How to Replace Ceiling Lights

Updated July 20, 2017

A new ceiling fixture will change the look and feel of any room. With the wide range of replacement lighting available, adding or softening light is as simple as choosing a suitable fixture. Replacing ceiling lights can be either daunting or easy, depending on your confidence in working with electricity. If you do not feel safe, consult a professional electrician. But if you are confident in your skills, replacing a ceiling light is an easy and rewarding endeavour.

Turn off the wall switch connected to the fixture you intend to replace. At the service panel, turn off the breaker controlling the fixture's circuit. Turn the wall switch back on to make sure the fixture's power is off, and then turn it off again. Place two strips of electrical tape in the shape of an "X" over both switches, and tape a note to each, warning others not to turn on the power. Never assume that merely turning off a switch is enough.

Remove both the light's globe, or diffuser, and light bulb(s).

Remove either the two screws attaching the fixture to the ceiling box or the locknut securing it to the threaded nipple. If you are working with a helper, make sure he stands on a separate ladder. Never share a ladder.

Pull the fixture free, taking care not to allow it to hang from the wires. Note which colour house wires are connected to the fixture wires. Black connects to black (the hot wire), white to white or grey to grey (neutral), and the ground wire attaches to a screw inside the ceiling box. Remove the wire nuts, and disconnect the wires.

If the new fixture requires any additional mounting attachments, install them according to the manufacturer's instructions. Verify which fixture wires connect to the hot and neutral house wires, and where the ground wire connects to the box. Using wire strippers, remove enough insulation from all wires to reveal ½ inch of bare wire.

Tie a piece of wire from the box to the fixture for support, or have your helper support the fixture. Hold matching wires together. Twist their exposed ends tightly together with linesman pliers. Secure the connection by twisting on a wire nut. Gently pull on the wires, verifying that the connection is tight. Repeat the procedure with the second pair of wires. Secure the ground wire to the box.

Tuck the wires into the box as you lift the fixture into place. Secure the new fixture with either screws or nut. Install the bulb(s). Remove the tape from both switches, and test the new fixture. If the lights glow, install the new globe or diffuser; if not, turn off both switches, and check your wiring.


Check with either your local lighting store's specialist or a professional electrician about wire and box capacities. Some older wires cannot handle the load requirements of newer fixtures. Ceiling boxes have weight capacities that must be considered when installing larger fixtures.


Always make sure electricity is shut off both at the wall switch and at the service panel before handling wires. Never work on a "live" circuit. Tape off both circuit breaker and light switch, and attach a note to each. Never trust others to assume (or to remember) that you are working on a circuit. Always read and follow manufacturer's instructions. If at any time you are unsure about any aspect of the procedure, immediately stop and consult a professional. Do not allow pride to get in the way of safety.

Things You'll Need

  • Electrical tape
  • Ladder(s)
  • Screwdriver
  • Wire strippers
  • Insulated linesman pliers
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About the Author

Arlo Munty is a freelance writer and photographer whose work experience includes automotive/motorcycle mechanics, audio engineering, and security. His longtime hobbies include writing fiction, art, music, physical fitness, metalworking, jewelry making, and leather working. He has written articles for eHow, and product reviews for "Launch Magazine."