Every bathroom, by default, is a confined space. Some will have windows, but also by default it will be closed most of the time. Hence a bathroom lighting is something not really special. But wait until condensation with the help dodgy developer meet with years of unopened lamp fitting inside humid bathroom…. Just make sure your place equipped with Residual Current Device/Circuit Breaker – otherwise short circuit and/or electrocution is just a matter of time.

The beginning….

It was just  a quite normal Saturday morning. Children are watching morning kids program and I was just finished morning bath and my wife is looking after laundry and ironing. Until suddenly all light were gone and my UPS alarm start beeping. First thinking is that there was a blackout, but upon checking my electricity panel, it seems that my circuit breaker which consist of Residual Current Circuit Breaker (RCCB) a.k.a Residual Current Device (RCD) has tripped.

[Circuit Breaker Panel]

Circuit Breaker Panel

I start the troubleshooting (see picture): I shutdown 2 power’s switch from the MCB row, 1 light, oven and air conditioning. Then I flip back the master switch. It holds. Then I put back oven, then air conditioning segment – still holds. Even power1 and power2 also have no problem. But once I turn on the “light” the master switch tripped again.

Well, it’s time to turn off all lights, turn on the light’s MCB, turn on master RCD switch and turn on all lamp one by one. What I found is really beyond my expectation….

Lamp Immerse in Water….

[Condensation on Fitting]

Condensation on Cover

Opening the cover of this supposed to be water tight decorative fitting, I can see visible condensation dew very obviously (see picture on the right).

The dew is concentrated on the cooler part of the lamp housing (away from the hottest part – the bulb) which is consistent with condensation theory – hot humid vapor become liquid as it meet cool(er) surface.

Can the water come from splash? No, the glass dome has rubber seal (tight fit), also patern of the dew is typical of condensation.

Looking at the amount of water accumulate inside the glass bowl and the water mark on the lamp, I would suggest that this has been ongoing for a while.

Luckily, the RCD/RCCB (Residual Current Circuit Breaker) who detect that the current out is not equal with the current in (as it got short circuit into earth) , has done its job: tripping the circuit. Otherwise there are 2 dominant risks:

1. The short circuit spark a fire
2. -Or- anybody who is trying to replace the bulb will touch the water that contact with live wire a.k.a electrocution

[Water accumulate on glass bowl]

Water accumulate on glass bowl

The root cause…

At first I thought this problem is due to my negligence of putting higher bulb than the maximum. On this decorative white oyster fitting, there is a note to read “Max 40W” – I did only install 20W energy saver bulb, but 20W of this fluorescent lamp is equal to 100W normal bulb. Lucky for me, the law of physics is on my side: the equivalence is only about the luminance (the brightness of the lamp), the energy (that makes the heat) is purely from the current, which is half than the maximum rating as a wattage is proportional to amperage (current).

A further research shows that a bathroom light need to conform with International Protection Rating (IP) of  at least IP44 standard (which require splash proof from any direction and dust  proof housing).  The definition of “dust” is any solid above 1mm diameter.

[not IP44]

Got hole on the back, definetely not IP44...

Closer observation reveals that this fitting has about 20mm round hole on the back of the base and has about 50mm clearance from the ceiling and the base. Easy enough for humid vapor from bathroom activity get inside the container. So, very safely to say, it is not IP44 fitting as required.(VDE 0100, Part 701,Zone 2, domestic bathroom)

If the hole is very small (to cater >1mm diameter), then the moisturized vapor will not get in into the housing because inside the housing there is expanded gas due to the heat (which produce positive pressure), furthermore, with extraction fan very near to the lamp and always on when the lamp is on, then following the least resistant path, the moisturized vapor will go to the fan straightaway. But with the hole, as the fan try to pull all moisturized gas outside, some will be easily trapped inside the sealed front housing and then condensed as long as it’s heated and go to the cooler surface. Little at times, but after more than 3 years without bulb changes then it happened.

Then… why the developer installed sub standard part ? Well the answer is easy… The developer of the building is well known as dodgy. Here is the definition of “dodgy” for this: conveniently liquidate themselves upon receiving complain of building defect. Looks seriously dodgy for me…

The Messsage

  1. Check your bathroom !! NOW!
    If you find some accumulating water inside the light fitting: turn off electricity, open the cover, and dry it – hair dryer will do, then just leave it open. Yes, it’s not splash free anymore and a little bit eyesore, but still better than got electrocuted. You will not splash the water that high anyway (just make sure this :-))
    If you’re not sure, call your licensed electrician.
  2. Make sure your electricity is protected by RCD a.k.a RCCB
  3. The extraction fan is playing a great role, if it is broken replace it straight away. It does not just put the “smelly” air away, but also those damaging moisturized vapor.
  4. :-) Don’t buy property from dodgy developer….

Have a great day !