How To Replace A Simple Light Fixture

There are a few rules to follow when you replace a light fixture, and older homes can be challenging when a ground wire is missing or you see something else you aren’t expecting.

Occasionally you may find that one of your ceiling light fixtures seems to have a mind of it’s own, the switch goes on, but the light doesn’t. Or, it comes on and begins to flicker or comes on then turns itself off. This is usually caused by burned wiring within the fixture itself and should be replaced. Causing a fire is a real possibility, but it is unlikely. At the least, it is a real nuisance. Any of these symptoms will require a new fixture to be installed.

Simple light fixtures can cost as little as $8.00 or as much as a few hundred. Here you will learn how to replace a simple common light fixture. It covers the basics, but you can apply these steps to almost any fixture.

Tools you’ll need: Straight and Phillips head screwdrivers; wire strippers, electrical tape for added safety, wire caps.

1. It’s not necessary to turn off the power at the breaker box, although you may want to for total safety. Just be sure your wall switch remains in the “off” position the entire time you are working. You don’t want to feel 115 volts! Since the wall switch cuts power to the light, you can avoid getting shocked by simply making sure the switch is off. Use a piece of tape to cover the switch while you’re working to keep little hands from turning it on unexpectedly.

2. Remove the glass cover or whatever other aesthetic covering your fixture has and remove the bulbs.

3. There should be either 2 or 4 screws visible at the base of the fixture connected to the junction box in the ceiling. Most of the time there are only two. Remove or loosen all of them. Most simple fixtures can be removed by loosening the screws and rotating the fixture, then dropping it down and away from the screws through the larger opening in the slots. You should see that once you open it up and find the screws.

4. Make note of three things: the black wire, the white wire and the ground wire and how the fixture is attached by those wires. The ground is usually green or bare and is affixed to the junction box or there is a separate (usually bare) strand of wire just for ground. All of the wires should be connected with wire connectors. The connectors can be unscrewed to expose the bare wire. The new fixture should include new wire connectors for the new assembly.

5. Disconnect all the wires including the ground and remove the old fixture.

6. Make sure your new fixture will align to the old screw position. If not, there should be a new attachment bar included with the new fixture. You may need to install this bar, which is no more than an adapter for new fixture/old junction box. Screw in the new screws, one or two turns so you can align the new fixture later.

No Apparent Ground Wire In Junction Box:

7. Re-wire the new fixture the same as the old one. Wire it black to black and white to white with a ground. If the old fixture had no ground wire, you can still attach the new ground wire to the junction box. In many older homes, there actually is a ground wire attached to the top of the junction box, out of sight from underneath, so if the old fixture appears to have no ground, grounding the new fixture to the junction box is a good idea. If there is actually no ground wire at all, attaching the new ground to the junction box will do very little to ground the new fixture. Either way though, attach the new ground wire to the junction box. Make sure your new wire connectors are tight and there is no exposed wire. I always wind the wires with electrical tape as an added measure of safety before stuffing the wires into the junction box.

  • ADDED NOTE ABOUT GROUND WIRES: The ground wire does not usually have anything to do with normal electrical functioning, but rather provides a return path for a loose or broken “hot” wire that touches the chassis of the fixture and causes the breaker to overload and trip, and therefore stop the flow of electricity. No grounding on a light fixture is perfectly fine, IF no wires ever break. A hot wire touching the chassis of a light fixture with no grounding can create so much heat that it can start a serious fire.

8. At this point the new fixture should be wired and hanging from the ceiling. Slip the new fixture through the larger opening of the slots in the fixture base and rotate the fixture. Tighten the screws until the new fixture is snug against the ceiling. There is no need for over-tightening! It will only make impressions of the base of the new fixture against the ceiling.

9. Install new bulbs and the glass covering and you’re done

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