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Save yourself a visit from the electrician and a hefty bill for 5 to 10 minutes of work. Handyman Brian Kelsey demonstrates a common household repair -- installing a light fixture -- and proves that this DIY job is not as intimidating as it seems. We promise!

installing a light fixtureBrian Kelsey

Face it: not everyone is naturally confident about home repairs. There are so many fixes around the house that can be classified as too minor to call in a professional, but a little too intimidating to DIY. Installing a light fixture is one of them.

It can be hard to find an electrician who will come to your house for a 5- to 10-minute job -- and if you do find one, you'll have to pay an arm and a leg. In the long run, you're better off learning to install a light fixture (or replace one) on your own. In fact, I replaced my son's light fixture the other day. Watch how I did it!

Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty Level: Beginner
Tools: Screwdriver, voltage tester and electrical tape

Tip: Because you will be shutting off power to the room, it's best to do this project in the daytime if possible -- unless you have a portable battery-charged light to illuminate the area. Don't work in the dark!


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Install a Light Fixture

The first and most important thing to do is to shut off the power to the fixture. Either shut it off at the main breaker, or simply turn off the light switch. If you do the latter, remember that electrical is still traveling to the fixture. I would strongly suggest putting a piece of tape over the light switch to prevent an accidental "turn on" by an unaware visitor. (In this case, my 7-year-old son.)

Install a Light Fixture

Once the power is off, disassemble the old fixture. The exact process will vary from fixture to fixture, but generally (and in this example), you'll remove glass cover by simply undoing the screws. This is the easy part.

Install a Light Fixture

Unscrew the old light bulb(s) and set aside.

Install a Light Fixture

Loosen the mounting nuts on the fixture's base plate, and remove the plate.

Install a Light Fixture

With the fixture plate removed, you have unobstructed access to the wires. There should be wire nuts (those red things) connecting the fixture to the wires coming out of the ceiling. Remove the wire nuts.

Install a Light Fixture

Even though you shut the power off, be sure to double check them with a voltage tester before you touch the terminals or wires with your hands or tools. In some cases, the fixture may still be energized for unknown reasons. And I can tell you from experience, getting zapped is no fun.

Install a Light Fixture

Now take your new fixture and locate your black, white and ground wire (ground wire is usually copper). In an ideal scenario, all the three types of wires are present. But in older homes (such as this one) the wires are hard to distinguish -- and there sometimes isn't a ground wire.

The black wire is known as the "hot" wire; it carries electrical current from the circuit to the fixture. The white wire is the "neutral" wire; it carries electrical current away from the fixture. The ground wire is literally connected to the ground and does not carry current; it's there to safely carry current away, should the neutral wire fail or there's some sort of power shortage or malfunction, which would trip the breaker at the circuit panel and immediately shut off the power.


In this case there are two black/whites, the instructions tell us to pigtail them together, and connect them to the corresponding black and white coming from ceiling.

Install a Light Fixture

The new fixture (usually) comes with a mounting bar, which you will need to attach to the screw holes inside the electrical box in the ceiling. If the fixture doesn't come with a mounting bar, buy one separately.

Install a Light Fixture

Now it's time to connect the fixture to the ground. The ground wire leads to the electrical panel; from there it is connected to the ground (literally, the earth) via a grounding rod. The ground wire sends excess or unwanted electrical current away from the fixture back to the earth, where it is safely dissipated. But in our case, there is no ground wire coming from the ceiling.

Install a Light Fixture

In this case, I simply take the copper wire from the new fixture and wrap it clockwise around the green ground screw on the mounting bar. The bar is connected to the metal electrical box in the ceiling, which is itself grounded. Therefore, the fixture becomes grounded too.

Install a Light Fixture




  • Ils

    Wow... There is absolutely no reason you should not turn off power at the breaker if you are replacing a light fixture. That is just irresponsible. You really should correct the article.

    Reply
  • Randy

    One reason for not turning off the breaker is that when you do it might not turn back on. Turning off just the light switch and then checking for the presence of electricity at the fixture is normally sufficient.


  • tackett2005

    for homeowners - yes turn off the breaker. for electricians like myself that's just unnecessary overkill.
    the wires shown in the ceiling box are old cloth asbestos covered bx wires that are typically cracked leaving the conductors uninsulated, and a lot of times unidentifiable. bottom line - if your house has these wires do not attempt wiring projects yourself. simply touching, disturbing, or moving these could result in much greater issues that if not addressed will create an unsafe condition, if not burn down the house.
    and lastly - just noticing here - but the "new" fixture shown has had the fiberglass insulation removed from the back of it. wrong. first off that isulation stops airflow between levels of a home ie attics to living space, therefore stopping drafts. secondly the purpose of that insulation is to stop the rising heat from the light bulbs inside the fixture from cooking and drying out the wiring above it.

    my boss charges $135 for the first half hour of a service call for myself or any of my coworkers to come to your house, and for a simple fixture replacement like this shouldnt take more than a half hour.
    old house - old wiring - call an electrician.
    newer house - newer wiring - a handy diy'er - go for it, but we're only a phone call away.


  • valorz

    Right on brother!


  • Eryn

    This is really helpful! Now I don't have to wait for my nephew to come over to get the job done!

    Reply
  • Dave

    If this is only a 10 minute job, then a licensed electrician shouldn't charge you very much. And you 'll not have to worry about a fire or someone getting electrocuted when they change a light bulb. I see 4 problems with this article: #1 Always turn off the breaker - a home owner may have installed the light switch wrong and switched the neutral instead of the hot wire which means the black wire will be live even if the switch is off. #2 The fixture in the article can not be installed on wiring which was installed before 1985. #3 An electrician would verify that the that the white wire is actually the neutral so that screwshell is connected to the neutral. #4 An electrician would verify that there is a ground wire present at the fixture box.
    I am an electrician and I have seen a light fixture installed improperly almost burn a house down.

    Reply
  • John

    There are no real problems with this article. I agree that you should turn the power off at the breaker, but if you check for juice with a tester, you're gonna be fine. I don't know what in the hell you're talking about with the "before 1985" bullshit. That fixture will work just fine.

    Sometimes people just like to nitpick an article to show how much they think they know.


  • John

    so there


  • Jim

    Thanks Dave. I to am an electrician. This work should be left to a professional. This is all I do.for a living. To many "handy men" out there. One minute they fix your light, the next they cut your grass. In the long run it is cheaper to leave electrical work to an electrician. This is what they are trained to do


  • Wally

    Dave, I agree with you. If as the author states it is only a little job, will that make you only a little dead if you intercept the switch loop and become part of the homerun? There is a reason most states require Electricians to be certified. John, are you in 7th grade, or 8th?


  • Jim

    John what are you a moron? try checking a code book if you don't understand the date quoted. Obviously you have no clue.

    Reply
  • james

    If you are not a licensed electrician, you should not do any electrical work. To advise homeowners to do their own work may be illegal and subject you to a fine in most states

    Reply
  • LizGS

    For years I've been quite willing to do many projects in my own home: tiling floors, tiling backsplashes, refinishing furniture, even getting the schematics and helping replacing non-working parts for washers and dryers. There is ONE thing I'd never touch ...and you couldn't pay me enough to do - and that is in wall or ceiling electrical work. It's so inherently dangerous if one has no real clue about the wiring (I've even had some not-so-great electricians do work on my home over the years)....but the codes change and if an electrician isn't up to code or licensed, he isn't getting past my front door. EVEN if the repair or the work costs a little more? Our lives and that of our pets is worth the extra cost.

    My father-in-law could do anything ....fix anything: he called many of the home-made 'fixes' he saw in older homes 'shoemaker jobs'. :) Insisted when we bought the house in the mid 1970's that we pay extra to have all copper wiring throughout...more important than having new furniture...even though 'code' at the time allowed for less. I'll always be grateful for his foresight.

    Reply
  • stevenbehind

    The reason behind the old (pre 1985) wiring is that over time we found out the insulation on the wires could not take the heat, in old time people thought a 25 watt bulb was great. The new wires can take much more heat.
    2nd electrical tape is a poor substitute for a good splice. If your not confident in the splice redue it!
    electrical tape is made of vinyl plastic and it burns at a low temp.

    Reply
  • 14 Comments / 1 Pages
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