The Lava Lamp Clock

By Andrew Davidson
in 2007

Currently installed at Under Design, the Lava Lamp Clock tells the (approximate) time to within 15 minutes. Each 32oz. Lava Lamp goes on once per day, for a total of 3.5 hours at a time. There are 24 Lava Lamps, starting with 1am on the far left, ending with Midnight at the far right. It measures approximatly 18' wide, and 2' high, and 1' deep. The silver bases reflect daylight hours. The orange checks mark 6am, Noon, 6pm and Midnight. You can click on this image to zoom in.


What Time Is It?

The time it's displaying currently is a bit after 6:35pm. The 3 o'clock lamp is off (goes off at 6:30), and the 6 o'clock lamp has been on for less than an hour, but more than 15 minutes (you'll note the initial lava explosion has happened (15 min. in), but it hasn't melted yet at the 45 minute mark). Once you get used to the regular 'warming up' period of lava lamps, you can predict the time with better accuracy.

Click the thumbnail below to see a time-lapse video of the Lava Lamp Clock in action, over a full 24 hours day. You'll note each Lava Lamp has it's own personality, and the lava behaves differently in each one. This makes each Lava Lamp Clock unique.

01'35 RT
MP4 Video
▶ Plyr


The Most Expensive / Least Accurate Clock Ever?

The real purpose of the Lava Lamp Clock is an electronic pet that costs money to maintain, with little to no benefit of ownership. The Lava Lamp Clock uses about $100 in electricity per year, based on current rates. Overall, you're using 140 watts at all times.

Plus, the cost of replacing blown out bulbs, and other hardware failures (like one of the 24 timers attached to each Lava Lamp) adds an addtional $40 per year.

Add to the initial purchase costs, like 24 Lava Lamps, and 24 Timers from Ikea for $60. I'd tried to budget around $20 shipped per Lava Lamp. I paid more for rarer colors, and less for more common ones. I continue to purchase Lava Lamps on eBay in case of disaster, and for version 2.0, which will be computer controlled.

Also note, I can't find a current manufacturer who makes Lava Lamps like these anymore, in this size and type. It's all glitter and plastic these days - this might be the death knell for old-school Lava Lamps.

image of 40 watt bulb I just noted that Congress passed some legislation in December of 2007 basically outlawing 40 watt bulbs completely by 2014. This is of course, in favor of lower wattage bulbs, lower energy usage, etc. I don't imagine they'll completely stop production of all 40 watt bulbs in 2014, but this does not bode well for the clock. We'll probably stock up for 20 years of operation, assuming 1 bulb per lamp per year. It'll still cost around a grand in bulbs!

Also, I've placed a Kill-A-Watt device in the power chain of the clock, so now we monitor the electricity demand down to the milliwatt. Until I get an actual cost per K/W hour that we pay here locally, I can't put an accurate price tag on the cost of this pet.

Daylight Savings Nightmare

Since this bad boy is analog, it requires the most effort when adjusting for Daylight Savings time. Instead of changing all 24 timers, we merely unplug it for 23 hours during the spring changeover, and unplug it for 1 hour in the fall. Getting the timing right is always iffy, but we're usually somewhat on time.

Is it for $ale?

Everything is for sale. Best offer to Under wins. This would make a great talking piece in a restaurant or nightclub. It can be shipped, it might cost a lot to ship.

How Lava Lamps Are Made (Added 2021)

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