Tel: 905–690–4709 dk@tfwm.com - Darryl Kirkland, Publisher

How Many Techs Does It Take to Change A Light Bulb?

It’s not as easy as you think. Changing light bulbs is an everyday occurrence and proves to be seemingly quick and painless – until you look up in your sanctuary to your theatrical stage lighting system. Sounds of astonishment, gasping, discouragement (and yes- even shock!) fill the air.

Comments such as the following are often heard:

“How in the world are we going to get to those lights? We don’t have a 40′ ladder!”
“We’re not going to get to those lights – we’re going to have to call for help!”
“It’s how much for you to come out to our church and change light bulbs?”
“We have to rent a what?”
“The seating is in the way! It won’t get messed up will it?”
“It’s how much per lamp?!”

Welcome to our world of church stage & house lighting. A world chock-full of experiences which hopefully will get your imaginations working if you need to change your light bulbs.

Oddly enough, the information to follow comes from hands-on episodes we deal with daily. By the time you are done with this article you will not feel alone, and you’ll have a good grasp on a seemingly simple project gone complex.

Let’s start with those of you getting ready to build a new building. Planning and preparation are vital. Not only does the new facility need to have a pleasing appearance, it needs to be functional and accessible.

We will start with functional qualities.

Functionality consists of several things when it comes to lighting. Having the correct amount of power to operate the lighting systems, finding the best design for your facility, having the correct fixtures and dimming installed to meet your needs, then finally tying it all together within a budget is not an easy set of tasks. Why? Because somewhere down the road, provisions must be made to change the light bulbs; an task that is overlooked by many.

Incorrect power can affect the voltage going to your light bulbs – and stage fixture lamps can be fussy! One to two fluctuating volts can wreak havoc on stage light lamps.

Working with a professional lighting company early on allows you to achieve a final project which will be appealing, producing the correct brightness for all areas being illuminated.

Making certain the fixtures and dimming are installed correctly will also add to the longevity of lamp life.

Budget is a key factor. Knowing what you are spending on lamps and what you have to look forward to when they blow will help you make educated decisions early as to the lighting being installed.

Moving on to accessibility, we will start with ceiling height. High ceilings are the first budget buster when you realize what apparatus will be needed to reach those fixtures mounted far overhead when a lamp burns out. When building a new facility, you will want to make certain a ladder or lift is in the budget to either purchase or rent in the future.

The best route when time, money, and space allow – opt for catwalks! Catwalks are metal grates suspended from the ceiling. Oftentimes they are built “in” the ceiling and cannot even be seen from the floor. Any major theatre and even some of the larger churches have catwalks.

Catwalks allow great accessibility to any lighting system. They are not usually walked upon by the squeamish – so you will want to make certain you have someone willing to work from them once they are installed. Your lighting company should always be available to come and assist with lighting tasks should no one in your congregation want to take part.

The next problem; accessibility, occurs once you decide on a lift or ladder. Will it fit through the sanctuary door(s)? Not only do the doors need to be wide enough, they also need to be tall enough if a lift is selected.

So many times we go into a church to assist with lighting, only to find a lift must be rented to do the job. The height of the lift needed helps to determine the width of the lift. Often times when we arrive on the job site for a preliminary site check, we find that those burned out light bulbs may be staying for a while, until a possible “reconstruction” decision is made.

Following a close third to the previous two accessibility issues is the seating selection. If the seating selection is a permanent style such as pews, the lift will need to have an extending capability to reach over the seating without being directly under the fixtures.

If the seating consists of removable chairs, they will have to be moved and put back in place should the lighting system need to be accessed. This may sound simple enough, if you’re not the one having to remove and replace the chairs. You may want to mention this scenario early on to whomever will actually be in charge of the chairs, to avoid added surprises down the road.

OK, so our systems are now functional and accessible – at least we hope! From here, what do we do?

Figuring out what lamp is needed can be tricky. Just because you have PAR 64’s doesn’t mean you buy a PAR 64 lamp. Oh no no no-they can’t make it easy on us.

PAR 64’s take a multitude of lamp selection combinations. And the odds are, your PAR 64 fixtures may not all have the same lamp, depending on the design and functionality purpose for each zone. For instance, all of the lamps may be 1000 watts, yet some are a narrow beam spread while others are medium or wide. Here’s an idea of just a few of the PAR lamp selections available for the 64’s.

1000 watt very narrow
1000 watt narrow
1000 watt medium
1000 watt wide
500 watt narrow
500 watt medium
500 watt wide

Changing the beam spread can drastically affect the coverage. If you mistakenly replace a very narrow with a wide, you will see things being illuminated that you are not used to seeing when you use the presets on your console. This bleed over can cause problems with projection systems.

Why is it important to know the wattage? Here’s an example: Let’s say your dimmers handle 1200 watts per channel, and you have two fixtures assigned on one channel. If these fixtures are replaced with 1000 watt lamps, you are in for trouble. 1000 + 1000 = 2000 watts going into a socket made for 1200.

On the other hand, if you are running 1000 watt lamps and replace them with 500 watt lamps there will be a noticeable difference in the brightness.

Are your PAR cans a Multi-PAR or Opti-PAR type fixture? Do you have Ellipsoidal style fixtures in the mix? If so, you may be operating with 575 watt or 750 watt lamps.

And you thought you were just going to change a light bulb when it burned out!?

But wait – there’s more!

All lamps (no matter what kind) should not be touched by human hands when inserting new ones or they may blow prematurely. If they are touched, rubbing alcohol is a great way to remove the finger prints and bring the lamp back to a longer life. Wearing a cloth glove is a good way to work when changing light bulbs.

As previously mentioned, getting a lift in and out may be a problem. A ladder or scaffold may be your only solution.

If you are in a building where there is no possible way to reach your existing stage lighting – look at it as a learning curve and take note when you go to build new. You may want to consider purchasing a portable stage lighting system to get you by until your situation changes.

Changing portable system lamps is a breeze! Simply lower the stand, put on a glove, and get the job done!

In wrapping things up may we make one last suggestion? While you are up by the fixture changing the bulb, check the wires, tighten all clamps, check the safety cables, clean the fixture, and possibly change out the color gel if so desired.

We hope we have opened your eyes to a mundane sounding task and helped you to put a new light(?) on the subject of changing a light bulb.