One of us was attempting to replace a burned out light bulb in a bathroom exhaust fan/light combo. The problem with this particular model, a NuTone LS100L, is that it contains a booby trap for the unwary – a glass lens that isn’t independently secured within the plastic grille, and therefore can fall out the minute you attempt to release the metal reflector so that you can replace the bulb! And fall out it did, painfully striking a foot on the way down before shattering into many pieces when it hit the bathtub surface. Gravity sucks sometimes, but then so does poor product design.
So no big deal, we thought, just buy a replacement lens – it should only cost a few bucks; it’s just a piece of glass, right? Except that NuTone (a.k.a. Broan-NuTone), the company that manufactured the fan/light, no longer makes or sells the glass lens, so the only sources are online sellers who apparently think that glass is as valuable as gold, or something like that. The first online seller we came across wanted about $90 – that’s not a typo, ninety bucks for just the glass lens! And we found other sellers charging even more! Look it up for yourself if you like, the part number of the glass lens is S84999000 (some sources leave off the leading “S”) and the fan/light model number is LS100L (sometimes hyphenated as LS-100L, which according to this PDF document is similar to other NuTone models LS80L, LS80LF, and LS100LF, at least with regard to the grille and lens used). Even a translucent plastic replacement (that in our opinion doesn’t look nearly as good as the original glass) costs $58!
Since paying that kind of money for a relatively small piece of glass or plastic didn’t appeal to us, we took a closer look at the grille that the lens fits into, which looks like the image at the right when there’s no glass installed. We started wondering if maybe some kind of LED lighting would fit into the opening where the lens is supposed to go. After some searching we found a five-inch square LED Panel Light on Amazon (link removed because it now goes to a different size light, but this one may be similar to the one we used), and figured out that two of them would fit quite nicely into the opening in the grille.
This is the result:
Here are two views of a single LED panel light of the type we used. Go to the Amazon page linked above to see larger images:
It should be noted that the one inch thickness shown includes the tabs on the sides, onto which the spring-loaded clips are placed. The actual panels are quite a bit thinner than that. The small white module is what steps the AC voltage down to whatever DC voltage the LED panel requires. When we purchased the LED Panel Lights, the springs were already attached and the power modules were already connected to the LED panels.
Anyone else attempting to duplicate what we did would not necessarily need to buy from the same seller, but be careful – almost identical looking LED Panel Lights are available in many other sizes, but only the ones with the dimensions shown in the graphic above are known to fit correctly. The main criteria we were concerned about was the size of the unit – we wanted it (in this case, two of them) to fit in the opening enough to completely cover the opening, but without being so large that we’d need to try to enlarge the opening or modify the grille in any way.
The steps we took for installing the LED Panel Lights into the grille were as follows:
- Removed the old reflector and light bulb socket from the grille.
- Snipped the wires from the power connector close to the bulb socket, so we had several inches of wire between the power connector and the connection to the power modules of the LED Panel Lights. We then put the power connector cable aside for the moment.
- Inserted the LED Panel lights into the grille, using the attached spring clips to hold them in place.
- On the inside of the grille (the side usually not visible when the grille is attached to the fan housing) we attempted to position the LED Panel Lights as squarely in the opening as possible, then applied dabs of 100% silicone sealant to the corners, along the edges, and where the two LED Panel Lights meet (making sure they were tightly together so no silicone seeped through). When using silicone sealant, don’t overdo it – we used just enough to hold the LED Panel Lights in place after the sealant had cured. The attached spring clips are what keep the LED Panel Lights in place; the only reason for using the silicone sealant was to keep them from changing position within the opening.
- While the silicone sealant was still fresh, we carefully flipped the grille over so that the normally visible side was facing up, holding the LED Panel Lights so they did not move while we made the flip. Then we did fine positioning to make sure that the LED Panel Lights were as square and even in the opening as we could possibly get them. Once we were happy with the way they were positioned, we walked away and let the silicone sealant cure for at least three or four hours.
- Once the silicone sealant had cured enough that the LED Panel Lights wouldn’t move around within the grille opening, we connected the wires from the power connector to the wires from the power modules using the supplied wire nuts. Although the wires from the power modules are pre-stripped, they don’t leave much bare wire exposed, so we stripped a small bit more of the insulation off. On the power modules we received, the wire colors were brown and blue, which is international (read: Chinese) color coding. Brown is the hot wire and blue is the neutral, so we connected the two brown wires from the two power modules to the black wire from the power connector cable, and the two blue wires from the modules to the white wire from the power connector cable. There was also a green (ground) wire coming from the power connector cable that had been connected to the old metal reflector, but since we removed that reflector there was really not anything to connect it to, so we just left it unconnected.
- After connecting all the wires we tie-wrapped them together and put a glob of silicone sealant around the open ends of the wire nuts, in an attempt to keep moisture out of the connections (this is a bathroom fan/light, after all). We then allowed that to cure for a couple of hours.
After that the inside of the grille looked like this:
We do want to point out that the two power modules have small vents on them that probably should not be blocked. If you notice in the picture, there are a couple of small holes on the power modules (not the ventilation slots – it’s the small slightly oblong holes in the corners that are visible in the above image that we are talking about). As (sort of) shown in the small image at the left, we looped a long tie-wrap through those two holes shown in the larger picture above (with the modules back to back) and only partially tightened it, so that it kind of lazily looped around the modules, and we did not cut off the excess “tail” – the effect of this was that it prevented the modules from flipping into a position where one of the module’s vents is down against the top of one of the LED panels – instead both are on their sides and the long “tail” of the tie-wrap keeps them from rotating. We now wish we’d taken a better quality picture of that, but at the time we did it we weren’t sure we were going to go with that method.
Perhaps you can think of a better way to hold the power modules in the desired place, maybe by mounting them to something that would keep the vents facing sideways, but the point is that it’s probably best if the small vents on the power modules aren’t completely blocked. One reason we preferred leaving them on their sides is so that if a small amount of moisture did somehow manage to seep in, the vent holes would allow it to weep back out and not trap it inside (though we would certainly hope that all of the room moisture would be drawn out by the fan inside the unit, and anyway these things are supposed to be okay to use in bathrooms).
Once the power plug was connected inside the fan housing, but before pushing the grille back up to the ceiling, we had the opportunity to maneuver the power modules so they wouldn’t block the vents. We really didn’t want them in the direct path of moist air being sucked out of the shower anyway, so we positioned them above the LED panels.
This was the result after mounting the grille with the new LED Panel Lights:
In case it’s not obvious these LED panels are bright – we’d been a little worried that they might not be as bright as the bulb they were replacing, but no worries there!
The total cost of this conversion was about $28 – far less than the cost of a highly overpriced piece of glass or plastic, and we think the end result actually looked much better than either of those options. Plus each of those LED panels only uses 9 watts, or 18 watts total for the pair, which is far less that the 100 watt incandescent light that this fixture was designed to hold.
As always, we are just showing you what we did, not suggesting you should do likewise, particularly if you have any reservations about using electrical equipment manufactured in China. If you attempt to do anything similar to this, you do so entirely at your own risk. We don’t make any guarantees about anything electrical, because it’s always remotely possible that you could get a defective or poorly made unit that will cause something bad to happen, and also because we have no idea whether our readers have any experience in working with electricity or electrical equipment. It’s your responsibility to make sure that whatever project you are working on is safe, and if you don’t have a basic knowledge of electricity and electrical safety then you most emphatically should not be doing a conversion like this. If you have any doubts whatsoever about your ability to safely do something like this, consult a licensed electrician to make the electrical connections for you, or just stick with replacing the lens. After all, if you don’t want to do what we did for any reason, there’s always that $58 translucent plastic replacement. On the other hand, if you want to do a project that’s a bit more challenging, maybe you could use flexible LED strip lighting, as explained here. In that case, you’d still need to replace the lens, but you could probably use a flat piece of frosted glass or plexiglass cut to the correct size, since there would not be a light bulb protruding downward that would need to be covered.
All that said, we were really happy with the way this project turned out. We not only think the result looks better than the original design, but you can’t beat using less than one-fifth of the required power to get an even brighter light! They make those LED Panel Lights in several sizes, so we could even see where someone might use something like this to retrofit other models of older bathroom fans with LED lighting, perhaps even units that were not originally supplied with a light. Anyway, we hope this article saves someone else the expense of buying an overpriced glass lens!