Replacing A Light Fixture
Our favorite part of construction is electrical work. What we discovered is that electrical wiring in a home is like having a bunch of extension cords and drop lights built into the walls. But, no matter how simple we try to make it sound there will always be that fear associated with electric shock that keeps folks from being comfortable with electrical projects. Believe it or not, the most dangerous job in home construction is roofing and one of the safest jobs is electrical (based on rates established in California for worker’s compensation insurance).
One of the safest and easiest light fixtures to install is the type that mounts directly to the ceiling box with two screws. However, not every light fixture will adapt directly to the ceiling box. In such cases a mounting adapter bar is provided (or is available as a separate purchase) to insure that practically any light fixture can be mounted to any ceiling box. This is the one that we will show you how to install. And remember, even the most complicated light fixtures are almost as quick and easy to install.
When purchasing a light fixture be sure to determine its maximum wattage rating and the maximum size bulb allowed. And, never exceed the bulb size rated for a given fixture. By the way, this goes for the fixtures you already have as well. Nothing can create a fire hazard more readily than a light fixture with oversize light bulbs. Grounding also is important. The bare wire in the ceiling box is the ground wire. The ground wire in the light box should be connected to the fixture mounting bracket at the location provided on the bracket. If there is not a ground wire visible in the fixture box you may want to consult an electrician to determine how your electrical service can be upgraded to include a grounding system. But that’s another column.
CAUTION: Before commencing an electrical project turn off the power at the main panel. Turning off the power to the light circuit being modified may not be safe enough. Often more than one circuit resides in a single electric box. Also, make sure to purchase only UL approved electrical fixtures.
Replacing most light fixtures is a simple five-step process.
Step 1 — Removal of the old fixate. This is where it becomes important for the power to be turned off at the main. First, remove the shade(s) and the bulb(s). Even if the mounting screws can be accessed with the bulb and or shade in place their removal is important because a slip of the screwdriver could break glass that could result in a serious eye injury. Remember: you are working above your head. With many fixtures, slightly loosening the mounting screws and then twisting the fixture is all that is needed to dismount the base of the fixture from the ceiling. However, in some instances the screws will have to be entirely removed. An electric screwdriver is invaluable for such a task. With the base dismounted from the ceiling disconnect the fixture wires from the wires in the ceiling box. Do not save the wire nuts for reuse. There is the possibility that they were damaged when installed and could be further damaged beyond use during removal. If the wires in the ceiling box are not color coded mark the one that is connected to the black lead before disconnecting the wires. A piece of masking tape will work great, but just about any marking method will do.
Step 2 — Install the mounting bracket. A mounting bracket usually comes with four screws — 2 long ones and two short ones. Use the short screws to mount the bracket to the ceiling box. The screws that hold the bracket to the ceiling box attach to the box through the long, narrow slots in the mounting bracket. The slots are used to align the center of the mounting bracket with the center of the ceiling box. With the bracket centered and firmly mounted in place attach the ground wire from the ceiling box to the appropriate location on the bracket. Finally, install the 2 longer screws in place in the threaded holes provided in the mounting bracket. Only 2 to 3 threads of the long screws should be inserted into the bracket. Most of the screw should be exposed to the room.
Step 3 — Connect the wires from the new fixture to the wires in the ceiling box. It is important to connect like colored wires when attaching the ceiling box wires to the light fixture wires. This is where it becomes important to know which wire was connected to black if the wires in the ceiling box are not color coded. Refer to step one for marking wires that are not color coded. And don’t forget to use the wire nuts provided with the fixture to make the connection.
Step 4 — Mount the fixture. This is the easiest part of the job. Place the keyholes in the base of the fixture over the two screws that were previously threaded into the mounting bracket. Once the heads protrude through the fixture base then twist the fixture so that the screws are positioned in the narrow portion of the keyslots. At this point the fixture can be released and the screws tightened securely.
Step 5 — Install bulb and cover.
Make sure to install the proper size bulbs. By the way, bulb size should be clearly marked on the fixture. If not, we suggest that you purchase a different brand. Be sure to clean hand oil off the surface of each bulb with a soft dry cloth once it is mounted in place. Hand oils could cause a bulb to burn out prematurely. Finally, install the shade. Clean up your mess, put the ladder back in the garage and call a few neighbors over to help you revel in the self-accomplishment you will feel when the job is complete. And, good luck!