How to Install a Light Fixture
Over my nine years of blogging, I’ve installed many light fixtures. And while I’ve shared the process here and there, I’m shocked that I don’t have a dedicated blog post on the exact step-by-step for this DIY project. Years ago, a DIY like changing a light fixture was super intimidating to me. I mean, electrical?! Ah, scary!
But, as I’ve changed out pretty much every single light fixture in our home, I’ve gained more and more confidence to tackle this project myself. Even though it’s often an arm workout doing this one solo…
So today’s blog post is designed to teach you exactly how to install a light fixture in your home. I want this to act as a resource that you can reference to have the knowledge, skills, supplies, and confidence to try this DIY out.
But I will say, that even though I technically know how to do it, every situation is different. I never know what I’m gonna find when I remove an old fixture. What wires will be back there? Will there be weird old electrical parts? As you’ll soon read, I thought this light fixture swap would be really simple and I’d be done in less than an hour. Well, that didn’t quite happen…
Our Main Bathroom – The Old Light
When we did an initial phase one makeover on this space, I chose this simple light fixture for our main bathroom. It worked great for years and I still really like it. When my contractor was finishing up the new space, I just had him install that same one because I didn’t quite know what I wanted to replace it with.
Then I spotted this light fixture and I fell in love. Black, gold, and marble?! Literally all of the same elements that you can find in our new main bathroom. I knew it was perfect. I ordered it and set a date on my calendar to install it.
How to Install a Light Fixture – Supplies
- Screwdriver and Drill
- Wire Cutters
- Electrical Tape
- Wire Nuts
- New Fixture
- Voltage Tester
- Head Lamp (optional): I didn’t need this for today’s project, but if you’re tackling a light install without natural light or at nighttime, it comes in handy!
You don’t need many supplies for this project and your new light fixture will likely come with all of the hardware (and even wire nuts) that you’ll need to get the job done.
Turn Off the Power
The first, and most important, step. Head to your breaker box and make sure to kill the power to the room. Then, go back to the room and flip on all of the switches to make sure no lights go on. You can also grab your voltage tester and put it up to any outlets in the room to double-check.
Take Down the Old Fixture & Snap a Picture
Every fixture is different, but mine was just screwed into a mounting plate in the ceiling. I took my screwdriver and unscrewed the old fixture from the ceiling.
Be sure to have your phone in your pocket because you’ll want to snap a photo of the wiring before you remove anything. I always find it handy to have that original photo to reference if you’re struggling to get the power to the new light. Seeing which wires went together is always helpful!
In my case, I had a copper wire to a grounding nut on the mounting plate, the white neutral wires together, and then a black wire to a yellow hot wire.
Before I touched anything, I grabbed my voltage tester one more time and touched it to the wires and the inside of the box. No electricity!
Next, I took the wire nuts off and unhooked the wires from my old fixture. It was officially gone!
Check Out Your New Fixture
Every light fixture is different and yours will likely come with instructions to follow. I gave those a good read and then looked at my light. I noticed that it had a long black cord with black (hot), white (neutral), and green (ground) wires coming out of it.
Right away, I knew I would need a bit more “slack” on the ends of each wire when connecting it to the new one. So I grabbed my wire cutters and removed some of the coating around the end of the wires. To do this, just cut the coating (but not all the way through to the wire), then squeeze the wire cutter together and slide the coating down and off.
I like to have at least an inch or so on the ends to work with and this made it a lot easier once I got up to the ceiling with the new light.
In my case, the original black cord (that holds all three wires) was so long and thick and I struggled to smush it into the ceiling when attaching the fixture. I ended up cutting it shorter (as shown above) so that there wasn’t as much to put into the ceiling. You can cut the wire so it works for your situation.
Grab Your Items & Climb That Ladder
Okay, here’s where things can get a little tricky if you’re doing this yourself. Essentially, you have to hold the light fixture while connecting all of the wires together with the other hand. Oh, and also grabbing electrical tape, wire nuts, and a screwdriver. In this case, I was holding a freakin’ heavy marble light fixture too. It was one of the hardest arm workouts I’ve had in a long time. If you can recruit a friend or partner to help, this is the time to do it! Have someone hold the fixture while you make the connections and it will likely go a lot faster.
Attach the Mounting Plate
Every fixture is different, but in some cases, you can screw the mounting plate into the ceiling (so it catches a bit, but not all the way) and briefly attach the fixture to it while you connect the wires. That’s what I ended up doing here since it was just me. I wish I had more pictures of this process, but it was just me up there and I was struggling to hold the fixture, let alone take pictures!
Connect Your Wires
In my situation, I connected the green wire to the green grounding screw, the white wires together, and the black wire to the hot yellow wires. Here are a few tips I learned along the way…
- Cut your electrical tape first. I quickly learned that it was best to have all of my items prepared and nearby once I was up there. I cut my electrical tape and put it on the ladder so I could quickly grab it and not fumble around. I even put the wire nuts in my sports bra so I wouldn’t keep dropping them. Ha!
- Make sure you really connect the wires (wrap tightly) and then twist on a wire nut. Once that’s on you can add the electrical tape over it all to ensure a wire doesn’t wiggle away.
- Once the wires are all connected, gently push them back up into the box so they’re out of the way.
Screw-On Your Fixture
This was my first time dealing with a light fixture that is twisted onto a mounting plate from below instead of placed on and screwed from the side. It ended up being A LOT harder than I anticipated because I kept twisting the fixture on, turning the power on, and the light was off. I then found that the twisting of the new fixture moved the wires around inside and sometimes pulling them apart. Not good.
In the end, I found that I had to make suuuuper duper secure wire connections to ensure nothing moved when I screwed it up into the ceiling. With the fixture attached, I added a lightbulb and screwed the shade on.
Turn On the Power
During the project, I was running up and down two flights of stairs as I turned the power on and off. I considered it my workout for the day (I was sweating like crazy after holding that heavy marble). Once the power is on, ensure everything is working properly. If not, remove and troubleshoot. It often means you made an incorrect connection or things got jumbled and cords came apart.
Touch-Up the Ceiling
Whenever I install a light fixture, I always find that my hands are all over the ceiling and I make a big mess up there. I grabbed some ceiling paint and touched up all of the smudges I made.
My New Light Fixture
This gorgeous light fixture was well worth the arm workout! I adore the black marble with the gold detailing. It goes with this bathroom perfectly and was the best finishing touch for the ceiling here.
What’s Left to Do?
You may have noticed that the new shower doors are in (yay!). That means I’m just waiting to finish up the DIY linen closet. I got a start, but I still need to trim it out with the beautiful new doors and wood. I’ll share more soon!
Catch Up On The Bathroom Renovation
I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.