How To Replace A Ceiling Light Fixture The Spruce

October 23, 2018 6:06 am by sandiego
Boob light update
Want to spruce up outdated light fixtures try removing the glass from yuck
How To Replace A Ceiling Light Fixture The Spruce

They can run on thin cables or easy-to-install tracks. Let’s look at your basic ceiling light fixture options, except for a couple of the least popular (fluorescent and spot lights):

Once the light bulbs are installed, just carefully install the fixture shade. This is usually done by twisting it on and aligning the grooves in the shade with the…MORE little bumps on the side of fixture base. Next, just turn on the light switch or restore power at the power panel and you’re done! 

Recessed lights–also called canister or can lights–came of age in the 1970s and 1980s. It seems that every house built in the Eighties had recessed lights. Of course, their ubiquity meant that they would soon become roundly disliked.

If your fixture uses the two small long bolts, then proceed as follows:

By taking the wires apart, and connecting them back together in this order, you’re ensuring that you have two important safety valves in place each time you’re working with the ungrounded hot wire. The last one you take apart, and the first one you splice together, is the set of ground wires, also known as the Equipment Grounding Conductor, or EGC. As its name implies, that wire is connected directly to the ground or earth. You can think of it as the emergency overflow drain for the electrical system. The second set of wires you take apart or put back together, the neutral conductors, are the regular drain for the system. The set you take apart first and put together last, the ungrounded conductors, are the supply line. That way, if there’s any power present that you overlooked, or if somebody cut it back on after you turned it off, that power has two ways to leave the box without trying to go through you.

Turn the wall power switch controlling the light fixture to the off position. If there is any chance another person could turn on the switch while you are working (e.g., children or spouse) then turn off the power at the main power panel.

Heat shrink tubing is a special plastic…MORE that shrinks up when heat is applied to it. 

Installing a Pendant Light What You Need to Do and How to Do It

Adjustable. Like the track light, you can slide the lights along the rail or cable to any spot.

Installing a new pendant light can often be just a matter of taking down an old fixture and hanging your new one, and there are two things which help make this project less of a burden: First of all, with the exception of larger chandeliers, which can sometimes be heavy, most pendant lights weigh little enough to be hung from a standard ceiling box. That also means that they aren’t difficult to lift and that they can be balanced on top of your stepladder, or temporarily supported from the ceiling box with a home-made wire hook. Second, with the exception of most track lights, pendant lights are hung from a canopy. That gives you the advantage of being able to support the actual fixture “off to the side,” on your ladder or on a temporary hook, and have both hands free to make the electrical and mechanical connections.

If your ceiling fixture is a two lamp fixture you may need to attach the wires together if it was not done at the factory. Twist the leads of the black wires together and the leads of the white wires together. © 2011

Spotlighting. As mentioned, pendants allow you to focus light on a particular area.

OK, so you’ve taken a look at the existing wiring and it is in bad shape. It may be crumbling, brittle or may have an exposed wiring conductor. Ordinarily, you can just wrap 2 or 3 wraps of electrical tape around the damaged area. However, with old, brittle insulation, it will come apart and be made worse as you try to wrap the old wire and insulation with electrical tape.

Like our friend the recessed light, track lights had their heyday in the Seventies. Track lights freed up tables, floors, and other surfaces from merely being places to put a lamp. More importantly, track lights were adjustable…

Adjustable Height. Chandelier fixtures usually can be adjusted up or down to better accommodate the table below.

In terms of ubiquity, pendant lights are the new recessed lights (can you say “Starbucks”?).

Once the fixture base is mounted securely to the ceiling you’re home free! Just install two incandescent light bulbs (or CFL bulbs specially marked for enclosed fixture use) and twist the glass shade into place. Hey, nice job!. © 2011

OK, you’re just about done. Now just install two incandescent light bulbs. Do not use standard CFL light bulbs in an enclosed fixture because the CFL bulbs will fail and be a fire hazard. If you want to use CFL’s for some reason, you must make sure they are specially marked and rated for enclosed fixtures or for dimmer use!

Fixture Shown Here: From The Home Depot, this is just the baffle (trim) part of a 6″ Halo recessed light (I have selected this image because it is indicative of the way it will look when installed).

The next step is to inspect the condition of the existing wiring’s insulation. The insulation used on old wiring can fray and become brittle. In the above photos you can see how the insulation is brittle and wiring is actually exposed. This condition is very dangerous and can create short circuits and fire hazard.

Take the hot wires apart first, then the neutrals. Take the ground wires apart last. Set the old fixture aside. If your new fixture has a mounting plate or strap, attach that to the box next. Lift your new fixture into place. If it’s a bit heavy or clumsy to hold up or to balance on your ladder, you should be able to use a piece of coat hanger wire, bent into an “S” shape, to support the fixture while you connect the wires. Connect the ground first, then the neutral, and then the hot wire.

For a time in the late 1990s, pendant lights were the hottest thing, the ultimate in urbanity. Now that their influence has spread, it’s their functionality that has remained. Pendant lights are a wonderful way to bring light closer to your work surface.

Fixture Shown Here: The LBL Lighting Straight Rail Monorail System Kit from

You’ll find that heat shrink tubing comes in a variety of sizes. To install it just proceed as follows:

First, take the bracket and align it with the fixture base bolt holes to see which holes in the bracket have to be used. In the upper left photo you can see that the outer most…MORE bracket holes are what need to be used.

Next, you have to see if you can use the new bracket or if you can use, or have to use the old bracket. In the upper right photo you can see which existing mounting bracket holes line up with the new bracket mounting hole.

This particular bracket is in a home from 1939. Although the construction quality is good, the new bracket will not work with the existing construction. There are no ceiling junction box screw holes available to fasten the new bracket, and the center post fastening the existing bracket to the ceiling electrical box is too large a diameter to work with the new bracket.

Bottom line, the old bracket will have to be reused.Reusing the old bracket actually makes the work easier in one way, as the bracket is already in place. However the holes that need to be used are blocked with a plaster ceiling behind them.

TIP: The trick around this problem is to drill out the ceiling behind the bracket holes you need. (If a drill was not available you can use a nail and a hammer to punch through the old ceiling behind the bolt hole).

Take a 1/8″ drill bit and test fit it in a bolt hole (with the drill off) to make sure the drill is smaller than the small mounting bolt hole and that the drill bit will not damage the screw threads.If the 1/8″ drill bit is too big, use a smaller appropriately sized bit.

Drill out the ceiling behind the mounting bracket bolt holes.

Overused. If you don’t mind being like the Joneses, buy a pendant light. But remember that the Joneses are probably buying the popular and overdone “capsule” style glass fixtures. Suggest: experiment with the fixture and try something different, like the one shown here (yes, this is still a pendant light).

Quality of Light. These lights cast an overall-room brightness, without giving you enough light to concentrate on specific tasks. While a flush or semi-flush mount will not provide all of your kitchen ceiling lighting, it’s a good base-level light to start with.

With the wiring connected, the next step is to install the fixture base to the ceiling. The base will attach either by a threaded rod that attaches to the center of the ceiling mounting bracket, or with two small long bolts as shown above. If you are using a threaded rod, then just slip the fixture over the rod and fasten together using the knob provided with your fixture.

As you take the old fixture down, note how the wires are connected. Mark which wire in the ceiling each of the fixture wires is spliced to. There are three types, or functions, of wire for a ceiling fixture: the ground, the neutral, and the hot wire. The hot wire from the switch is usually black or red, but not always. The neutral wires should be white or gray, and the ground wire should be green, or bare copper. The important thing to note is which wire in the ceiling is connected to the black fixture wire(s) — that’s the hot wire from the switch — which wire is connected to the white fixture wire(s) — that’s the neutral — and what the old fixture’s ground wire is connected to. There may not be a ground wire in the ceiling box if your house or apartment was built before about 1970, but there may still be a ground there. If the ceiling box is metal and the old fixture has a bare wire connected to a screw in the box, that’s the ground.

Unsightly Tracks. The tracks are large and difficult to disguise.

Ceiling light fixtures are relatively new within the scheme of house lighting. Gas lighting near the ceiling gave way to the newer knob-and-tube method of running electrical wire. This meant that wires could be run between floors or in an attic with relative safety.

Recessed lights consist of the metal canister and the bulb. Both are housed within the ceiling itself, so that no part of the light protrudes below ceiling level.

Clean Lines. If you have a modern house, recessed lights are probably the way to go–they minimize obstructions and let you concentrate on other aspects of the home.

Thread each bolt into the appropriate mounting bracket…MORE holes a few turns;Next, you will have to push the bolts through the fiberglass insulation on the back of the fixture (if it has any) and though the two holes in the base of the fixture;Once through the holes, slightly twist the fixture base in the direction necessary to have the bolts slide into their locking groove s allowing the bolt heads to be fastened against the base.

Tighten the bolts and fasten the base to the ceiling.

Issues you may…MORE run into include crumbling insulation on old wires, reusing old ceiling fixture mounting brackets and mounting screws being obstructed by a plaster wall. This tutorial will lead you through every step of the way.

Fixture Shown Here: The Maxim MX 92320 from

Once all of the wires are made up and folded up into the box you can mount your new fixture’s canopy to the box or to its mounting strap or plate. Then you can climb down and admire your work. The light bulbs go in last, but you should go wash your hands before doing that step. It will help your bulbs last longer.

Heat shrink tubing is easy to use and very reliable. © 2011

If this is to your taste, that’s fine. But as long as the fixture both hangs and displays multiple bulbs, it’s a chandelier–so, any style is possible.

Very Noticeable. Yes, the rails and cables are part of the look. But in many cases, they draw too much attention–away from other room elements.

Pick a diameter of tubing that will go over the wiring but not be too big. If it is too big it will not shrink up tightly.Cut the tubing to length so that the exposed end of the wire will still be visible.

Slide the tubing about 3/4″ past the damaged area of the insulation.Apply heat to shrink the tubing by placing a hair dryer on “high” close to the tubing. Gently move the hair dryer back and forth to try and evenly distribute the heat.

Once the tubing shrinks up, remove the hair dryer, you are done!

The solution in a case like that is to use heat shrink tubing.

Ah, the familiar flush and semi-flush ceiling lights! They are found in literally every home. Builders will install these as “default” lights unless otherwise requested (electrical code requires every room to have lighting, so this is a way of taking care of that requirement).

Push the bolts through the insulation on the fixture base until the bolts protrude through. Then turn base to lock in place and tighten bolts. © 2011

With the ceiling light fixture base prepped, it is time to prep the fixture mounting bracket and decide how you will mount the bracket. Your light fixture came with a mounting bracket in the plastic bag of parts you set aside a couple of steps ago. Take it out and let’s see what we have to do with the mounting bracket.

Removing an old light fixture is generally pretty easy. © 2011

Your options have expanded beyond the chandelier lights of old. Lights can be mounted within the ceiling or hung far down as pendants.

Remove the fixture shade. How you do this will depend on the fixture you have. You may have to unscrew little screws holding the shade in place, unclip some clips as shown in the photo, or just…MORE unscrew the glass shade from the base.

Once the ceiling fixture shade is removed, then remove the fixture base from the ceiling by unscrewing two little bolts that you will see attached to the base, or by removing a knurled knob fastened to a threaded tube in the center of the fixture as shown in the photo.

Once the fixture base is removed, disconnect the wiring by unscrewing the wire nuts and remove the fixture base completely.Next, remove the old mounting bracket.

If you have a two lamp light fixture you may have an additional step in preparing the fixture. Your fixture may not have the hot and neutral leads for the lamp sockets wired together. In that case, twist the leads of the black wires together and then do the same for the white wires.

These lights hug close to the ceiling electrical box (which means that they also hug close to the ceiling) and typically drop down between 6″ and 15″. They are stationary.

New Ceiling Light FixtureWire NutsElectrical TapeHeat Shrink Tubing (if needed)Electric Drill and 1/8″ Drill Bit (if needed)

Where to Install: Kitchen, bathroom, den, mancave, home theater, hobby room, workshop.

Once the existing wires are insulated (assuming they were damaged) then it is time to connect the wiring up for the ceiling light fixture as follows:Make sure there is a green ground screw attached to the mounting bracket; Attach the thin bare copper ground wire from the fixture to the ground screw, twisting the wire clockwise under the screw head; Next, attach the fixture wires to the power wires, black to black and white to white.

Use wire nuts to secure by twisting the wire nut clockwise…MORE until tight.

Unpack the new fixture. Open the bag of fasteners and mounting bracket and keep in a safe but handy place. © 2011

Sounds like an easy home repair, and, generally, it is pretty simple. But sometimes dealing with old wiring and electrical boxes in ​plaster ceilings and walls can be a bit tricky. This tutorial will show you the different things that can happen when you replace a ceiling fixture in an older home.

Adjustable. Yes, in theory, you can endlessly move track lights along the track. Will you, in practice, do this? That’s the question. You might do this in a room with a lot of activity, such as a workshop or hobby room.

So, you want to replace your ceiling light fixture. Maybe you just want to update the look in your room. Or possibly you want to replace a ceiling light fixture that is just plain ugly.

Before you start removing the old fixture, turn the power to it off at your electrical panel by flipping the circuit breaker or removing the fuse. Yes, the switch on the wall turns the power to the light off and on, but that doesn’t mean that turning it off will kill all of the power in the box above the fixture. The power from the panel may come into the ceiling box before it goes to the switch– that’s actually the norm in most older houses and apartments — or there may be power going through that box to other loads. Either way, you want to make sure you’ll be safe by turning the entire circuit off, not just the part controlled by the switch.

It is critical that wire insulation be intact. Electrical tape can be used to protect damaged insulation unless the insulation is breaking apart and disintegrating when moved as was the case here. In this case heat shrink tubing is the best option.

© 2011

Cheap. You can pick up a flush or semi-flush ceiling light for as little as $5-10, if you really want one that cheap. And that’s why many builders install them unless otherwise specified.Dependable. Unlike recessed, track, or cable lights, these are uncomplicated devices, the true workhorse of ceiling lighting.

Sometimes you can use the old mounting bracket if the screw holes will work. In this case we will reuse the old bracket because the old bracket uses a center post attachment that does not work with the new bracket. © 2011

Connect wires, black to black and white to white. Twist together in a clockwise direction and fasten with a wire nut. © 2011

With the old light fixture down, open up your new ceiling light fixture box.Carefully remove the glass shade and set it aside in a safe place. Remover the bag with all your fittings and bolts and set it aside.Remove the ceiling fixture base.

Costly. By virtue of the amount of materials used in chandeliers (more metal, more bulbs, etc.), chandeliers tend to be expensive. That’s one reason why you confine chandeliers to one place, instead of sprinkling them all around the house.

When most people think of chandeliers, they think of fancy fixtures dripping with sparkling glass.

Difficult to Move. You would need to access the light from the attic, patch the existing hole, cut a new hole, and re-install.Fire Danger. Certain types of recessed lights can be covered in insulation in the attic.

Even so, some residential codes do not allow installation of recessed lights in such areas due to inherent fire hazards.

A newer version of the track light. Rail or cable lights pull their power from a continuous, charged metal rail or thin cable (your choice). Unlike the track light’s track, which was meant to be camouflaged, rails and cables are meant to be seen: they are part of the style. Where to Install: Kitchen, bathroom, den, mancave, home theater.

Fixture Shown Here: Portfolio Satin Nickel Flush Mount from Lowe’s

Fixture Shown Here: allen + roth 18-Light Bronze Chandelier from Lowe’s.

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