- Active Time: 1 hour
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Cost: $30 + the cost of your new light fixture
- Help Needed?: Yes and no. If you’ve done this before and are replacing a lightweight light, you probably can do this on your own. If it’s your first time, or the light is heavy, I’d have a second pair of hands around.
- Difficulty: Advanced Beginner
Today on A Girl’s Guide to Home DIY we’re talking about how to replace a light fixture. Do you have a light in your house that you just hate with a fiery passion? Like, every time you walk into a room, all you do is stare at it and think about how ugly it is, how much better the room would look without that light, and frankly, how much better your life would be without that light? But, replacing a light fixture seems like way too daunting of a task–I mean, there’s wiring involved.
That was EVERY ceiling light in our home when we moved in. The previous owner had either not touched the lights/fans that had been in the house for 20+ years, which simply weren’t our home’s style. The first two years we lived here I simply disliked every light in our home, but I didn’t have the spare money to replace all the lights and hire an electrician to replace them, so I just lived with them.
Then, one miraculous day, I realized I could maybe replace a light fixture myself (I talk a lot about our hallway light and how replacing it helped me with my POTS and brought me to my love of DIY in my first post here). After that first success, I basically made it my mission to replace every light in our home (and I did!). Here’s how to replace a light fixture.
A Note on Electrical Work: Before we get started, we MUST talk about how important safety is when working with anything electrical, which includes replacing a light fixture. If anything, you should be overly safety cautious. If anything makes you uncomfortable, please STOP and call an electrician. When I did my first few electrical projects, I turned the entire house power off to be safe, despite also having a voltage detector that I used at every step. And, I always have someone else in the house, because the trauma NP in me has to plan for worst case scenario–if I get electrocuted, there’s someone there to call 911 🙂 Now, I feel comfortable just flipping the breaker, but I’m still religious about checking the voltage before touching any wires, even the ground.
Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. I’ve only linked items I’ve used in the past and would use again (unless otherwise noted).
Let’s Get Started!
You’ll need a few supplies when replacing a light fixture, some of which you probably already have, and some you need specifically for electrical projects. They are totally worth investing in, if you don’t have them (I can’t count how many times I’ve used them), and they’re relatively inexpensive.
- The new fixture and bulbs to match
- Screwdriver (with interchangeable flat and Phillips heads), or one of each
- Ladder or Step Stool to reach the ceiling comfortably
- Black electrical tape
- Orange twist wire connectors
- Voltage Tester (I love my Klein Voltage Tester)
- Wire Strippers ( I have these from Home Depot and they work great)
- A second pair of hands for bigger/heavier light fixtures
Before you Start
Make sure you read and understand the instructions for installing your new light when replacing a light fixture. I am the queen of starting to install something before making sure I read everything, and you’ll see how that gets me in trouble in a few steps with my dining room light. While the basics of connecting and disconnecting the electrical is the same for every light, there are definitely nuances in how to hang different lights. Now, let’s dive into our guide on how to replace a light fixture!
Step 1: Turn Off the Power
You need to do this at your main electrical panel in your house. If your circuits are labeled, this is easy–flip the circuit off that corresponds to the area of the house you are working in. If your circuits aren’t labeled (like our home’s), then you have 2 choices–play a guessing game of flipping circuits, then testing the voltage with your voltage detector to make sure you got the right thing (I’ll talk about how to use the voltage detector in a second); or, turn off the whole house power. This is totally your call. Just make sure it’s bright enough wherever you’re working (and make sure your spouse isn’t working from home and needs electricity in their office when you’re doing it).
It’s important that this is your first step when replacing a light fixture because when you start removing the old light, you will expose live wires if the power is still on and have no way of detaching it from the ceiling. Then you’re left standing on a ladder with an awkward light fixture in your hands, trying to figure out what to do next. Just avoid this whole scene and turn the power off before anything.
Step 2: Remove the Old Light
Hop up on your step stool or ladder so you can comfortably reach the ceiling. Before climbing up, make sure you have your screwdriver in your hand and have the voltage detector close at hand. Also, make sure you have a place ready to put your light down close by (in case it’s heavier than it appears).
Unscrew any screws attaching the light to the ceiling. Make sure you’re holding the light because it will come off, and then it will only be connected at the electrical wires.
Step 3: Detach the Electrical Wires from the Old Light
Before touching any wires, use your voltage detector to make sure the power is off by testing EVERY wire. There should just be two, but if for some reason you have a multiswitch situation–like a ceiling fan that has a switch for the light and for the fan–you may have more than 2 wires. Check the voltage by doing the following:
- Turn on the voltage detector. The power light should come on when ready.
- Touch one of the wires at the exposed part (the copper, not the colored part). It should turn green if the power is off and mine also beeps once. I usually touch it in several places to make sure it’s really off. It’ll light up green every time if the power is truly off.
- Continue to this for each wire to ensure the power is off.
- If anything every lights red, STOP IMMEDIATELY! Red means there’s electricity flowing through. Mine also beeps continuously if there’s a live wire, so it’s nice to have the double check. Have your partner check the circuit breakers to make sure you turned off the correct one. If ever in doubt, turn off all the house power, or stop and call an electrician.
Once you’re sure the power is off and the voltage meter confirms it, you can untwist the ceiling wires from the light wires to disconnect the light from the ceiling. If you have a ground wire (a plain copper wire twisted around a screw), you may need to loosen the screw with the screwdriver to get that off completely. Once you’re done, set the light to the side.
You likely have a light mount or a crossbar you to need to remove as well. The electrical crossbar is the support that holds the light into the electrical box mounted in the ceiling. For this light, mine is this circular piece of metal. For other lights, I’ve had two pieces of metal (that look like a crossbar). These simply screw into the ceiling, so they’re easy to uninstall–just unscrew them!
Halfway done with how to remove a light fixture! Take a breath, take a break off the step stool, and then get ready for your pretty new light! The second half of this project is basically just reversing the first half, so you already know what you’re doing.
Step 4: Attach the New Crossbar
Time to install your new light fixture! The first step is to install the crossbar or fixture mount. You simply will screw it into the junction box in the ceiling.
But BEFORE you screw it into the ceiling, make sure your mounting screws (the screws that hold the light up) are in place. The head of the screw should be touching the ceiling, with the threads of the screws hanging down towards the light.
Once you have your mounting screws where you need them, use the other screws to attach the crossbar to the electrical box, making sure to pull all the wires through the center of the crossbar.
Step 5: Attach the New Light to the Electrical Wires
Before you get back up on your step stool, make sure your wires are ready to go. That means there is copper exposed on the new light’s wires, at least 1 cm if not more. If there isn’t enough copper exposed, use your wire strippers to gently cut the rubber cover of the copper wires (but not the copper) and then pull the cover off. It may take you a couple tries if you’ve never done this before–don’t worry, there’s usually plenty of extra wiring included so it’s ok if you mess up and cut the copper when stripping the wires.
Once you’re ready, holding the new light in one hand (or having your partner hold it for you), you need to twist together the white wire from the light with the white wire from the wall and the black/red wire from the light with the black/red wire from the wall.
Then, you should place a small piece of black electrical tape around each pair of wires.
And, finally, place an orange twist wire connector on each connection. Twist it on.
To attach the ground wire, there are two possibilities I’ve run across when replacing a light fixture. If you have a ground wire in the ceiling, do the same thing as above (twist the wires together, apply tape and a twist connector). Most, however, have a ground wire on the light and not in the wall. If this is the case, twist the ground wire around the ground screw, and then tighten the screw so the ground wire is well secured.
Brief note on wire colors: The white wires are the nonactive wires and the red or black wires are the active wires. Your ground wire is usually either green or plain copper. It’s VERY important that you match the wire colors on your new light with the ones in the wall. You can cause people to get shocked when they touch the switch or fixture if they’re not matched up correctly.
Step 6: Mount the New Light
Now, follow the instructions included with your new light for mounting your new light to the ceiling. If you have any extra wiring, you may have to shove it up in the light box to make sure your new light fits properly against the wall.
For this light, I had to place this cover over the electrical box and screw small screw caps over the mounting screws to secure the light to the ceiling.
Step 7: Turn the Power Back On and Check your Work
Once everything is tight, it’s time to check your work. Make sure you have the correct lightbulbs in your light, and then go turn the power on. If you’re light works, you did it–you conquered how to replace a light fixture!
If it doesn’t work (and you really did turn the power back on and you’ve tried with brand new lightbulbs), most likely it’s an issue with the wires. I’ve had that happen before when I didn’t twist and tape the wires well enough, and they came apart when I was hanging the light up. Easy fix, just repeat steps 4-6! If everything looks right after you double check and it’s still not working, use your voltage checker to make sure you have power at the electrical wires. If you do and the light still doesn’t work, I’d call an electrician for help. It could be a faulty light or something else more complicated.
That’s how you replace a light fixture! The first few times I did this, it took way longer than expected (45 minutes to an hour), mostly because I was so nervous working with electrical wiring that I was triple checking every step. But, after replacing 3 or 4 lights, if there aren’t any surprises, the whole process usually takes about 20 minutes–such a short amount of time to completely transform the look of your room!
P.S. I share how to replace a light fixture for outdoor lights in this post–while there are a lot of the same steps, there’s a few additional things to take into consideration.