Replace a Hanging Light Fixture
By Matt Weber
A hanging ceiling fixture is more than simply a light source. It’s a focal point for the interior décor of the home.
We recently upgraded a ceiling fixture with a new chandelier from Lamps Plus, the nation’s largest lighting retailer. This lighting fixture was located above the staircase we recently remodeled and made a beautiful “crown jewel” to decorate the space. The homeowner selected the Lacey 28″ Wide Round Black Chandelier to replace a smaller (and outdated) pendant. The result was a dramatic improvement to the look and feel of the home’s front foyer.
Replacing an out-of-style ceiling fixture not only updates the look of a room, but the manner in which it casts light can also dramatically impact the ambience of the living space. Hanging fixtures range in style from elegant chain-mounted chandeliers and sparkling art-deco crystal fixtures to modern geometric wood designs with candle-style lighting. The available fixture designs really seem endless.
Regardless of style, a major concern when selecting a replacement feature is to ensure that the box, ceiling and wiring will support the weight of the fixture. For a new fixture that weighs approximately the same as the old one, the existing electrical box will probably suffice. However, if the replacement is heavier, the ceiling box may need to be replaced to support the extra weight.
Replacing a light fixture doesn’t require an electrician. Following a few simple safety guidelines, a DIY homeowner can replace a fixture successfully (although the work should probably be inspected by a professional, so check with local authorities to see if a permit is required).
Out with the Old
Before making your first move, turn off the power at the breaker box. Do this by flipping a circuit breaker or unscrewing a fuse. Use a voltage tester to make sure the power is off.
We wanted the new fixture to hang approximately at the same height as the old, so we measured the old light’s position before removing it.
When removing the old fixture, it helps to use a work platform fastened to a ladder to support the weight of the fixture while you remove the mounting screws from the electrical box. With the screws out, pull off the box cover. The wires should be twisted together and capped with a wire nut. Before you disconnect any wiring, a good DIY trick is to take a few photos at different angles to show how to reconnect the new fixture to the house wiring. To disconnect the old fixture, just unscrew the wire nuts and untwist the wire pairs.
Note: If you have aluminum wiring, you should avoid working on it and call an electrician, because special techniques are required to make the connections.
Assemble the New Fixture
Unpack the fixture and verify that it was shipped with all the necessary parts. Organize the components, including the canopy, the hanging hardware, etc. Because ceiling fixtures vary greatly in style and construction, so do the associated components and the assembly process. However, any quality lighting manufacturer will include assembly instructions specific to the fixture model, and usually the job requires nothing more than a screwdriver or wrench. The electrical cord fixture follows the chain, looping through it periodically to keep the wire and chain bundled. Remember to thread the canopy (box cover), the canopy’s retainer nut, the new mounting strap (which screws into the junction box) and any other necessary parts over the wire and chain before installing the fixture.
Carry the fixture to the electrical box and use your ladder/work platform combo to support the weight of the fixture while you work. Ultimately, the height of your hanging fixture is up to you, but for the over-the-stairs location shown, we wanted to ensure plenty of headroom clearance for anyone walking beneath it. The lighting supplier will usually include more chain than you will actually need. Measure and cut the chain to its desired length with metal snips. Then cut the wiring 6 inches longer than the chain.
To install the fixture, you’ll need a screwdriver and some wire strippers. It might help to screw the metal mounting strap to the junction box to keep the wires close together while you work. The end of the chain will thread into the mounting strap.
Using a combination stripper, pinch the fixture wire in the appropriately sized hole, squeeze to cut the sheathing, then twist and pull to remove about 3/4-inch of insulation from each wire.
In modern home supply wiring, individual wires are bundled together in a sheathed cable. “Two-wire with ground” cables have a black wire, a white wire and an uninsulated ground wire. “Three-wire with ground” cables (used with three-way and four-way switches) have a black wire, a white wire, a red wire and an uninsulated ground.
The white wire is usually the neutral wire, and the black is the live or “hot” wire. Any red wires are hot, too. The unsheathed, exposed copper wires are ground wires.
Match the fixture wires to the supply wires (hot to hot, neutral to neutral), twist the exposed wires together clockwise. Light fixtures don’t have black and white cables, but it’s still important to connect the neutral wire of the circuit to the neutral wire of the light. To identify the neutral wire, examine the lamp cord closely; the neutral wire usually has a white rib on the sheathing as its indicator. The ground wires typically anchor to the mounting strap with a small green-painted screw.
Because the fixture wires are stranded and the supply wires are solid, it usually helps have 1/4 inch extra exposed strand wire to wrap around the solid wires. Secure the connections with a UL-listed wire nut.
If only a single cable, or one set of black and white wires, enters the box, then the fixture is at the end of the circuit, which allows for the simplest method of installation. If two cables (or two sets of black and white wires) enter the box, the fixture is in the middle of a circuit, which means you will have to twist multiple wires together. This is why it’s handy to have photos of the wiring connections.
Install a light bulb and test the connection before the fastening the fixture. If there’s no illumination, you probably have a loose connection, so try again. Once the light functions, add some extra connection protection by wrapping electrician’s tape around the wire nuts.
On the fixture shown, the threaded end of the chain screws into the mounting strap, the canopy slides over the wiring box, and a lock not holds the canopy in place for a finished appearance.
The stylish new chandelier from Lamps Plus not only enhances the interior décor but also offers a warm glow to the living space.
Editor’s Note: Founded in 1976, Lamps Plus, the nation’s largest lighting retailer, also carries thousands of exclusive designs in ceiling fans, furniture, home furnishings and décor. Learn more about the company’s extensive catalog at www.lampsplus.com.