By Carol McGarvey, Better Homes and Gardens Books

a On the House ,Replacing a lamp socket By James and Morris Carey
Friday December 28, 2001

This do-it-yourself project is pretty easy to do and can actually make your home safer a lot safer. We were once paid $55,000 to partially rebuild a fire-damaged condominium that had exploded into flames when a short circuit occurred in a frayed lamp cord. Fortunately, the owner was away at the time and was not injured. But, she lost just about everything she owned, family photos, personal records, memorabilia, her wardrobe, furniture, clothing everything. 

Ensuring that electrical appliances are in good condition is important. And, repairing a frayed appliance cord is a good way of doing your share to ensure home safety. On the other hand, when it comes to working on electrical appliances, there can be dangers especially if you aren’t careful. For example: If you replace a lamp cord with undersized wire, overheating can occur and a fire can result. 

Other simple mistakes can be disastrous too. As you make the electrical repairs that we suggest, be sure that all connections are tight and snug. A loose electrical connection can promote arcing and a fire can result. Lack of proper insulation between the electrical contacts and the surrounding metal socket housing can result in a short circuit that can ultimately cause a fire. 

Doing these kinds of repairs are important, but you should be acutely aware of the importance of being extremely careful when working with electric appliances. It’s easy to prevent an electrical repair from backfiring once you realize what things can go wrong. So, read on and learn another trick or two. 

With a lamp there are two parts that are known to wear out occasionally and which must occasionally be replaced: the cord and the light bulb socket. 

Replacing a light bulb socket and switch is easy. Don’t try to repair just the switch. You won’t save any money, and it may even cost more. Also, it doesn’t make any difference which style switch you select. There are three basic types to choose from: pull chain, push-push, and twist. 

Keep in mind that a switch is a switch is a switch and when it comes to “which type,” we suggest that you be the judge. There is, however, another consideration when selecting a switch. That is whether it simply goes on and off or provides low and high intensity on positions. Some folks call it a “three-way switch,” probably because it has three positions: off, on low and full on. The wires are connected in exactly the same way regardless of which switch you choose. But, the three-way is a little more expensive than the standard type. Also, if you select the three-way switch you guessed it you also will have to provide the more expensive three-way bulbs. 

Once you have decided on which switch you will use, the hardest part of the job is over. Now it’s time to begin disassembling the lamp. Most lamps are built pretty much the same way. Quarter-inch threaded tubing travels from the base of the light socket to the bottom of the lamp. The tubing screws into the socket at the top end of the lamp and relies on a nut and washer at the bottom end to hold the entire lamp together kind of like a multi-piece totem pole. Often, a layer of felt conceals the connection at the bottom of the lamp. During the repair don’t discard the felt. It not only conceals the connection, but also prevents the lamp base from scratching your table. 

There can sometimes be several pieces between the socket and the bottom of the lamp. We sometimes see lamps in as many as a dozen pieces. Although there are usually only one or two sections, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to photograph your lamp before you take it apart just in case. 

Caution: Don’t begin until the lamp has been unplugged and the bulb and lampshade have been removed. 

If you intend to replace the cord as well, carefully remove the felt cover from the base of the lamp. Use a razor blade to help peel it off. This will expose a threaded tube with a nut on the end through which the lamp cord travels. If you do not intend on replacing the cord please skip the previous step. 

To replace the socket, remove the setscrew at its base. Then, use a screwdriver to pry the socket shell from the base cap. Simply wedge the screwdriver into the seam between the two pieces and gently pry. With the outer shell out of the way remove the cardboard insulation sleeve to expose the two electrical connections. One will be copper colored (the darker of the two) and one will be silver colored (the lighter of the two). Loosen both screws and release both wires.  

You can now unscrew the base cap from the threaded rod. At this point, if you are replacing the cord, pull it out of the lamp. Disassembly is now complete. 

To make the repair, all you have to do is reverse the disassembly process. Keep in mind that the wire lamp cord must be carefully reconnected. The wire that attaches to the silver post is the neutral side of the connection. The neutral wire on a lamp cord is identified along its entire length, usually by ribs, indentations or square corners on the insulating jacket. And, that’s all there is to it.