Solving the Problem of Dimly Lit Hotel Rooms

Bringing a compact 'travel light' with you is one way to combat dark hotel rooms.
Bringing a compact ‘travel light’ with you is one way to combat dark hotel rooms.

Don’t you hate checking in to your hotel room and finding yourself groping around a dimly lit room, with insufficient lighting to allow you to conveniently read or do other fine-detail work.  Particularly as we get older, our eyes have greater difficulty focusing clearly in lower light – we increasingly need better light in our working and living areas.

Sure, by replacing normal wattage bulbs with lower wattage bulbs, and by having insufficient light fixtures in the room to start with, the hotel might save between a penny and a nickel a night in electricity charges.

If the room really needs another 75 – 100 watts of incandescent light bulb equivalent light, and that the light needs to be on for four or five hours, and electricity costs about 12c per kWhr – the extra electricity for extra light would cost about a nickel with incandescent light, and more like a penny with CFL or LED lights).  Yes, the hotel just collected $100 – $250 from you for the use of the room for the night, and it is now impacting on your convenient comfortable use of the room so as to make one more penny from you.

What can you do in such a case?  There are three things you can do.

1.  Complain

The first thing you should do is call to the front desk and ask for more powerful bulbs and some additional light fixtures to be brought to the room.  Yes, an obvious response, but often an overlooked one.

Don’t passively enable their poor service by not complaining about it.  Make the hotel realize that we do value having sufficient light in our rooms.  If possible, ask the front desk ‘why is it you’ve plenty of light where you work at reception, but we don’t have the same light in our rooms?

Don’t accept the nonsense responses that you’ll probably receive such as ‘no-one else has ever complained’ or ‘our guests tell us they prefer a softer less harsh light in their room’.  Your response in both cases is ‘How do you know that other guests weren’t unhappy but didn’t want to get the same brush off, such as you are now trying to give me?  How many guests have called you from their room to tell you how happy they are with the dim light?  Are you telling me that I don’t count?  Am I not also a guest?  If someone wants softer light, let them turn off a light, but what about me wanting normal light – what can I do?’

In the second part of this series we’ll also tell you how to equip yourself with facts and figures to back up your request for better light.

2.  Bring Your Own Brighter Bulbs

The second thing you could do is travel with higher powered light bulbs and replace the bulbs in the fixtures with brighter bulbs.

Back when the only type of bulbs most of us ever encountered were the traditional incandescent bulbs, this wasn’t a very effective strategy, because many fixtures wouldn’t support brighter bulbs.  The brighter bulbs were hotter and risked overheating the fixture and possibly even leading to a fire.

The bulbs were also large and fragile, and so not easy to travel with.

But now, tiny LED bulbs no longer suffer these problems.  Because they generate very much less heat, you can put a much brighter LED bulb in any fixture and not have to worry about the heat melting or charring or setting fire to the fixture.  They are also smaller and usually stronger, and so are now more practical to travel with.

If you are going to do this, we suggest you get bright LED bulbs with the narrow screw bases, and also get the narrow to standard screw base adapters.  That way you can use the bulbs in any type of fixture.

The two issues with this strategy is firstly creating a protective carry case that you can keep your bulbs in while traveling (but a quick visit to an office supplies or packaging store will offer you dozens of plastic containers, and if you line one of those with a bit of bubble wrap, you’ve solved that problem) and remembering to take your bulbs back at the end of your stay.

As long as you prominently have your empty carry case somewhere, that should help ensure you don’t forget to reclaim your bulbs.

Note that this strategy doesn’t work so well if you are traveling internationally, due to different light fitting types and of course the different voltages.

 –  Bulb Brightness Measures

Most of us have grown up with the concept of measuring bulb brightness in terms of its wattage – the power it consumes.  Interestingly, there is not a linear relationship between power consumed and brightness – a 100 watt light bulb, while using 2.5 times as much electricity as a 40 W bulb, is typically more than three times brighter.  Power consumption has never been a good way of measuring bulb brightness.  And with the newer technologies with very different light per watt factors, it has become totally meaningless a measure.

The best way to measure light is the scientific way, in lumens.  We’ll discuss this in more detail in another article in the series, for now all that is needed to know is that the more lumens, the brighter.

Here is a helpful table of power and light output for the different types of bulbs :

20025   –   –
450409 – 134 – 5
8006013 – 156 – 8
11007518 – 259 – 13
160010023 – 3016 – 20
260015030 – 5525 – 28

 –  What About CFL – Compact Fluorescent Lights?

We are recommending you travel with LED lights, not CFL lights.  The CFL lights are more fragile, not as efficient, generate more heat, and don’t last as long.

Additionally, if broken, they run the risk of releasing mercury which may be a health hazard.  So pass over this technology, and go for the far superior, albeit somewhat more expensive, LED lighting.

3.  Bring Your Own Lamp

If you bring your own bulbs, this of course requires you to be able to access the light fittings in the room and easily change over the bulbs within them.  It also means that the light, while brighter, is still coming from whatever (and sometimes inconvenient) locations the light fixtures are placed within your hotel room.

Another approach is to bring your own lamp with you.

Until recently this would have required a large and possibly weighty object to be added to your suitcase.  But the miniaturization possible with LED lights is now making much smaller traveling lights a practical possibility.  But – how practical?

To answer that question, we did a review of a wide range of different small, lightweight, portable and bright ‘traveling’ lights currently for sale on Amazon.  The most important thing was that it should be capable of giving a reasonable amount of light and being suitable for the slightly rough treatment it would get when being tossed into our suitcase repeatedly.

Many of the lights gave no information about the light they actually emanated, but in some cases we could try and guess by coming to some sort of approximate understanding of the power they consumed and the likely LED output that such power would provide.  Clearly, more watts is better than less watts, but as the table above shows, there can be a difference of 30% or more in light output between two LEDs with the same power consumption.

We also noted that there were many different brands of what appeared to be the identical light – sometimes with identical specifications, sometimes with different specifications.  Unfortunately, not all these specifications can be completely trusted, and from our knowledge of typical Chinese manufacturing and marketing practices, if the units look the same, they almost certainly are the same, no matter what their brands and model numbers may suggest.  Furthermore, claims made in poor English that one model is a ‘new and improved’ version, while still looking the same as the other models, are usually of very dubious probity as well.

We ended up buying the Premer PM-L615-G lamp.  It claims an impressive 950 lumens of output (ie a bit more than from a 60W regular bulb), folded down to a nice compact shape/size for traveling with, was versatile in terms of how it could be angled, and had a nice additional feature – it had a rechargeable Li-ion battery inside so you could run it without needing to plug it in, giving more versatility if in a hotel room with not only insufficient light but also too few power points.  It sells for $28m whereas some of its clones sell for almost twice as much.  It comes in black, grey and white colors – we suggest you choose white or grey, because the black tends to ‘soak up’ some of the light.

The unit weighs 1 lb 2 oz.  Folded, it measures about 13.5″ long by 2.3″ x 1.1″.  It can be opened up into a variety of “Z” type configurations, and the light head can be swiveled through 270 degrees, providing considerable flexibility for where and how you position the lamp and where the light shines.

The light shines through a diffused panel of about 6.2″ x 1.4″.  This is good, because it means you don’t have a single intense light source, but a softer light source that is less harsh and works better either for task or area illumination.

It comes with a plug in charger and a separate cable; the cable connects to the plug in charger via a standard USB connector at one end, but very disappointingly has a custom round connector for where it connects to the lamp.  Although you can charge the lamp from any USB type power source, sadly you can’t use any USB cable, only the custom cable that comes with the unit.  This is an inexcusable design blunder that offers nothing to the user except hassle and inconvenience.

There is a non-replaceable Li-ion battery inside that is said to have an 1800 mAhr capacity.  It isn’t replaceable.  While charging, the power switch is illuminated, and when fully charged, the light goes off.  The battery is claimed to last for over eight hours of light.

The unit has three power levels, activated by a ‘touch sensitive’ switch.  I use quote marks because it is a capacitive switch and is so sensitive that if your finger gets within about half an inch of the switch, you’ll trigger it, and several times I ended accidentally turning the light on without realizing it.  Particularly when the light is folded shut, that can be hard to spot.  My solution to this was to slip a sock over that end of the folded up unit, keeping it shut and keeping me and other things away from the switch.

It runs cool with no ‘hot spots’ anywhere, even when run at the brightest power level for hours nonstop.

Now for the key issue – its brightness.  Is it really as bright as a 60W bulb?

  –  How Bright Is It?

This is hard to establish in exact lumen terms, but comparative testing alongside an actual 60W bulb showed the 60 W bulb to be undeniably brighter.  Approached from the other end, a 100 lumen bulb was more closely similar in brightness, although it was hard to accurately compare the two due to different coverage patterns.

Another measure is to consider the implications of an 1800 mAhr battery powering the light for over eight hours.  If this is true (and our testing ran a bit under eight hours), then that would suggest a current draw of 225 mA of less, and with a 3.7V battery, this would be about 0.83 W of power.  Some of this will be lost through voltage conversion and other inefficiencies, and so it is likely the net power to the LEDs in the lamp is 0.6 – 0.8W.  A study of the literature suggests this might give somewhere in the order of 30 – 50 lumens, which would be a result not jarringly dissimilar to the observation of a similarity between the 100 lumen incandescent bulb and the LED unit.

So is the claim of 950 lumens exaggerated ten fold?  We don’t have the scientific test instruments to be sure, but the simple analysis of the maximum possible power being taken from the battery and the maximum possible light generated by an LED consuming that much power does not seem to support the supplier’s, ahem, optimistic rating.

Puzzlingly, the lamp’s specifications claim it to be a 6W light – a power level that would indeed be closer to the 950 lumens.  But that is just plain impossible – you can’t get 6W of power from the battery for eight hours.  In total, the battery stores something less than 6.7 watt hours of power – if it truly was a 6W light, the battery would be dead in about an hour.

Now, okay, we didn’t get 8 hours of life from the battery, but we did get more than one, and there are a number of implications and explanations as to the observed actual battery life and the number of watts of net power going into the LEDs and the number of lumens of net light emerging out the far side of the diffuser.  Whatever the true number is, we’re of the opinion it is closer to 100 lumens than 950 lumens.

One significant consideration is that the light becomes visibly brighter when you connect it to a power source.  If you’re wanting to get the maximum light, you’d be well advised to keep the lamp connected to a power source.  Assuming the battery is fully charged, so the power is being used primarily to operate the light, the lamp will draw 0.6 amps on low brightness, 0.9 amps on medium, and 1.3 amps on maximum brightness, from its power supply.  The provided power supply is rated to provide up to 2 amps.  If you were powering it from other sources, you’d want to check to make sure the power source can provide 1.5 amps or more.

The connecting cable is 3 1/2 ft long.  A longer cable would give you more flexibility in terms of where you’d locate the lamp, and you might want to get a USB extension cable (type A male to type A female) such as one of these to give you this flexibility.

So is this lamp an effective additional light source?

As an area illuminator, to brighten your entire hotel room, it makes a small amount of difference, but is hardly, to misuse the phrase, like night and day.  To provide a smaller pool of stronger light in a single task area, it works much better.

It isn’t outrageously expensive ($28 on Amazon).  It isn’t also particularly heavy (1 lb 2 oz) but that’s a slippery slope – a pound here, a pound there, and pretty soon, your suitcase goes over weight.  We’re ambivalent – it doesn’t transform a room’s light, but it does help.

2 thoughts on “Solving the Problem of Dimly Lit Hotel Rooms”

  1. Enjoyed your article! I recall staying in dimly lit European hotel rooms during my grad student days in the 1970s. Usually I carried my own 75 watt bulb to replace the miserly hotel bulbs–in France often 25 watts at best. Hotel managers explained there was a risk of overloading their 1920s electrical wiring, starting fires and blowing fuses. They had good reason to fear when American guests turned on their blow dryers. “But monsieur, who uses a hotel room for reading a book?’
    I think British hotelkeepers were the most difficult. They installed non-standard plugs and outlets to prevent guests from using ANY personal electrical appliances. Grudgingly they did allow low-wattage electric razors on 120/240 volt converter boxes, barely enough to recharge a laptop computer. The British have a fuse-mania: they put fuses in every plug and switches on every outlet to cut power immediately!
    No wonder the European Union has had disputes about standards for simple electrical plugs!

  2. I agree 100%. I usually on the start of a more than 5 day trip to Europe get a 100 watt type bulb and leave a sticky on my door or safe to retrieve bulb when departing. One problem is the bulb sockets can differ from one hotel to the next. I will get the portable light you suggest (and carry a small clamp to put it on headboard) and as always have an extension cord.

    I hate the idea of one more devise and cord to carry, but what can one do?

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