How to Switch a Light Fixture

A schematic of a couple of light fixtures.

You like everything in this room except that ugly old light fixture in the ceiling. Surely there is something better than that. There is, and its replacement is easier than easy.

To accomplish this task, you’ll need a new light fixture, Phillips- and flat-tipped screwdrivers, a pair of wire cutters, some electrical tape, and three wire nuts. Read the package for the new light fixture – it will most likely contain the wire nuts you need.

FINE PRINT: While we make every attempt to ensure that these instructions are complete and accurate, Skippity Whistles does not take responsibility for any injury or damage that results from their use. Never attempt any procedure until you are confident you can safely complete every step.

That being said, let’s get to work!

Visit your local Home Improvement Center and pick out the replacement fixture that you want. Prices range anywhere between $13 and $100, depending upon the style.

Turn off the power.

Turn Off Power

Before you begin, turn off the power to the fixture – you don’t want to kill yourself.
Turn the power off at the circuit breaker.
If you don’t know which breaker is which, turn off the main breaker (1). It’s the switch at the top of your electrical breaker panel. That shuts everything off.

Remove the glass shade.

Remove Old Fixture

First, remove the shade (1) from the fixture. If your shade has a little fitting at the bottom (2), called a finial, all you have to do is unscrew the finial to remove the shade.
Most other glass shades have a trio of little screws (3) that hold it in place.
Put your hand under the fixture so that the shade doesn’t fall, and then unscrew each one.
You can put the screws into the glass shade as it comes off.
Set the shade aside: if you’re renting, you’ll most likely want to put the original fixture back in when you move out, so don’t lose it!

Loosen the fixture retaining screws.

Now you can remove the light bulbs (1) from their sockets.
You’ll see the two screws (2) – these mount the fixture. Use your screwdriver (3) to loosen the screws. Don’t remove them, but unscrew them until the fixture feels loose.

Pull the old fixture from the ceiling.

Twist the fixture (1) counterclockwise so that the fixture drops slightly down toward you.
It’s possible that the ceiling has been painted around the fixture, gluing it to the ceiling.
Put the blade of a craft knife (2) between the ceiling and the edge of the fixture and cut the paint away from it. You should be able to twist and pull the fixture away.

Copy the wiring of the old fixture to the new one.

The old fixture will most likely have wire nuts (1) that connect it to your home’s wiring.
If the wires inside the ceiling are any colors other than black, white, and possibly green, put the old fixture back in, because there’s something funky with the wiring.
The safest way to do this is to unscrew the wire nut (1) from the black wire. Remove any old tape attached to it.

Install New Fixture

Lift up the new fixture (2), and use the same wire nut to attach the black wire on the fixture to the black wire in the ceiling. If that’s new to you, the next step explains it.

Strip the wires and use wire nuts on them.

The wiring in the ceiling should be stripped – you should see bare copper at the end.
If it isn’t use the wire-cutting part of your pliers (1) to expose about a quarter inch of copper. Gently squeeze the wire cutter around the wire, until it slices through the plastic insulation, and then slide the cut piece off the wire.
You’ll find a video on that at Skippity Whistles.
To put a wire nut (2) onto the wires, simply hold them together so that their ends are even, push the on the wire nut and twist it until it’s secure.

Tuck the ground wire inside the junction box if the fixture doesn't use it.

Now do the same thing for the white common wire (1), and for the green ground wire (2).
If there’s no ground wire on the fixture, it’s no big deal. Use your wire cutter to snip off any bare copper showing, and then simply coil the wire in the ceiling out of the way, as shown (2).
If the fixture has a green ground wire but the ceiling does not, there will be a hexagonally-headed screw (3) in the junction box’s crossbar (4). Connect the green wire to this screw.

Tape off the connections and push them into the J-box.

With all the wires wire-nutted into place, wrap some electrical tape (1) around each pair and onto the wire nut so that nothing comes loose.
Now push the wires up inside the junction box in the ceiling, behind the crossbar (2).
Make sure you don’t break your connections. If you do see, for example, a wire nut fall out, simply uncoil the wires, make the connection again, and make sure it’s tightly taped. Gently push the wires up and behind the crossbar again.

Install the new fixture.

Line up the holes (1)in the new fixture with the two screws (2) sticking down from the junction box, and push the fixture flush against the ceiling.
Gently twist the new fixture clockwise until it stops, and use your Phillips screwdriver (3) to tighten the screws.

Power on and test it out!

Complete Replacement

Put LED light bulbs (1) into the sockets and attach the shade (2).
Click on the circuit breaker (3), and test out your new light!
Wow! The room looks better already!


If the fixture didn’t light, here are some quick tests:

Do other lights work? If no, double check the circuit breaker.

Put a different bulb into the socket. If it works, it was the bulb. If it doesn’t work, turn off the breaker and double-check your wiring connections.

Before you toss out the bulb, try it in another lamp. If it doesn’t work, recycle it.

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