Do It Yourself Lighting: Suspending Ceiling Light Installation

You can install ceiling light fixtures in just a couple of minutes with little or no previous electrical experience and just a couple of tools.

Lighting fixtures for your ceilings come in endless styles and designs for nearly any interior design scheme. The only hard part is finding the right lighting fixture for your room. And once you have your fixture chosen, your next step is to install it. With just a few steps you can install your fixture with little or no electrical experience.


Here is a list of the tools you will need to install your light. Many of these tools will come with the packaging of your new lighting fixture. If it is new and does not come with most of these tools, be sure to read the instructions completely to understand why it does not have these components.

Wire strippers


Light fixture

Circuit tester

Wire nuts

Screws (usually provided with fixture)

Getting Started

The first rule of electrical work is to shut off the power to the wires where you will be installing the light. This is done by flicking the circuit switch in the breaker box. This is also known as a panel box. If you are replacing an existing lighting fixture, turn the light on, then turn off the circuit. When the light goes out, you will be sure you have found the correct switch. Many electricians also tape the breaker box closed to help ensure that no one accidentally switches on the circuit while you are working. If you are installing a new fixture where there was no light before, you will need to use a circuit tester on the wires to determine when there is or is not power to the wires.

Working with the old wires

Unscrew the shade or face plate and the light bulbs. Using your screwdriver, unscrew the existing fixtures main body from the ceiling. This will expose the wires. Take note of the wires to and from the existing fixture. There will be three wires. It is important that you match the new fixture wires with these existing ceiling wires exactly. If the colors do not match your new fixture, you may need to call an electrician. Generally, the colors will be white black and green. It is always a good idea to make a note or even a small diagram of these wires and there colors as you will need this when you install the new fixture. If you do not match these wires exactly, you could not only have a light that does not work but you could also cause an electrical short or even an electrical fire.

The wires from the ceiling to the fixture are connected by little plastic cones. These are called Wire Nuts. These are used to insulate and tie two wires together. Using your hands, unscrew the wires from the wire nuts and set them aside. If your new fixture comes with mounting hardware and or a new mounting box, it is a good idea to remove the old ones to ensure the new fixture works well with all components. Now your old fixture will be completely detached from the ceiling and you are ready to install the new one.

Installing the new fixture

The first thing you need to do is to install the mounting hardware. Most of the newer fixtures come with a grounding bar. Screw this into the mounting box relatively loosely. Not so loose that it rattles but not so tight that you cannot unscrew it with your hand. This helps to discharge extra electrical charges in the event of a power surge.

Working with the new wires

Using your wire strippers, clip and strip just a quarter of an inch off the old existing wires that come from the ceiling. This helps to ensure a good connection to the new wires. You may also need to do the same thing to the new wires. Now you need to tie the wires together. You may need a second person to hold the fixture just below the ceiling while you use both hands to tie the wires. Refer to your wire diagram that you made when untying the wires from the existing fixture. Be sure to tie the white wire to the white wire, the black to the black and so on. To tie the wires together, you simply place the wire ends together, side by side. With one hand you hold the wires on their covers, with the other hand twist the wires together where the actual wires are exposed. Once these two wires are twisted together, slip on a wire nut and twist the wire nut as well. Do this for all the wires.

Finishing the mounting

Slip the wires into the mounting box. They may fit tightly but they all need to be inside the mounting box. Place the main fixture body against the ceiling being sure to line up the holes with the mounting box. Using the screws that came with your unit or screws of the proper size, fasten the main body to the ceiling.

Light bulbs

Once you have the wires and the main body secure you can add the light bulbs. You may already have your favorite light bulb picked out, however you need to be sure that it will work safely with your new fixture. For example, many fixtures will have a sticker or engraving inside the main body that will tell you to not exceed a certain wattage of light bulb. Many ask that you not exceed 60 watts. These means, you can use a 40 watt bulb but if you use a 100 watt bulb, the fixture could melt, short out or cause an electrical fire. All of which you would want to be sure you avoid.

The only thing left is the faceplate or shade. Many slip on to a central pole that self threads, others use screws on the perimeter of the fixture body. Once you have this on securely, it is time to test it. Open the panel or breaker box, flick the switch and see if your light works. You may have the wall switch in the off position, which is a good security measure. Be sure it is up. If you use a dimmer switch, again, be sure you have it in the on position.

If the light does not work

There are two reasons why your light will not work. The first and simplest explanation would be a bad bulb. Even new bulbs can fail when needed, so try a bulb that you know works to test the light fixture. If it still does not switch on, you may have actually failed to connect the wires properly. They may be loose and not making a good connection. In this case you will need to reopen the fixture and tighten the wire connections. If this is not the case, you may have miss-matched the wire colors and this will pop your breakers into the off position every time you try to turn the light on. Refer to your color diagram of the wires and try again. If all these fail and your fixture remains dark, it may be time to call a licensed electrician.

Once your light is working

Keep you eye on it for a couple of days. If you see any sort of trouble such as flickering or intermittent outages, you will need to inspect your work. Otherwise sit back and congratulate yourself on another nifty home improvement.

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