I had an interesting question the other day. What should you do if a ground wire comes off your light fixture while you’re installing it? You have several options.
If you can’t return the fixture, you can reattach the wire a couple of different ways. Or you can ground the fixture without that wire. But if all that fails, the ground wire is a safety feature and the light fixture will work properly without it.
The purpose of the ground wire
The ground wire’s purpose is to protect you in case the metal part of the fixture accidentally becomes energized. This saves you from a shock if the fixture gets energized and you touch it.
Realistically, your light fixture may pick up ground from the electrical box with or without the wire, if the electrical box is metal. I recommend grounding the fixture some way besides the box, just in case. You know, safety first and all. So you have some options to fix it. Fortunately, not all of them require the wire.
First option: Return the light fixture and exchange it
I know, there’s always the chance the store won’t take the fixture back because they’ll say you broke it. But realistically speaking, the ground wire shouldn’t come detached from your light fixture accidentally. I’ve suspended fixtures from the ground wire while I wired up the rest of the wires, which meant I used the ground wire to hold the whole weight of the fixture while I was getting my supplies together. I don’t recommend doing that, but even under that kind of abuse, I’ve never had a wire come off.
I’ve returned other, costlier items than a light fixture when they’ve broken during installation before. The major chains will take it back and work it out with the manufacturer. It’s not worth losing a customer over a light fixture. Most stores will exchange the fixture for another identical one, or credit your purchase price toward a different fixture.
Second option: Reattach the wire
If you can’t return the fixture, you can try reattaching the wire. If the wire crimps on or screws on, that may be fairly easy. Spread the crimp connection, slide the wire back in, and mash the connector back down. Or wrap it around the screw and tighten the screw. The key is using metal-to-metal connection. Glue is an insulator, so if you glue the wire back on, it won’t act as a ground wire anymore.
If you can’t attach the wire back the way it was, wrap it around any available screw in the fixture that touches bare metal.
Third option: Ground without the wire
A third option is to simply ground the fixture without the wire. The fixture attaches to your outlet box with screws. Wrap the outlet’s ground wire around one of those screws, and then that screw will effectively replace the ground wire. This may be your easiest option.
Going without ground entirely
Leaving the wire unattached and going without ground is also an option. I have seen wires running to a fixture come undone, but if you twist the wires together with pliers and wrap a piece of electrical tape around the wire nut afterward, it will stay in place. If you can ensure the fixture won’t get electrified, then you don’t really need ground.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.