Jerusalem Apartment Tips - Lightbulbs and Electric Wiring

Copyright 2006 by Morris Rosenthal - - contact info

The Serial Tourist's Guide to Living in Jerusalem

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[Image] Most apartments in Israel are sold with dangling light bulbs. Light fixtures are the sort of thing that the purchaser is expected to personalize, and it saves the contractor a few bucks and five minutes of time not to install a decent fixture. Consequently, a lot of Israelis have grown up with dangling lightbulbs, and it's never occurred to them that there's any reason to ever install something more permanent. Even the little plastic shield the partially covers the hole for the wiring isn't fixed to the ceiling, there's no bracket installed to fix it to. It's held in place on the wire by friction, the hole in the plastic for the wire is just a very tight fit. All of this leads to bonus silly work for Israeli electricians, because when you go to replace a burnt out lightbulb, its easy to twist the wire until a connection fails. I'm not sure that's what happened in the case here because I never saw the light working, but when I replaced the bulb, it still didn't work. The little spot of light on the bulb in the picture is just a consequence of shooting it with a flashbulb, which also washed out the picture.
Nobody wants to get electrocuted, so if you don't know what you're doing, don't try this fix. I didn't have a meter to check if the circuit was live, I just turned off the switch and trusted that the original electrician wired the switch before the power and not vice versa. I was also careful not to touch any of the exposed wires, since I didn't have any way of confirming if they were live or not. A live wire can turn into a dead handyman in a flash. The plastic shield that passes for a light fixture here slides down the wire, exposing the wiring block to the right. Israeli wiring is all European style, they use these screw in connectors for everything. I'm not sure I've ever seen a wire nut in , I remember trying to buy some once, failing, and doing that whole job (replacing old ballasts in fluorescent lights) with tape. In any case, when the wire isn't in the whole and secured, the light isn't going to work, and that's what the problem was here.
I loosened up the screw first since there's no point trying to fit a wire into a connector that's mainly closed, and then maneuvered the wire into the connector without touching the exposed copper. A few turns of the screwdriver and the job was done. In this case, the center connector appears to be a true ground, so it isn't required for the light circuit. In part, I went by the natural lay of the wire to tell me which one of the connectors it had been installed in before it worked free, probably due to twisting of the whole cord. I should probably due a page about replacing the old transformer style ballasts for florescent lights with the new solid state substitutes if the chance arises. The old transformer ballasts last forever, it's usually the little starters that fail, but they get noisier and noisier with time, until they make as much noise as refrigerators. Light worked fine in the end, and I pushed the plastic shield back up as far as it would go.
About a month later, there was a problem with the main light fixture in my apartment, and oddly, it's the second time in three years I've seen this happen in Jerusalem. One of the bulbs in a three bulb fixture had been a little flickery for a day or two. Then, "Pop," the lights went out and the breaker went out. Fortunately, the breaker box is located in the hallway where I'd fixed the light above, so with the door open, I was able to turn of the main light switch, reset the breaker, and look for the problem. The lightbulb hadn't simply popped the filament, it had arc welded itself to the socket in a dead short. What had been a dead short is now and open circuit, as one of the wires in the fixture is fried and needs to be replaced, along with the socket, pictured below. This is a failure I've never seen or even heard of in the States. I couldn't quite see blaming it on the lightbulbs, but it looks like the the only insulation between the two terminals of the bulb (the thread and the point contact) is a thin layer of paint, which I just can't believe. I wish I had a multimeter with me so I could check the resistance. It does look like the contacts simply arced over whatever insullation there is between them and started melting. I'm not sure how a bad socket or the higher voltage 220 Volt system could be at fault.
Israelis seem to be pretty casual about electrical wiring in buildings, I don't know if they even have inspectors, besides the engineer who looks at the drawing before it's built. I think they labor under the partially false impression that the buildings are all concrete and stone so what's the worse that can happen. Every winter you see sad stories on the news of people getting killed when electric blankets or resistance heater malfunction or are misused and cause fires. The buildings may not be damaged that bad, but you burn enough paper or cloth in a room, drapes are a common fuel, and smoke inhalation does the rest of the work.Oddly, Israeli building code does not require two exits from an apartment, so it the front door is locked or blocked by smoke or flames, going to a window may be the only choice, and people who wake up in smoke filled rooms don't always have their wits about them. I've also seen Israeli's react to short circuits by continually resetting the breaker until either the shorts burns itself open, or the breaker fails.

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