DIY Adventures: How to Install a Ceiling Light

ceiling lightingYour new ceiling light has arrived… now what? Rather than wait for a handyman to install your new ceiling fixture, you can probably complete your room’s makeover yourself. Grab your stepladder and follow this installation guide to a bright new future.

1. TURN OFF THE LIGHTS

Before you get out any tools, turn off the power to the light fixture at the main circuit breaker panel. Flip the light switch to make you turned off the right breaker. Electric shocks can be lethal, so avoid just turning off the light switch. Shut off the power at the source.

2. OUT WITH THE OLD

Now you can remove the old light fixture. Look for small screws on either side of the light bulb cover, or clips that will yield to a push. Once the base is exposed, you’ll see either two screws or a central threaded bolt with knob. Unscrew these to remove the mounting bracket and access the wire connections underneath.

3. INSPECT YOUR WIRING AND SUPPORT

First, turn the light switch “on” and check the power with a circuit tester. The power should be off at this point, but triple check. If the tester indicates the wires are grounded and not hot, you can unscrew the wire nuts or electrical tape from the black (hot) wire, white (neutral) wire, and the green or bare copper (ground) wire to remove the last of your dangling old fixture. Carefully note how the old fixture is wired; this will help guide you when you install the new fixture.

While the wires are exposed, give them a thorough inspection before proceeding. This is especially important if your house was built before 1985, as your new ceiling light fixture may generate more heat than older wire insulation can withstand. If this is the case, look for the letters NM-B or UF-B on the wire’s plastic sheathing, or (if the wires come through a conduit) look for the letters THHN or THWN-2. If your house is older and you don’t see these labels, don’t risk a DIY installation; call an electrician to avoid potential fire hazards. Even if the house is relatively new, inspect the wire insulation to make sure it isn’t crumbling and brittle. A little electrical tape can shore up damaged small spots.

After you’ve checked the wiring, look at the electrical box itself. Is it securely fastened to the ceiling joists? While small pendant lights won’t add much weight, a ceiling fan with light or chandelier will, so make sure the box can hold up. If your ceiling light is above 50 lbs., you’ll need to install a fan brace box for additional support. You can then match your new mounting bracket with the previous fixture’s bolt holes and secure it in place.

4. GET THE NEW FIXTURE OUT OF THE BOX

Now you can dig into the box containing the new ceiling light. Assemble as much of the base as possible on the floor before hoisting the whole fixture ceilingward. This will save your arm strength later. Consult the installation booklet that came with the new ceiling fixture to confirm the proper assembly and wiring.

5. MAKE THE CONNECTIONS

Raise your new ceiling fixture in its entirety (depending on how heavy the fixture is, you may need someone else to support it). Make sure the fixture ground wire is attached to the house ground wire, or attached to a green ground screw on the mounting bracket. Then reconnect the fixture wires to the matching colors (generally black to black and white to white) and secure with wire nuts. If your light has extra wires, follow the installation manual to properly connect them. Stash these to one side of the mounting bracket inside the electrical box, then screw the base to the mounting bracket. Simply add the lightbulbs and ceiling light cover, and turn the power back on to enjoy your handiwork.

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