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How to convert a hardwired wall light to a plug-in

Updated February 21, 2017

Hard-wired light fixtures do not differ greatly from plug-in light fixtures, so converting a wall fixture to become a plug-in sconce is a good project for novice electricians. Converting a wall fixture to plug-in allows you to have wall sconces without rewiring your home, which can be a costly venture, and it allows you to take the lighting with you easily if you move. If you are converting a fixture that is already hard-wired into your home rather than a new fixture, shut off the circuit breaker before you attempt to remove the fixture.

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  1. Pull gently on the wires that come out of the back of your hard-wired light fixture to extend them for better visibility and working angle.

  2. Snip off any tangled or kinked bare wire ends if you are using a previously used light fixture, and then use wire strippers to strip 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) of insulation off the ends to reveal undamaged wire.

  3. Locate the live, neutral and ground wires on the fixture. The live and neutral may both be white, or the live may be black and the neutral white. The ground, if your fixture has one, will be bare copper or insulated in green. If your fixture has a ground, you will need three-strand wire and a three-prong plug to convert it to a plug-in fixture.

  4. Strip 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) of insulation off of each wire on one end of a piece of two- or three-strand 16 gauge wire, as appropriate for your light fixture. This wire will lead to your plug, so make sure it is long enough to reach from where you want to place the fixture to the nearest outlet.

  5. Twist the 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) of bare wire on your fixture's live wire together with the plug wire's live end. In two-strand wire, the live side often has a textured ridge. In three-strand wire, it will be black.

  6. Twist a wire nut rated for two wires (usually blue) clockwise onto the twisted bare ends until it will not turn any further. Pull firmly on it to make sure it is secure. If it slides off, use a smaller wire nut. Do not allow any stray wires to extend outside the wire nut -- no copper or aluminium should be visible once the nut is on.

  7. Repeat the twist and wire nut procedure with the neutral (white) wire and the ground wire, if applicable.

  8. Wrap each connection with electrical tape, stretching the tape tightly as you wrap, to ensure the connections stay tight.

  9. Attach a male plug to the other end of your plug wire according to the directions on the plug. These vary by manufacturer, but three-prong plugs usually require stripping the wire ends of insulation and tightening them inside the plug with a screwdriver.

  10. Set the base of your fixture on a piece of thin plastic, often available at craft shops, and trace around it with a thin-tipped permanent marker.

  11. Cut out the shape you traced, just inside your lines, with sharp scissors. Cut a small "V" shape out of the bottom of your shape to allow the cord through.

  12. Apply a silicone sealant along the back edges of your fixture. Line up your plastic shape on the back of your light fixture with the cord running out through your "V," and press it firmly into the silicone. Clamp it in place with two adjustable C-clamps until the sealant hardens, and then release the clamps.

  13. Tip

    You may want to add an in-line switch to the light cord or plug it into an outlet that is switch-controlled so you can turn your new plug-in wall fixture on and off without manually plugging and unplugging it. Many lamps use 18 gauge wire, but 16 gauge is safer if you do not know the specifications of your power circuits and the light's power load.

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Things You'll Need

  • Wire strippers
  • Insulated 16-gauge wire
  • Wire nuts
  • Electrical tape
  • Male plug
  • Screwdriver
  • Thin plastic
  • Permanent marker
  • Scissors
  • Silicone sealant
  • 2 C-clamps

About the Author

Anne Hirsh has been writing and editing for over 10 years. She has hands-on experience in cooking, visual arts and theater as well as writing experience covering wellness and animal-related topics. She also has extensive research experience in marketing, small business, Web development and SEO. Hirsh has a bachelor's degree in technical theater and English and post-baccalaureate training in writing and computer software.

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