How to Install a Ceiling Light Fixture in 10 Easy Steps

How to Install a Light Fixture

Step 1: Shut off power

For some fixtures you can simply shut the power off at the switch, but I recommend always shutting power off at the breaker. If you’re lucky, the breakers on your electrical panel will be labeled. If not it’s a bit of a guessing game, shutting off breakers and then using the voltage detector to make sure the area you’re going to be working in isn’t “hot.” (The voltage detector will beep and light up when a current is present.) I always power down my computer before randomly flipping off breakers … just in case.

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Step 2: Connect wires

A standard box for a light fixture will have three wires, a white (neutral), black (current), and copper (ground.)

Photo: Kit Stansley

Photo: Kit Stansley

A permanent fixture may have a plate that will be connected to the two screw holes on either side of the box, and I find it’s easier to have that done before connecting the wires (particularly on a heavy fixture that will need to be supported while wires are being connected.)

Wires may be connected to the fixture in different ways. In this case, the wires are wrapped around screws to make a connection. There may also be wires (of corresponding colors) in the fixture that would be connected to the ceiling wires with wire nuts.

In either case, use the wire stripper to remove 3/4″ of wire sheathing. To attach to screw connections, bend the wire into a U-shape, wrap around the screw, then crimp the wire closed and tighten the screw.  (White wire to silver screw, black wire to gold screw, ground to green screw.)

Photo: Kit Stansley

Photo: Kit Stansley

To attach wires to wires, twist like-colored wires together and then twist a wire nut over them.

Step 3: Attach fixture to box

This simple pull-chain fixture was attached with two screws that go directly into the box, but you may also have just one screw directly on to the mounting plate. Once the fixture is mounted, install a light bulb, turn the breaker back on, and let there be light.

Photo: Kit Stansley

Photo: Kit Stansley

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Step 7: Install The Fixture

This fixture uses screws for mounting to the box. Some use a threaded post as shown in Step 1. Start the mounting screws in the strap, position the fixture, and tighten the mounting screws with a screwdriver.

Open the Switch Box and Test for Power

Start the light fixture installation project by turning the power off at the main electrical panel, unscrewing the switch and pull it out the switch. Turn the power back on and use a noncontact voltage tester to locate the hot wire.

Step 2: Detach The Wires

Use a bent piece of coat hanger to hang the fixture from the box in order to support it. Unscrew the wire nuts and detach the wire connections.

What If You Have To Go Fish?

We’re showing how to run a cable through the same stud space that contains the switch. Positioning the light in an adjacent stud space is more difficult.

Grab Your Items Climb That Ladder

Okay, here’s where things can get a little tricky if you’re doing this yourself. Essentially, you have to hold the light fixture while connecting all of the wires together with the other hand. Oh, and also grabbing electrical tape, wire nuts, and a screwdriver. In this case, I was holding a freakin’ heavy marble light fixture too. It was one of the hardest arm workouts I’ve had in a long time. If you can recruit a friend or partner to help, this is the time to do it! Have someone hold the fixture while you make the connections and it will likely go a lot faster.

Tips

  • Have a helper assist snaking walls, etc.

    Thanks! Helpful 10 Not Helpful 12

  • Always turn off the electricity before opening electrical boxes or doing electrical work.

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Take Down the Old Fixture Snap a Picture

Every fixture is different, but mine was just screwed into a mounting plate in the ceiling. I took my screwdriver and unscrewed the old fixture from the ceiling.

Be sure to have your phone in your pocket because you’ll want to snap a photo of the wiring before you remove anything. I always find it handy to have that original photo to reference if you’re struggling to get the power to the new light. Seeing which wires went together is always helpful!

In my case, I had a copper wire to a grounding nut on the mounting plate, the white neutral wires together, and then a black wire to a yellow hot wire.

Before I touched anything, I grabbed my voltage tester one more time and touched it to the wires and the inside of the box. No electricity!

Next, I took the wire nuts off and unhooked the wires from my old fixture. It was officially gone!

Instructions

  1. Prep Space and Turn Off Power

    If possible, try to change a light fixture during the daylight hours so there’s natural light to help you see what you’re doing. Find a sturdy step stool or ladder that can safely support you within easy reaching distance of the ceiling. Lessen the weight of the existing fixture as much as possible by removing any heavy glass globes or other parts.

    You want to make sure no electrical current is flowing to the light fixture. Be sure the fixture you are replacing is turned on, then find your home’s electrical service panel lined with fuses or circuit breakers. Start at the top of the box, and remove and replace each fuse or flip each circuit breaker to “Off” momentarily. Have someone watch for when the fixture’s light turns off, and leave that circuit disconnected. Back in the room where you’re working, flip the light switch on and off to double-check the circuit is offline.

    PHOTO: Adam Albright PHOTO: Adam Albright

  2. Remove Metal Plate

    To start changing a ceiling light fixture, loosen the nut that holds the metal plate covering the junction box (the plastic or steel box within the ceiling that houses the connected electrical wires). Pull the wires down from the junction box, and turn the plastic wire nuts on the wires counterclockwise until they unscrew from the wires completely.

    Holding the weight of the fixture in one hand, remove the screws that hold the thin metal crossbar to the junction box with the other hand. Remove crossbar and light fixture. Leave only a hole with wires and the junction box behind.

    Adam Albright
  3. Optional: Determine Chain Length

    If your ceiling light fixture features a chain, it will likely come with more than you need. To shorten the chain, first hang the fixture from the collar loop. Then hold it at its hanging height and mark with tape the chain link above the one you need to open. Remove the link below the one marked with tape by bending it open using two locking pliers.

    Connect the new end of the chain to the loop atop the light fixture using the special link provided with the new fixture. Then weave the fixture's insulated wire and bare ground wire through the length of chain, going in and out of each link. At the top end of the chain, weave the wire through the collar nut and canopy.

  4. Rewire New Light Fixture

    Thread the wire through the collar loop and nipple so all of the excess wire extends into the junction box. Do the same for the bare ground wire. Bend all the wires down and out of the junction box so you can work with them, and hang the end chain link onto the collar loop if using a chained ceiling fixture.

    Adam Albright
  5. Separate Wires

    Split the fixture wire into two for its last 6 inches—you can do this by grasping the ends of the two wires and pulling them in opposite directions. Strip about 1/2 inch of plastic coating off the ends of both fixture wires.

    Connect the white wire in the ceiling to the white wire on the fixture, and the black wire on the fixture to the red or black wire in the ceiling. Twist their ends together, and tightly secure them with the wire nuts that came with the fixture.

    PHOTO: Adam Albright PHOTO: Adam Albright

  6. Attach Wire to Crossbar

    About 4 inches from the end of the fixture ground wire, twist it around the ground screw (leaving a few inches untwisted) on the crossbar, and tighten the screw. Then join the end of that wire with the end of the supply ground wire in the ceiling using a wire nut. Carefully tuck all the wires back into the junction box, keeping the connections to the black/red and white supply wires well separated. Raise the canopy to the ceiling and secure it with the collar nut.

    Wondering why your light won't turn on? Make sure you head back to your circuit breaker and replace the fuse or flip the circuit to the on position. Congratulations on your DIY light fixture installation!

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