If you live in or just acquired an older home in the Bahamas (or anywhere for that matter) you may have a number of energy sucking rheostats that need attention.
What is a rheostat? Basically it’s a mechanical control placed between an electrical source and a device that runs on electricity. The rheostat is like a "gas pedal" that determines the amount of voltage sent to an electrical device. Common applications in homes are light dimmer switches and switches that control ceiling fan speed. The more voltage sent to a light the brighter it gets, the less voltage sent to a fan the slower it rotates.
While the end result is desirable (controlling voltage), how the rheostat achieves that result is wasteful and potentially dangerous given the alternatives that are available today.
There is nothing high tech about a rheostat. It has been around in essentially the same configuration since the late 1800s. A rheostat is a length of resistor (usually carbon) and two contacts. A "live" contact is placed at the base of the resistor and a sliding contact that determines voltage sent to the device based on its position on the resistor.
If the sliding contact is close to the "live" contact almost all of the electricity (voltage) is passed on to the device. However, if the sliding contact is placed at the end of the length of resistor voltage is "sucked up" and the amount of electricity passed to the device is diminished.
Here’s the downside and why you should replace these rheostats. A rheostat doesn’t slow down the electrical source, it’s always on. It only slows down the voltage of that source which means you are paying for all the voltage when only a portion is actually getting to the device.
Secondly that "sucked up" voltage creates a ton of heat meaning that the housing for the rheostat can reach 1500 – 1700 if you leave a ceiling fan on "low" all day long.
Enter the 21st Century
There’s a better way to control your track lighting, chandeliers, ambient LED and ceiling fans. Digital, all electric controllers can accomplish the same thing as a rheostat without wasting electricity and without generating so much heat you can burn your hands.
Electric controllers (dimmers) don’t rely on a resistor to slow down the voltage. Electrical dimmers simply turn off the electricity at the source. These controllers can "turn a light off and on" up to 120 times per second. That’s faster than you can notice but the end result is that the light (or fan) isn’t getting a full second’s worth of electricity consequently it doesn’t burn as bright or turn as fast.
Unlike a rheostat these controllers pass on 90% of the electricity used. There is very little waste meaning a significant reduction in energy cost to run the light or fan on a dimmer. No excess electricity means no excess heat as well.
If you have old rheostats it’s time to replace them.