully provided us with the load schedule: the total number of circuits in the house.

In the home’s front entry there was to be a massive, custom-designed chandelier, which held 72 60-watt bulbs.

Reviewing the load schedule, there was a problem: all those bulbs meant that on full brightness, the chandelier would be running at 4320 watts, or 36 amps, more than half again as much as a standard 20-amp home breaker.

I called the lead electrician to tell him.

His response was “Uh oh.”

Doing more research, we learned that it’s common for large chandeliers (normally found in grand hotels, but also in actual mansions) to run two or more separate lines.

But the question remained: does this one have one circuit or more?

Getting a hold of the chandelier’s manufacturer down in the US was easy, but getting the right answer was not.

It took three phone calls to find someone who had electrical knowledge rather than just design and aesthetics, and that third person contradicted the first two who had assured me that their chandelier was on one circuit. It was not: it was two separate circuits.

Because we took the time to determine this, it was possible for the electrician to go back and add a second line to the entryway’s thirty foot high ceiling, and a second breaker back at the panel.

Disaster averted! Like a rollercoaster, it was a wild ride but it ended safely.