The Idiot's Guide: How to Change a Light Fixture

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

So while we were quite literally watching paint dry, we had a chance to get to a few other tasks - most importantly replacing the ceiling fan with the custom light fixture! You have no idea how excited I was to see it in place since it had been a work in progress since October. (more details about the fixture to come in tomorrows post).

But today's post is purely practical. It the Idiots guide to changing a Light Fixture complete with a step by step photo guide.


Hello Mr. Ceiling Fan. Prepare to meet your maker. Bwahahhahahahahhahhah.

I'm sure many of you already know how to do this, not to mention there are loads of other sites that provide these tutorials but personally I never felt comfortable until my brother showed me how in person.

Feel free to skip this post if the know how is old news but if the idea of fiddling with electrical - even in this most superficial way - has scared you off before, keep reading. I promise, even an idiot can do it. (In this case its my brother who is playing the part of idiot while I snap the photos but he is really quite a smart guy.) Important stuff is in bold, optional steps are italized.

Step 1: Switch off the breaker to the fixture. I like to be on the safe side so I shut down the whole apartment. (My brother doesn't mind nearly getting electrocuted a little bit so he believes its not entirely necessary to do anything but shut the switch off but let's not listen to him. Mmm, okay?)

Step 2: Find the screwdriver you swear you just saw. Have your brother accuse you of moving it to another room. Defend self with righteous proclamation that he was the last to use it. Find said screwdriver was sitting right in front of both of you the entire time.


Step 3: Unscrew the plate that covers the do-dads in the ceiling (yes, that is the technical term!), exposing the junction box.


Step 4: Disconnect the existing fixture by breaking the wire connections. Remove tape, unscrew caps and untwist wires. Unscrew whatever is holding your light fixture in place. There, your old fixture should now be free.


Your ceiling should look something like this. You might also be experiencing arm fatigue right about now from feelslikeforeverbutonlytakes5minutes of using your arms over your head. Curse self for lack of upper body strength, take a break to watch Hoarders. Continue to step 5.


Step 5: Our junction box didn't have a ground wire already in it so we made one using some green covered wire and screwed it into the bit of the junction box labeled "GR". See, easy peasy. (If your junction box has a ground wire already, skip this step.)


Step 6: Using the plastic covering color as your guide, reconnect the wires. Black with black, white with white, green with green. First twist the little copper wires together, then screw the plastic caps on. We also threw a layer of black tape on there but that isn't entirely necessary.


Step 7: Screw fixture to junction box using the mounting hardware that comes with the fixture. Wonder why previous owners painted around the fixture rather than the entire ceiling.

Step 8: Turn the breaker back on, flip switch, marvel at your out your dazzling handywork!

So there you have it. If you've been putting off a change because you just weren't up to risking electrocution, fear no more!

Back with more details on the fixture and the rest of the shore kitchen makeover later this week.


  1. Jill Stigs2:08 PM

    ooooooooooo...the top of the light fixture looks cool!

  2. I'm so glad you posted this! I was looking at light fixtures, getting ready to buy one while convincing myself that I could do it on my own. I've had my dad change everything out before. So this was the perfect kick in the pants to empower myself. Thanks!

  3. This always seems intimidating! Thanks for the post....

    I also have the "where did I leave the screwdriver" amnesia... tragic always

  4. Definitely not old news. But do you know you're a tease? Show the fixture. Show the fixture.

  5. No light fixture reveal? Not fair! Can't wait to see it.

  6. Marianne4:10 PM

    Blessings on your head! I have wanted to swap out some light fixtures in our rental but thought it would be waaaay too much work. Now I see that it's not that much more than changing a lightbulb, thanks!

  7. Lauren4:12 PM

    Great instructions, but I'm such a loser that I don't know why you need a ground wire. (Other than knowing that electrical should be grounded, and that's all theoretical to me.)

  8. LauraC6:15 PM

    Exactly what I thought, "She's a tease!" :-)

  9. MrsLimestone6:39 PM

    Sorry, I don't mean to be. I just figured this warrants it own post. (Its long enough, don't you think?) I promise, photos of the light fixture are coming. I still have to sew up some curtains for behind the table so its not quite complete yet but Im getting there.

  10. MrsLimestone6:40 PM

    Glad I could help. Its so worth it!

  11. MrsLimestone7:16 PM

    Im not sure why but its a precaution against getting a shock. Assuming your junction box is wired correctly, you don't need a ground wire but better safe than sorry.

  12. kathy@princessannecounty9:10 PM

    perfect, practical, post.........k

  13. The Distressed Mother5:41 AM

    I can't believe you do this stuff! Illegal to do your own electrical work in Australia.

    TDM x

  14. Searching for the perfect lighting does take time but so worth the wait. Hope you don't miss that additional air flow this summer from the ceiling fan. Can't wait to come back and see your new treasure!

  15. MrsLimestone7:56 AM

    No chance I'll miss the airflow since I never turned it on.

  16. MrsLimestone7:58 AM

    It's illegal to change a light fixture out? Wow - that is shocking. (it's illegal to do your own wiring w/o an electrician here too but changing a light fixture is just a minor thing so it's ok)

  17. I'm sure the fixture is going to be wonderful, but I have to say that the fan is pretty nice (read: a whole lot nicer than the icky piece of trash in my kitchen). I hope you set it free so that it can live on somewhere.

  18. Linda@Limeinthecoconut5:27 PM


    Just kiddin'. I always do that to my husband.

  19. I am feeling braver about attempting to do this myself! I've always been fearful of electric ... I think I can I think I can. And I can't wait to see the new fixture!

  20. Great, helpful post! And you are right to shut off the breaker. It IS possible to wire the light fixture so that it is "hot" even when the light switch is off, and you can't know for sure that any fixture you work with isn't wired that way (does that make sense)? We saw so much spaghetti when we remodeled our old house that not only do we turn off breakers, we also use a tester to double check before working on anything.
    Can't wait to see the fixture, now! :-)

  21. MrsLimestone9:23 AM

    Yep, exactly.

    I should have added in the post that if your house is really old or inproperly wired, just forget about this step by step. In the limestone we had gas lines and loose live wires in there - so professional help was required.

  22. MrsLimestone9:25 AM

    I just have a very strong dislike of ceiling fans in low ceiling spaces. If I had 12 ft + ceilings then it makes sense - but when you can touch the blades, it makes me feel like they are going to come flying off the wheel and chop my head off. But have no fear, its not going in the trash. My brother snagged it for his collection of basement junk that he plans to use down the road. He doesn't have the same hatred for the whirly birds as I do :)

  23. Jasmine Hill1:02 AM

    I've had my eye on a new light fixture for quite some time but I put off the purchase for two reasons: #1. hubbs doesn't agree with the purchase and there for wouldn't put it up for me #2. I didn't know how to put it up myself so i could say "forget you, I go this!" Now I do! Thanks a bunch for this Idiot's tutorial. Now this idiot (me) can go get her new light!


  24. Ada @ New York5:46 PM

    U def make it sound easy and FUN!  Though my knee still tremble at the thought of changing a fixture myself :)

  25. Kellay_0010:22 PM

    Just a couple of notes.... (from an electrician!) after putting your marettes on give each wire a tug to make sure there is a solid connection (if not could potentially become fire hazard) If one of the wires pulls out. Re-strip it and start again.
    Secondly, your "ground" isn't doing anything here except looking pretty. If you don't have a ground in your main wiring (happens a lot in older homes) then the box isn't grounded... so your fixture isn't grounded. A ground is an alternate route for current to travel and dissipate when something goes wrong (like a short circuit!)
    Lastly, if your wiring doesn't look anything like this (just incase you have aluminum wiring or knob and tube then don't touch it! Leave it to a professional!) This will only happen if your house it atleast 60 years old!
    Good job!

  26. MrsLimestone11:38 AM

    Thanks Kellay.  So true about leaving older wiring to a professional. 
    But I'm not sure I understand what you mean about the ground.  True, the ground wire was missing from the old fixture but I would assume the junction box itself was grounded properly - therefore adding the wire is a good thing.  Why do you say its just for show here?

  27. Thank you for posting this! it encouraged me to do this 

  28. Also an electrician. A ground wire is ran with conductors from panel. Or could be picked up from copper water lines in a old home. If one had been ran you would have a bare copper wire in the box with the switch leg and neutral. As you have it here you have only bonded fixture to the junction box.

  29. Elifritz20006:22 PM

    Thanks for the post. I've been needing to replace my ceiling fan but was worried about the electrical. Now I'm only worried about holding it up there to attach the wires! 

  30. Davep12310:33 PM

    Ok, I am an electrican and I say DO NOT TAPE YOUR WIRENUTS!!!! Taping wirenuts is like hanging a big sign on the light that says AMATEUR. This is the thing that eats at me with DIY things, if, you made the splices up correctly then the wires are firmly attached inside of the wirenut and, the exposed copper is inside of the wirenut. Also, when ever you put those stranded leads from the light fixture in before you close it up, tug on all of the individual wires going into said nut. Frequently (even as a professional) stranded wires don't bite correctly in the wirenut. And finally a tip, always have your stranded conductor (wire comeing from fixture) lead infront of the the solid (comeing from wall or ceiling) if you go between an 1/8 an 3/16 it should work well and make your splice have a better chance of success.  Just remember Bad Splice= electrical fire or shit not working.   That is all

  31. Well I am not an electrician so I'm not worried about having the hallmark of an amateur. Aside from being a waste of tape, what is the harm in taping them?

  32. Kellay_0010:11 AM

    Funny enough I worked on an older light fixture in a homeowner's bathroom just last week. When I took the fixture down all the joints had been taped instead of wire nuts used. When I removed the tape I saw that at some point there had been enough excess heat to literally melt the copper joints together. Some of the jacket on the wiring had been burned too. I can't be sure why this happened but my assumption is that heat was not able to dissipate at all through the tape. Either way my point is using tape for this purpose is less about looks and more about that it is against code and potentially could be fire hazard over time.

  33. This is hilarious! And helpful! Thank you!


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