How to Replace a Light Fixture

published Jun 30, 2020
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Room with yellow floral wallpaper and pink multi-globed light fixture

Whether you’re hoping to brighten a small bedroom or create a more dramatic living room, new lighting is a crucial part of a home upgrade. Changing out a light fixture might seem intimidating—possibly even a job to hire out for—but it’s not actually as complex as you might think. With a little DIY experience under your belt and some safety precautions, this is one job you can take on yourself.

If you’re up for the task, here’s an easy step-by-step guide to get you on your way. A word of caution: If you live in a home with old wiring, you may run into issues that you’ll feel more comfortable consulting an electrician for, which is a wise decision before proceeding on your own. It’s also helpful to have a friend lend a hand when hanging a new fixture, but if you’re on your own, a tall ladder comes in handy, too.

What you’ll need to swap out your wired light fixture

How to replace a light fixture

1. Before starting any work, cut power to the fixture

In the room where you’ll be working, flip the light switch to the “on” position. Then, head to the main circuit panel and shut off the power to the room. You’ll know the power is out once you return to the room and the lights are off. It is extremely important to not begin any work until the power is safely off.

2. Remove the existing fixture

Carefully remove the old fixture by loosening the screws holding the canopy—the part that’s flush against the ceiling—in place. Lower the fixture so that the wiring is exposed; have a friend assist you or set the fixture on a tall ladder. Use a non-contact voltage tester to confirm there is no electricity running through the wires.

Unscrew the wire connectors (plastic caps). Then, disconnect the wiring by unscrewing the ceiling mount wires from the fixture wires. Once the wires are disconnected, you can completely remove the old light fixture.

3. Assemble the new fixture

Assemble the new fixture so that the electrical wires feed up and out through the extension tube (don’t forget the canopy!) and place it on a ladder as close to the electrical box as you can to help make the install process easier. If you’re mounting a large fixture like mine (34” x 27”), you’ll want to ask someone for assistance.

4. Connect the wires from your light fixture to the ones from the ceiling

The ends of the wires from the ceiling will be exposed, as well as the wires from your fixture. Twist the threads from the new fixture’s black wire around the exposed end of the ceiling’s black wire. Do the same with the white wires. 

Many fixtures come with a copper grounding wire, which helps safely guide electrical current back to the wall (rather than a person) in the event of a short circuit. If yours does, you’ll ground it by either twisting it around the copper wire that’s coming from your ceiling or wrap it around the green screw in the electrical box. Make sure to follow the instructions that come with your fixture.

5. Secure the wire pairings

Twist a wire connector over the black wires, then the white wires, and any copper wires that you may have had to wrap.

6. Wrap with electrical tape

Wrap electrical tape around the wire connectors over onto the wires. This is an additional step that ensures that the wire connectors won’t fall off, which can cause a short.

7. Mount the fixture

Screw the extension rod into the mounting bracket, tuck the wires back inside the box, and screw the canopy in place.

8. Finish with bulbs (and power)

Screw in the light bulbs and restore power to the room by flipping the breaker back on. Flip the light switch to marvel at your handiwork! If for some reason your light doesn’t work, turn the power off from the breaker, remove the canopy, and inspect the wires to make sure there is a good connection. If the wires seem loose, wrap them again, tighter. Then, screw on the wire connectors and reattach the canopy.