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How To Replace a Ceiling Light Fixture

Replacing a ceiling light fixture is usually not a difficult job and the benefits can include more light or a better dispersal of light; a new, fresh look; and a stylistic consistency in a particular room or your entire home. Lighting fixtures, through design and illumination factors, have a huge affect on the atmosphere of any room. So maybe you’re looking for something retro or for indirect light or for a clean, streamlined look. The choice will be yours. Of course if a fixture is no longer functioning and irreparable then the benefit is clear— by replacing it, you’ll have light again.

To do this job you’ll need a sound, appropriately sized ladder, screwdriver, and wire strippers. You’ll also need wire nuts if the connections in the old fixture are not secured in this fashion or if wire nuts are not supplied with the new fixture. Sometimes a thick piece of wire, like a coat-hanger, folded into long, narrow "S" shape can be helpful for temporarily hanging the fixture from the fixture box, while you are connecting the wiring.

To replace most ceiling fixtures you’ll have to be elevated. Always use a safe ladder that will allow your head to be level or almost level with the fixture and will let you use your arms freely without excessive stretching. Be sure to refer to any manufacture’s instructions regarding the appropriate use of the fixture or special installation instructions.

The first rule whenever you engage in any electrical work is to turn the power off. Do this first before you do anything else. Locate your service panel (circuit breaker or fuse box) and turn off the appropriate breaker or remove the correct fuse. To ensure you’ve disconnected the right circuit try turning on the light or by using a circuit tester. If the power is off, go on to the next step. After turning off power to the fixture, as a double safeguard place the switch that directly controls the light in the “off” position.

If possible, first remove the bulb(s) from the fixture and then using a screwdriver or your fingers to loosen the screws that hold the ceiling fixture in place. While taking out the screws, hold the ceiling fixture stable with your other hand. If someone is helping you by holding the ceiling light, they should be on their own ladder

Once the fixture is free do not disconnect it. First, make note of how the wires are connected. If you need to, take time to draw a diagram, take a photo or make notes. In most cases, you will be connecting the new fixture in exactly the same way.

Now disconnect the wires by unscrewing the wire nuts and set the old fixture aside. On the new fixture you’ll notice that the connecting wires are pre-stripped, probably exposing a small length of wire. If needed, strip off enough insulation from both the fixture wires and the fixture box wires in the ceiling with a wire stripper to reveal ½-inch of wire.

Lift the fixture up to the fixture box, at this point it may be helpful to hang the fixture from the fixture box with a heavy piece of wire. Splice the wires, twisting them together. Refer to your notes or photo when reconnecting the new fixture. If the wires don't match what was in the old fixture, refer to the instructions included with the new fixture. Typically the ceiling fixture box will have two wires plus the ground wire, the fixture should also have two wires plus ground. In most cases the wires from ceiling will be one black (or red) for the "Hot" wire and one white for the "Neutral" or "Common" wire. The fixture should also be the same. When that is the case, the black is connected with black, the white is connected to white and the green or bare copper wire is connected with the green or bare copper wire. Twist the wires clockwise together and then secure them by twisting on a wire nut also in the clockwise direction. Finally, the spliced ground wires should be connected the fixture box itself to add greater grounding safety.

Gently tug on all connections one last time. If any are loose, rejoin them.

Lift the fixture in place carefully tucking the wires into the box. Depending on the style of your new fixture you may need to extend the length of the mounting screws or possibly change the mounting plate on the fixture box. Secure the fixture mounting screws tightly.

Screw in the recommended light bulbs and turn on the breaker. Turn on the light switch to make sure the new fixture is functioning.

Caution: Please read our safety information before attempting any testing or repairs. Electrical work requires safe practices. Always turn off power at the circuit breaker or fuse box. Post a note that work is being done, to avoid someone turning the power back on. After turning off the power to the circuit, test the circuit to be certain that there is no power. Always use insulated tools for added safety. Check with your local building department for regulations and permit requirements before beginning work.

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