Angie's How To Replace a Light Fixture

Date Published: Feb. 13, 2013

Time: 60 Minutes

If your home includes dated or damaged light fixtures, it may be time to replace them. An experienced homeowner who knows their way around electrical wiring can tackle and complete a simple fixture replacement as a do-it-yourself job in less than an hour. However, if you discover unexpected problems or don’t know how to proceed, strongly consider hiring a licensed electrician instead of taking the DIY route to install a light fixture. Better a small cost than a big shock.

Photos by Eldon Lindsay

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Tools & Materials Needed 
Wire strippers
New fixture
hand switching off an electrical circuit breaker
1Turn off breaker

This is always the most important step in an electrical job to ensure safety. Cut off electricity to the fixture, not just by flipping the switch, but by turning off its circuit breaker at your electrical panel. Exposed, live wires pose a significant safety risk.

2Remove the hardware from the old light fixture

Once the power is off, use the screwdriver to remove the hardware from your old light fixture. Gloves add an extra safety element, but you can work without them if they prevent you from completing fine detail work.

3Find the junction box and separate wires

Underneath the light fixture, you’ll find the junction box — a metal container that houses the wires. You’ll see two or three pairs of wires, matched by color and covered by small plastic caps. They may be wrapped in electrical tape. Remove the tape, unscrew the caps and the wires will separate.

4Remove old light fixture

At this point, you can remove the old fixture carefully.

5Install the ground wire if necessary, reattach all wires by color

If only two wires come out of the junction box, you’re missing a ground wire. This wire acts as a path of least resistance for electricity, helping to prevent shocks and trip breakers in the event of an electrical short. Most new lights come with a ground wire attachment, and your junction box should have a space for one to be attached. If it doesn't, you may need to replace the box.


To install a ground wire, choose a wire color that's different from the two already in use. Strip a small portion of each end of the wire and put one end into the ground wire receptacle. Secure with a screw. Once that's complete, reattach all wires by color, twisting their copper ends together and then putting caps back on. Cover with electrical tape for added safety.

6Attach the fixture

Reattach the new fixture and secure it in place with your screwdriver. Slow and steady makes this project straightforward and safe. If your new light fixture came with manufacturer’s directions, follow them carefully. Add whatever extra hardware and casings are necessary at this point.

7Turn breaker back on, test fixture

Turn on your breaker, install light bulbs and make sure the fixture works. (Celebrating with a wacky light bulb costume is optional but admittedly fun.)