Traffic Signal and Street Light Information Sheets
Willis Lamm
  Using Vintage Street Lights
for Area and Security Lighting

Concepts for repurposing
vintage street lamps for
area lighting and security uses.

Please note:

This feature discusses ideas for preserving and reinstalling vintage street lights for continued use. Please use common sense and follow electrical codes when making such installations. An information sheet on converting a high voltage series circuit street light to 110 volt use can be found at How to Safely Wire a High Voltage Series Street Light for 110 Volt Use.

For decades I've used vintage street lights for use around the ranch and home for security and area lighting.

They provide a classic look that I like.

They are designed to be out in the weather.

New energy saving bulbs can provide a relatively high degree of low-glare light at reasonable costs. For example, a compact fluorescent lamp that produces an equivalent of 300 watts of incandescent light only consumes about 68 watts of power while producing color rendering similar to the fixture's original incandescent bulb.

CFLs also come in cooler color ranges for that "mercury vapor" look.

1950s vintage Westinghouse AK-10 providing area and security lighting.
This 68 watt CFL produces an equivalent of 300 watts of incandescent light.

  Mounting Configurations

(Note: Post mount configurations are relatively self-explanatory. The most important element is to pour a foundation sufficient to secure the lamp post being used. This feature will instead focus on the construction and installation of overhead mounted lamps.)

Vintage street lights come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most of the overhead pendant and bracket mount luminaires come with 1 inch diameter slip (clamp type) or threaded fitters. Luminaires that have their own photoelectric (dusk to dawn) controls typically utilize side mount slip fitters and attach to horizontal bracket arms. Luminaires not equipped with photoelectric controls can either have side mount slip fitters or pendant mount threaded fitters.

Typical luminaire with photoelectric control.
Typical pendant mount luminaire.

Some luminaires designed for high output on large mast arms to illuminate arterial streets may have 2 inch slip fitters. These can be easily adapted to 1 inch threaded bracket arms.

  Placement Considerations

An important consideration when placing vintage street lamps back in service involves energy efficiency. Older luminaires typically utilized incandescent or mercury vapor lamps. But it's just not energy efficient to burn a 300 or 405 watt incandescent lamp for a dusk to dawn operation.

Most of the vintage overhead lamps that are available have standardized aluminum heads. Most incandescent luminaires come with standardized body dimensions and have NEMA "latch-on" ears that permit the exchange of reflectors and optical assemblies across the various models and even across different brands. Kits are available for converting the luminaires to more efficient light sources such as metal halide, however oftentimes the simplest conversion involves using high output compact fluorescent adapters that simply screw into the incandescent lamp sockets.

As a result, the practical maximum light output will be limited to around 4200 lumens, roughly the equivalent of a 300 watt incandescent bulb. Additionally many security or area lamps that are mounted on buildings will be placed at a lower height than utility pole or mast mounted luminaires. 4200 lumens is actually an ideal amount of light for luminaires that are mounted at slightly lower elevations. The combination of reduced height and light production may make it necessary to place lamps at closer intervals in order to produce relatively uniform light.

Also some consideration should be given as to location in order to provide the best coverage from the light produced, such as mounting at corners of buildings.

Optimal mounting for area and security lighting.

You may get lucky and acquire an original bracket arm for mounting a vintage lamp. Otherwise, steel or galvanized pipe can be used. There will be quite a bit of weight at the end of the bracket arm, and the installation must withstand wind during storms, so pipe of 40 gauge or having equivalent strength should be used. I do not recommend lag bolting bracket arms to posts or buildings. Original bracket arms should have at least one through bolt. Home-made arms should have suitable vertical bracing and if mounted using floor flanges, the top flange should be secured with through bolts that are passed through a sufficiently strong structural component. The bottom flange can be secured with tech screws or wood screws as may be appropriate.

Secure mounting and use of appropriate bracing hardware are critical.
Gable mount of a smaller luminaire using a floor flange and support strap.

Continue to
Optics and applications

For more information on how series circuits work, please see
Understanding Series Street Light systems

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