Installing an Electrical Light Fixture: How to NOT Die While You DIY

Electrical light fixtures can be changed out pretty easily. My advice to you, for legal purposes, is hire an electrician. That is my advice. I can tell you how I put in a dimmer and changed a ceiling fixture and lived to tell about it, but this most certainly is not a how-to post. I am simply bragging about my own good fortune in not dying when fooling with the mysterious world of "electricity." (I know I sound like a total dimwit, but the truth is that math, how "time" works, and electricity are all just beyond my grasp) But alas, I interacted with electricity, things look much better, and they actually work.




Houses like mine came with brass fixtures. Apparently brass is making a come-back, but I can't fathom why. I spray painted the brass ceiling fixtures in my kids' rooms because I'm a cheapskate; however, the brass dining room light fixture just needed to be completely eliminated. So, we found a suitable replacement, brought it home with excitement, put it on the dining room table, and looked expectantly at one another. No clue what to do. 

Well, we figured it out with the help of a friendly handyman who works for beer. He happens to be a good friend; such a good friend that he insisted we learn how to do "the very basics around your own damn house." So we did. Here are some of the things we learned about changing out electrical light fixtures and lived to tell.

  • Make it safe to work in the room. Turn off all the light switches on the wall that control this light. Then put a piece of tape over the switch so that one of your family members who might be looking only down at her phone cannot accidentally kill you unless she deliberately peels the tape up. Then be doubly cautious and go to your circuit breaker box and turn off the power to that room. Then triply cautious by using a handy tool called a voltage tester to be sure the wires aren't live. And, no, you don't have to actually touch the wires to find out-- it's more like "sensor," which lights up if it detects electricity in the wires connecting to your ugly chandelier.
  • Remove the ugly fixture. Just unscrew the screws that hold the fixture base into the ceiling box.  Lower the ugly light to access the electrical box.

  • Test that you wired it correctly. Put one light bulb in and have your helper turn the circuit breaker on. Flip the switch and see if the light comes on. If yes, you are ready to proceed. (If not, call your handy neighbor in to fix your mistakes.)
  • Deal with the wires. Remove the wire connectors, and untwist the fixture wires from the installed wires. At this point, it's also a good idea to tighten the screws on the ceiling electrical box. You will probably see black wires, white wires and a green one. Follow the manufacturer's directions that came with your new light fixture, but the rule of thumb is that black wires connect to each other, and the white wires connect to each other. The green one is called a grounding wire, and it connects to a grounding screw. Remove the protective coating of the wires on the fixture, then wrap the bare section of your fixture wires to the bare section of their counterparts from the ceiling. Screw on the wire connectors. Connect the grounding wire. We didn't document our experience, but Lowe's has a helpful video that will make you feel like an expert.

  • Important: Turn the circuit breaker off again. Don't do anything else until you have completed this step.
  • Attach the fixture to the electrical box. Use the mounting hardware that came with your light. This requires a little teamwork to hold the fixture steady and deal with the screws.
  • Add the light bulbs and install any globes, trims and covers to the fixture. 
  • Finally, turn the circuit breaker back on. Flip the switch, enjoy your new light, and give yourself a pat on the back.

Why not recycle or upcycle your old electrical light fixture? Just because it didn't suit you doesn't mean it won't be useful for someone else. Check out local rehab stores or salvation centers. 

By Bridget Gorman Wendling