Let There Be Light!

Remember all that electronic scrap kids were bringing me? Well, I used some of it to build a little light fixture for my house!

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Here are some closeups on the fixture itself:

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It’s powered by the battery in my solar system, and wired to a switch on my wall.

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My trusty assistant Christian crawled into my roof and ran wire for me, as he’s done before. Can you find him in the first picture?

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Now when I come home in the evening, I can just flick the switch instead of fumbling for my headlamp in the dark.

People get pretty excited when they see it because most people think you need a generator to get light in your house. Light in one’s home actually has become sort of a status symbol, since generators (and all the gas that they eat) cost a lot of money.

But really, just making light in your home is no reason to buy a generator. We can use LEDs! Compared to fluorescent and incandescent lights, they use minuscule amounts of power (which can come from disposable batteries, a solar system, etc.) and can last years without needing replacement.

People are already using LEDs in the flashlights and lanterns they buy… it’s just that nobody has taken the next step and installed them as light fixtures in their home. Here’s the LED lantern I cannibalized to make my system:

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Because people don’t install their lanterns as light fixtures like mine, they end up breaking down pretty quickly. Children knock them over, the batteries and switches rust and corrode, etc. Also, a lantern sitting on the table does a poor job filling the room with light compared to something hung overhead.

What I’m doing isn’t anything new. You can go out and buy solar lighting systems that can do the same thing. But understandably, people have a hard time making the big initial investment because they can’t try it before they buy it and nobody is using these systems around here. Also, it’s often hard for people to see how the investment pays off in the long run.

So maybe my system will start to get people more interested! People are already used to seeing me put my panel on my roof every day, and now that I have a light, I can show them that too.

And it’s easy for people to get started, even if they don’t have solar systems! We can cannibalize their lanterns and wire them in their ceilings with a switch on their wall, and continue to power them with disposable batteries. It’s a big deal here to be able to flip a switch in your house and have a light come on. And that’s only for the cost of a switch and some wire!

But even if the idea doesn’t change anything in my community, I’ve still had a blast building it. Here’s a closeup of the little circuit I designed to keep my big solar battery from blowing out the LEDs:

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As electronics projects go, it was super simple, (mine was a circuit like this) but what made it really fun was using parts from the junk kids brought, and creating a workbench from stuff I had around the house:

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As you can see, I used a block of wood with nails in it along with alligator paper clips to hold things while I soldered. (Or, as in the case of the above picture, desoldered components from old boards.) Sometimes kids would help hold things too.

My soldering iron handle broke, so I made a new one out of a hollowed branch of palm. That red plastic thing is the old, cracked handle:

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Notice that my soldering iron is powered by the 12V battery that my solar system charges. A day of charging in full sun gives me about an 90 minutes of soldering time.

It’s a cool feeling to be doing electronics projects again! And working with limited resources always makes me feel like MacGyver…

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3 Responses to Let There Be Light!

  1. Lisa Kinneman says:

    Kyle, this is so exciting. I wish I was still teaching electronics – I would send you more supplies. I love your posts. What a wonderful job you are doing.

  2. Christie says:

    You are MacGyver. I think your light fixture thing is brilliant!!

  3. Carol says:

    I pray your ability to think outside the box will have a huge effect on your student’s outlook – and through them – on the community. You’re opening entire new categories.

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