Back in May, tenement dwellers in Broughton and beyond received a letter from City of Edinburgh Council regarding its decision to pass to property-owners the legal responsibility for maintaining and repairing their stair lighting (Issue 251).
The New Town Clean Streets Campaign has made enquiries since then to establish what options are open to home-owners, and their findings are presented below.
As suggested in the Council’s letter, we consulted the recommended ‘Trusted Trader’ website, and contacted all of the firms that had a listing on there in the ‘Stairwell Lighting’ category.
Note of course that a blown bulb is far from the only problem that can occur in the stair lighting arena – problems could conceivably arise with the timer mechanism, or with cracked fittings needing replaced. Indeed, if the stairwell has no natural light then it will be lit by ‘emergency lighting’, with a back-up power supply, and this requires an annual service.
The following electricians plan to offer a simple call-out service, for a fee in the £35–£55 ballpark, plus cost of materials.
- Keith Mulholland (0131 212 5042)
- Richard Minto (07515 170 829)
- Wilson Electrical Services, Alastair (07912 363 692)
- Connell & McFadden (factors and property managers (full factoring service also available)) (0131 478 2148) call-out covering replacement of up to 4 bulbs £55 + VAT
- BTVC Electrical, James (01896 848 960)
- Factor 8, plans to offer a more ongoing service, perhaps slightly more similar to what we were used to with the Council. Factor 8 would ask for an annual payment of £30 per building for record-keeping, billing and other admin, and a small float, and then would deal with repairs on a cost and time-spent basis when called out.
- JBE Electrical / Factor 8 Ltd, Craig (0808 1640 788) annual fee £30 + £50 float.
- No reply was received from the final firm, JL Com (0844 259 6600).
Conclusion: We were pleasantly surprised that the listings on the Council’s site didn’t prove to be solely of firms wanting to install new stair lighting systems in large new-build blocks, and that all of the people I spoke to were ready and willing to get involved in this very small and unglamorous end of the market.
While not mentioned in the Council’s letter, and doubtless discouraged by them, there seems no reason in principle why a fit, healthy, intelligent resident in possession of a step-ladder and a head for heights could not change a light bulb in a stair.
What would be required?
1. The means to open the lighting control box (photo 1 above) in order to isolate the light fitting with the blown bulb. Note the black plastic circular lock. This particular lock was opened with a ‘Rittal’ key, no. 5 size (photos 2a and 2b below), and it’s fairly likely that all tenement stair lighting cabinets are the same, but we cannot be sure of that. (You can find vendors on ebay.co.uk by searching for 'Rittal key 5'.)
2. The means to open the light fittings (‘luminaires’). The luminaires are manufactured by a Glasgow firm called Coughtrie Lighting. Their standard stair lighting model has a particular tamper-proof closing mechanism which requires a specific tool to open it – depending on the age of the fitting. For pre-1997 fittings, the Coughtrie 2-prong driver WS.7112 (black handle) (photos 3a and 3b below), and for more recent fittings the Coughtrie 3-prong driver, ref WS.7115.
These can be bought online from the manufacturer, or from Scott Coppola electrical distributors in EH6.
Inside the control box (photo 4 below) is what appears to be a set of isolator switches for the luminaires, and a timer control mechanism. We understand that the switching on and off of the dusk-to-dawn lights is done remotely by the Council, and does not require regular adjustment of the timer mechanism.
Inside the light fitting (photos 5a and 5b) are two 8W, 12” fluorescent tubes. Again, these are easily obtainable from ebay, amongst other vendors.
Conclusion: The major potential problem with the DIY option would seem to be the accessibility, or otherwise, of the control box and the light fittings.
[Spurtle adds: If in any doubt about what you're doing, consult a qualified electrician.]
The other option mentioned in the Council’s letter was that of appointing a factor to manage stair lighting and all of the other repair and maintenance issues of the tenement.
We found a list of all of the registered property factors in Scotland on the Property Managers Association Scotland website (pmas.org.uk); there are 36 factors listed for Edinburgh. Of these, at least half appear to be Housing Associations who factor the blocks that they themselves own, and/or sheltered housing providers.
Demand for factoring in Edinburgh in period tenements has historically been low, but perhaps it’s not inconceivable that some tenements may decide that now is the time to move to a factor.
We found one firm on the list, Southside Property Factors (0131 510 0051) which we understand has been set up as an offshoot of a Housing Association, primarily to service its own properties or those where it owns the majority of properties on a stair, but which will also take on tenements where they do not own any properties.
This firm suggests a fairly basic service comprising: (a) annual roof inspection; (b) stair cleaning; (c) stair lighting; and (d) garden maintenance if applicable. It proposes recharging these services at cost, while taking a separate annual management fee. This ranges from £720 (1–5 properties) to £1,920 (11–20 properties) and upwards, depending on the number of properties in the block–
A rather different approach is taken by Edinburgh Stair Management (http://www.edinburghstairs.org.uk/), which will undertake the kind of work that a factor carries out on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. It charges a modest fee to research a problem, get quotes, and present these to the owners for a decision. The owners retain control, and only pay for what they need and want. This approach requires an existing Owners’ Association and bank account, but if you have these on your stair this might be worth considering; Edinburgh Stair Management can also advise on setting these up.
Conclusion: The sheer expense of an ongoing factoring contract will surely dissuade many. Perhaps the pay-as-you-go option of Edinburgh Stair Management is a good stepping stone for stairs which need some help to take control.
Steven Magee Yes that's a solar timer. Automatically adjusts to sunset depending on its location. Xxx
Richard Lloyd Bonus fact. The other end of the Rittal key 5 you refer to works as a bottle opener.
Would be good for @Edinburgh_CC to retweet @theSpurtle guide to lighting (http://www.broughtonspurtle.org.uk/news/get-grips-stair-lighting …)
@theSpurtle one possible correction: dusk/dawn timer (in our stair) is not remote controlled, but is a smart device that knows seasons
@theSpurtle Thanks for that, but our box with metal hex screw can be opened with ordinary driver. Inside, just pull fuses and a manual timer
@theSpurtle Is that a Rittal key at bottom right? Bought at Tesco for about £1-50 a while ago