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Home Improvement

How To Change a Ceiling Fixture0

Changing a ceiling fixture is almost as easy as changing a light bulb. All you need is a screwdriver, a utility knife and a half-hour of spare time. So ditch those 50’s vintage pillboxes and wagon wheel chandeliers and give your room a whole new look with this quick, low-budget remodeling project.

Step 1: Find the electrical circuit you’ll be working on at your electrical panel and turn it “off” so that you can live to change another light fixture.

Step 2: Standing on a sturdy step ladder or a spindly antique chair (the choice is yours), unscrew the fasteners holding the light fixture to the ceiling box. Lower the fixture a few inches to expose the wires leading from the fixture to the ceiling box. There may be more wires and connections inside the box (for three-way, switch activated or middle of circuit connections) but since we are only changing the fixture, we are only concerned with the black and white fixture wires and their connections inside the box.

Step 3: Unscrew the wire nuts and watch the fixture crash on the floor below. Well, if you wanted to keep the old one, you should have held it with your third hand or gotten a helper.

Step 4: Connect the wires.  To make life easier, most manufactures pre-strip the wires in new fixtures for you. If not, remove a half-inch of insulation from the ends of the new fixture with a utility knife. Raise the new fixture to within a few inches of the ceiling box. It sure is good to have a helper at this point, for the same reason as in Step 3.

Next, twist the black fixture wire together with black wire in the ceiling box that you disconnected from the old fixture. Put a wire nut (supplied with the new fixture) over the connection and twist clockwise until both wires are held tightly inside the cap. Do the same for the white wires.

In most cases the screws that hold the fixture to the ceiling box act as the ground, while some fixtures on chains will have an extra ground wire woven through the chain. That slim wire should be connected to the green or uninsulated copper ground wires in the ceiling box.

  • Lightweight globe-type ceiling fixtures screw directly into the box. Remove the globe and attach the base to the ceiling box with the long screws provided.
  • Heavier fixtures such as chandeliers are attached to the ceiling box with a hanger bar and metal nipple that screws into the center of the bar. Adjust the length of the nipple by screwing it in so that it protrudes just a few turns beyond the decorative cover then attach the chain.
  • Track lighting has a specially designed box cover that is screwed to a standard ceiling box. At several points along its length, the track is attached to the ceiling with expanding screws. As an alternative, choose monorail track lighting, which does not require any extra attachments beyond the box.

text and drawings by Cindy and Doug Edmunds

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