May 22, 2018
traditional gas lantern

Should You Use Gas Lanterns Indoor When Restoring Your Period Home?

Gaslighting has not been popular for interior or exterior use since 1900, but some period homes still have old gas fixtures installed. When renovating, some homeowners who wish to retain historical accuracy wonder whether to restore the old traditional gas lanterns along with other updates. While there are ways to utilize gas-fueled fixtures inside the home, it is risky.

The Problem With Indoor Gas Lights

Gas fixtures can be configured to produce an open flame or utilize a gas mantle, which utilizes a bag made of cloth or wire mesh filled with rare earth metallic salts that burn away when the mantle is heated. In contrast to the open flame, which produces a soft flickering light equivalent to a 25-watt lightbulb, the gas mantle offers a steady white light equivalent to a 50 or 60-watt bulb.

The problem with using gas fixtures inside is that they can produce excessive heat that can ignite combustible materials such as wallboard, wood, and fabric, especially if the lights are placed too close to them. Lanterns are designed so that gas escapes the vents at the top and bottom at temperatures approaching 450 to 500 degrees F.

In addition, gas lights expel carbon monoxide (CPO) that can be deadly when absorbed into the blood. The fumes a lantern can produce are the same fumes that a running car would give off in a closed garage. CPO is both odorless and colorless, which means that it can potentially kill you without your realizing danger.

These dangers are somewhat lessened with gas mantle lamps vs. open flame models. Similarly, fixtures that are made for propane or converted to utilize bottled gas are somewhat safer as this product burns to produce carbon dioxide and water vapor, which poses no danger. However, like open flame models, propane fuel fixtures expel dangerous methane gas. When you couple this information with the fact that lighting in modern homes is used for longer periods of time in the past, not even propane fixtures that use gas mantles are not recommended solution inside the house. Considering that modern homes and other buildings are better insulated in in times past, gas lamps are both a fire and a health risk.

Additional Issues With Installing Gas Lanterns Indoors

Surprisingly, some lantern manufacturers claim that gas fixtures are acceptable indoors, so long as they are properly vented, equipped with an electronic ignition, CSA-approved, and professionally installed. Even if gas lanterns meet ANSI standards for indoor or outdoor use established by CSA, a body that sets codes and standards, there are no national standards for interior gas lights. Most manufacturers will not warranty interior installations.

Another problem is that local municipalities must approve the installation after pressure testing. If the lamp fails the inspection after installation, you could be out time and money and you would be left with an unusable fixture,

Where Traditional Gas Lanterns Can Be Safely Installed

Installing gas lanterns inside is problematic, but outdoor usage poses fewer threats even on open-air porches, entryways, and decks, as well as on driveways and lawns. Many manufacturers offer brackets and posts for gas lights.

In an outdoor setting, even open flame lanterns are safe. Currently, these models are popular because of the romantic ambiance the flame offers.

Although exterior gas lanterns poses fewer risks than indoor relations, building codes require that a licensed plumber to install them

Restoring Traditional Gas Lanterns

Despite the temptation to restore beautiful gas lanterns in period homes, the best way to preserve look of the fixture is to rewire it for electricity. According to This Old House, the steps you should take include:

  • Verify that the fixture is in good enough shape to be rewired.
  • Clean it up by removing paint splatters and dirt. By using a cleaner such as Simple Green, you can remove dirt while keeping many original finishes intact. For thorough job, you will need to disassemble the fixture. If the whole fixture has been painted, you should remove all paint, varnish, and lacquer.
  • If the finish is “spelter,”‘ a zinc alloy made to look like brass, you will need to completely strip and refinish it. You can tell if the fixture is spelter by scratching it off in an unobtrusive spot and seeing if the surface beneath the finish is white or silver.
  • Freeze the gas valve shot with a drop of Loctite and then blast compressed air through the gas line to free it of debris and burr before you start rewiring.
  • Rewire the fixture, keeping in mind that electric wire is thicker than streams of gas. The pros suggest using 18 gauge wire that you have pre-lubricated with a dry bar of Ivory soap before threading it through the narrow arms of the fixture. (Attaching the wire to 18 that you can snake through first can help you pull the wire through.) If the wire won’t fit, you may have to run it on the outside.
  • Prepare your refurbished fixture for use by installing LED bulbs that look like gas flames.

The results of your efforts will be a refurbished fixture that looks like the original, is safe to use, and offers light that is similar to gas.

Alternative Ways To Complete Your Lighting Renovation

As you prepare to renovate historic light fixtures, you may find that the original is too deteriorated to restore without a serious outlay of time and money. A pleasing alternative is to buy reproduction fixtures from Lantern & Scroll, which offers many electrified versions of traditional gas lanterns that will give you home the proper period look.

As you peruse our many collections, you may find just the right lantern in our Charleston and other collections, which you can personalize with scrolls, loops, and other detail. If you want something you don’t see, we will work with you to create a custom piece that is just right for your home. Any of our lanterns can be used with candelabra-based flickering flame bulbs that replicate the look of gas flames.

Contact us today for information about replacing your outdated gas fixtures with safe, modern electric lanterns that look authentic to the period of your home.

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