How to Replace a Light Fixture

Replace a light fixture yourself instead of waiting for the electrician to show up. Tackle this daunting task with a few careful steps.

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We’ve almost mastered the art of removing old wallpaper, choosing the ideal paint color for the bathroom and setting the most decadent tablescape for our next party. But somehow, the very thought of messing with electrical wires can leave us frazzled!

Do you want to pay hundreds of dollars for an electrician to spend a half an hour replacing an old light fixture? I know I don’t!

With a bit of time and patience, you can safely handle this job yourself.

Choosing a Light Fixture

The builder-grade boob light fixture that loomed above me was in dire need of an update.

Silver, circular boob light on hallway ceiling.

It was adequate for the job, lighting the hallway well, but aesthetically, it didn’t match the transitional style of the rest of my home.

In my hunt for light fixtures for low height ceilings, I fell in love with this beautiful modern flush mount light in polished chrome.

Modern flushmount silver fixture with circular trim design

What You Will Need

  • Ladder
  • Wire strippers
  • Voltage detector (optional)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Flashlight (if working in any area that doesn’t have a lot of natural light)
  • Your new light fixture, its instructions and whatever bulbs you need

Step 1: Shut Off the Electricity

Cut the power to the light fixture.

I usually leave the light turned on while I go downstairs to the circuit panel and flip the circuit breaker. If the light turns off, I know I’ve turned off the electricity correctly.

This step is crucial in case your circuits are mislabeled or you’re looking at a barely legible scribble on an ancient piece of tape. 

If you own a voltage detector, now would be the time to use it. I have had one instance in the past where even though the correct circuit was terminated, there was still a small bit of electricity flowing to the wires. I had my electrician check it, and he said that’s not uncommon in older homes.

Step 2: Remove the Old Fixture

To begin, I had to pop off the glass piece first; then, remove the light bulbs. The silver, circular part was attached to the ceiling, so I carefully unscrewed that.

Once that is done, you should be left with a fixture dangling from the connected wires.

Old lighting fixture hanging from ceiling by the wires (electricity shut off)

Step 3: Disconnect the Wiring

Remove the plastic caps and either untwist or, using a wire cutter, cut the wires.

Orange plastic caps covering electrical connections to old lighting fixture

Step 4: Replace the Grounding Bar

The metal grounding bar that goes across the electrical box will need to be replaced to match the fixture you are installing. This will have been provided with your new fixture. Unscrew the old one and replace it with the new one.

Metal grounding bar stretching across the opening in the ceiling where wires emerge
Closer look at bar with grounding screw and electrical wires

Step 5: Connect the Wires

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as to how to match the wires correctly.

Typically, the black (live) wires connect to each other, and the white wires (neutral) connect to each other.  The ground wire, which is usually green or exposed copper, connects to a green screw on the grounding bar (or to a green wire if there is one). 

Sometimes, instead of being black and white, the cables may have a ridged side and a smooth side. In that instance, the ridged side of the cable corresponds to the white wire and the smooth side corresponds to the black wire .

Using a wire stripper, you should remove about an inch of the plastic coating from the wires to expose enough of it to connect to the wires coming from the electrical box.

Using the wire cutters, hold both ends of the wire and twist together. Now, screw on the orange connector caps. Connect the grounding wire by winding around the green screw.

Labeled photo of new grounding bar, grounding screw and live black wire.

It’s important that the black live wire does not touch the ground wire.  I always make sure that it’s on the opposite side of the grounding bar to the other wires.

Step 6: Install the New Base

Once the wires have all been re-connected, push them up onto the cavity, again making sure that the black wire is not touching the ground wire.  Screw the base of the new fixture into the grounding plate and electrical box.

New fixture base with two light bulb sockets

Step 7: Attach the Bulbs & Cover

Attach the rest of the fixture as per the manufacturer’s instructions and put the bulbs back in.  Turn the power back on and enjoy your new light fixture!

Completed installation of silver light fixture in hallway

I’m very happy with this particular fixture – day or night, it is quite a beauty!

New lighting fixture at night, with white glow on ceiling and circular pattern on trim of fixture

Don’t feel overwhelmed by the electrical aspects of this project – as long as you take your time, you’ll soon be admiring your new light fixture as well.

How to Replace a Light Fixture

How to Replace a Light Fixture

Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour

Replacing a light fixture is not as complicated as you think - follow these steps to ensure a brilliant success!

Materials

  • Your new light fixture, its instructions and whatever bulbs you need

Tools

  • Ladder
  • Wire strippers
  • Voltage detector (optional)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Flashlight (if working in any area that doesn't have a lot of natural light)

Instructions

    1. Cut the power to the light fixture. I usually leave the light turned on while I go downstairs to the circuit panel and flip the circuit breaker. If the light turns off, I know I've turned off the electricity correctly. If you own a voltage detector, now would be the time to use it.
    2. Take off the glass piece first; then, remove the light bulbs.
    3. Disconnect the wiring by removing the plastic caps and either untwist or, using a wire cutter, cut the wires.
    4. The metal grounding bar that goes across the electrical box will need to be replaced to match the fixture you are installing. This will have been provided with your new fixture. Unscrew the old one and replace it with the new one.
    5. Follow the manufacturer's instructions as to how to match the wires correctly.
    6. Typically, the black (live) wires connect to each other, and the white wires (neutral) connect to each other.  The ground wire, which is usually green or exposed copper, connects to a green screw on the grounding bar (or to a green wire if there is one). 
    7. Sometimes, instead of being black and white, the cables may have a ridged side and a smooth side. In that instance, the ridged side of the cable corresponds to the white wire and the smooth side corresponds to the black wire.
    8. Using a wire stripper, you should remove about an inch of the plastic coating from the wires to expose enough of it to connect to the wires coming from the electrical box.
    9. Using the wire cutters, hold both ends of the wire and twist together. Now, screw on the orange connector caps. Connect the grounding wire by winding around the green screw.
    10. Once that is done, you should be left with a fixture dangling from the connected wires.
    11. It's important that the black live wire does not touch the ground wire.  I always make sure that it's on the opposite side of the grounding bar to the other wires.
    12. Once the wires have all been re-connected, push them up onto the cavity, again making sure that the black wire is not touching the ground wire.  Screw the base of the new fixture into the grounding plate and electrical box.
    13. Attach the rest of the fixture as per the manufacturer's instructions and put the bulbs back in.  Turn the power back on and enjoy your new light fixture!

Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be, an electrician. If you electrocute yourself during this process, I hold no responsibility! That being said, it’s a simple project. Just be smart and safe!  

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