In-step light: fire/shock hazard?


Old 06-26-07, 10:19 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Seattle
Posts: 64
Question In-step light: fire/shock hazard?

We moved into a house recently which has a media room with a few steps leading up to the sitting area. The previous owner put in the media room, and I have no idea whether the electrical work was inspected or done by anyone who knew what they were doing. (There are other signs that the project was done on the cheap.)

In each of the steps is a little theater-style light which points down to show people where the steps are in the night.

These lights haven't worked since we moved in, so last night I decided to unscrew the plates and replace the light bulbs. I've never seen in an-floor light like this, and because I'm seeing weird behavior from the dimmer the lights are attached to, I wanted to run it by you guys to see what you think about the installation.

There are metal boxes set directly into the wooden step. The light receptacle is a thin Lutron metal plate which is screwed into the metal box... it says 75W 120V on it. However, the actual bulb that was plugged into it is a 4W night-light. Covering the opening is a black metal plate with louvers to allow light to shine down at the step.

So my first question is: is this a shock/fire hazard? A metal box, a metal fixture, and a metal plate all screwed together seems like current could get to the cover plate. I thought plates had to be plastic or something non-conductive. I don't see any sort of UL mark or anything on the cover plate. FYIW, there is a bare ground wire coming into the box.

Second question: The lights are attached to a Lutron Maestro IR dimmer. The work fine if I fade the lights up to, say, 75%. When I continue to push up brighter on the light, the dimmer immediately turns itself off. If I double-click (meaning fade in to highest setting), the lights fade on until about the 75% mark and then they immediately turn off again.

Is some safety aspect of the dimmer coming into play? Is there a problem I should be concerned about?

Thanks for any and all help!
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Old 06-26-07, 10:25 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
There is nothing wrong with a metal plate and a metal box, as long as the box is properly grounded.

I suspect that the dimmer is bad and/or that the bulbs are not designed to be dimmed.
Old 06-26-07, 10:54 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Seattle
Posts: 64
Thanks for the reply! How can one tell if bulbs are designed to be dimmed? I just put in standard 4W Phillips night-light bulbs (this was what was already in there.) They were like $1.39 for 4 of them.
Old 06-27-07, 11:18 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Milwaukee WI
Posts: 1,338
I looked up the maestro IR online and it is remote controllable, 3-way compatible. I have no experience with it.

However with my conventional wired 3-way dimmers, things get pretty confusing if switch A is not fully ON or fully OFF. For example flipping switch B causes it to turn the light ON or OFF, but at the "click" for full on or off, the light will go out.

You might check Lutron's instruction sheets to see what might be happening in your situation:

Also I've had 4 or 7W cheapo incandescent nightlight bulbs on a (lutron) dimmer circuit and had no problems.
Old 06-28-07, 09:39 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 4,112
I've seen similar lights in use - so unless they were somehow kludged together, they should be fine. (it sounds like it's a commercial assembly and not a homemade lighting fixture).

As for the dimmer, I know the Maestro dimmers need to have a load connected to work properly. The instructions state that they require a minimum load of 60w and maximum 600w. If you have just a couple 4w bulbs, it may not be handling the load correctly.

To test this, can you plug in temporarily a 60 watt bulb somewhere? I have a feeling it will dim just fine.

Hope this helps!
Old 06-29-07, 10:59 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Seattle
Posts: 64
I think possibly, as noted above, the fact that the two lights on the dimmer were drawing a total of 8W of power was screwing things up. It does indeed show the minimum load as 60W.

I replaced the dimmer with a simple switch and everything works as planned now.

Thanks for the advice!

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