Replace a ceiling light fixture

Last Updated on October 11, 2019 by Dave Farquhar

It’s not hard to replace a ceiling light fixture once you know how everything goes together. Even if you’ve never installed one before, you can do this.

Before you start, turn off the power at the breaker box. If you don’t know which breaker the light is on, have a helper tell you when the lights go out after flipping breakers. Be sure to label the breaker when you know.

If you’re replacing a fixture because the old one quit working, you might want to try to fix it first. But if you’re replacing it because you couldn’t fix it, or to update the look, no worries.

Normally, two nuts or screws hold a light fixture to the ceiling. The screws protrude through the fixture and into the electrical box. Sometimes the screws protrude through the light into the box. Sometimes the screws protrude from a bracket on the box downward, and you secure the light with nuts.

Loosen the screws or nuts and the fixture will come down. Electrically, the fixture will have two or three wires. The black wire is hot. The white wire is the neutral, or return wire. You may also have a bare or green wire for ground. These wires connect to corresponding wires in the box. If you find a red wire, I’ve covered that before. If the ground wire falls off, you can either fix that or ignore it.

Most likely, you’ll find the wires connected with wire nuts. Unscrew the wire nuts and you’ll find two wires twisted together. Untwist the wires to free the old fixture. The ground wire may be connected to the box with a screw, or to a bare wire in the box. Either method is fine.

Simply hook the new light fixture up the same way. Twist each pair of wires together, then secure them with a wire nut. Use the new wire nuts that came with the new fixture, and wrap a turn or two of electrical tape around the bottom of the nut.

In some older houses, I’ve found fixtures that were soldered. If you find that, you can work around it without getting out a soldering gun. Clip the wire to a convenient length, then strip off about a half inch of insulation, twist the wires together with the wires from the fixture and secure it with wire nuts and electrical tape.

If the old fixture connects like the old one, you’re on easy street. Just slide it in, then tighten the screws or nuts. If it’s different, you may have to change the bracket. The fixture will come with an appropriate bracket. Take your time and make sure it’s secure. You don’t want the fixture falling down and hitting you in the head.

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2 thoughts on “Replace a ceiling light fixture

  • October 21, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Hi. I’m replacing a ceiling light fixture that is controlled by two separate switches. In the electrical box are two black wires capped together, two red wires capped together, and two white wires, taped separately. The light fixture has one white, one black, and one bare copper ground. Please, how do I connect these wires?

    • October 21, 2017 at 9:16 am

      Most likely this will work: Connect the white wire from the fixture to either of the white bundles in the box. It shouldn’t matter which. The black wire on the fixture probably will go to the red bundle in the box. If there’s no green or bare copper ground wire coming from the box, connect the bare ground wire to the box, or just leave it unconnected altogether and secure it to the fixture’s frame with a piece of tape to keep it out of the way.

      if it doesn’t work connected to the red wires, move the black wire from the fixture to the bundle of black wires.

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