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Hanging a Light From the Ceiling (Like a Professional)

Updated
Skip the contractor! You can install that ceiling fixture yourself.

Installing ceiling lights can be a costly project if you need to involve the professionals. But it might seem overwhelming for those inexperienced with electrical work. We show you how to install a ceiling light with or without existing wiring; the safe way.


Do You Need an Electrician to Install a Light Fixture?

Ceiling light installation can be a double-edged sword. You should be able to easily replace a light fixture by yourself in apartment or house setups. While I can show you how to install a ceiling light fixture, there are situations where you might have to call in an electrician.

You can learn the process of hanging a light from the ceiling, but you should know that certain local regulations might prevent you from doing that by yourself. Licensed electricians should install recessed lighting as it’s difficult to pull cables through walls or attics.

Electricians are skilled at working with wires and are equipped with the necessary gear. Don’t know how to work with an open service panel safely? An electrician will have the circuit wired for you.

Ceiling Light Wiring Diagram

In order to understand more about a lighting fixture and how to change it, it’s critical to visualize the components.

You will usually find them with 3 wires: black, white, and green.

How to Install a Ceiling Light Without Existing Wiring

Follow these simple steps for how to install a ceiling light fixture from scratch, and you can’t fail! This generally applies to most light types, from LED to flush mount and everything in between.

What You’ll Need

Hanging Lights

There are several types of hanging lights to choose from, such as:

  • Pendants: Any overhead lighting fixture suspended from a chain, stem, cable, or wire.
  • Bowl or Dome Pendants: Features a diffuser in a bowl shape.
  • Bell Pendants: Made of glass in the shape of a bell.
  • Drum Pendants: Diffusers are made of cloth or hardcover.
  • Mini Pendants: Slender, little hanging lights frequently used in groups.
  • Chandeliers: Beautiful hanging lights that frequently include numerous “arms” or stems.

1. Make a Ceiling Hole

Use a stud finder to find the ceiling joists. Place the ceiling box against the ceiling and mark its outline. Using a drywall saw, cut the hole just as you marked it.

2. Make a Wall Hole

Identify the area where you want to install the light switch. Locate the space between two studs and place an electrical box against the wall. Mark the outline and cut that piece using a drywall saw.

3. Install the Cable

Imagine a line that connects the ceiling hole and the wall hole. Make a cut in the ceiling edge, on that line, just big enough to fit your hand through.

Put the end of an electrician’s fish tape into the hole and feed it up. You might need to ask someone to assist you with directing the fish tape toward the ceiling hole.

Attach the electrical cable to the end of this tape. Then reel it through the ceiling and the hole in the wall. Detach the fish tape afterward.

Put the end of the cable through the hole in the ceiling box. Put the box inside the ceiling and nail it to the side of the ceiling joist.

4. Connect the Wires

Remove two inches of ceiling cable sheathing using wire strippers. You should expose a ground copper wire, black, and white wire. Remove about an inch of rubber covering from the white and black wires.

Connect the black wires from the ceiling and the fixture by twisting the bare ends together. Put a wire nut (plastic threaded cap) over the end of the wires and twist multiple times.

Do the same for the white wires. Connect the ground wire (usually the black one) to the green wire on the fixture.

5. Install the Fixture

With a mounting bracket, attach the fixture to the ceiling box. Or use whatever mounting hardware was included with your purchase. Raise the fixture so that the base covers the ceiling hole.

Important

Your local regulation might prevent anyone who is not a licensed electrician from connecting the light switch and wiring the circuit to a home’s electricity box. Double check.

Recessed Lights

Dealing with lights that are set inside the ceiling rather than hanging from it? Follow these steps.

1. Make a Ceiling Hole

Put on your protective eyewear. Create a circle for the hole using the paper template provided by most lamp makers. Take the jab saw and put it along the line.

2. Setup the Wiring

If you’re using wire from another recessed light, open the junction box and attach the wire. If it’s a standalone circuit, pull the wire down the hole.

3. Attach the Wires

Using the wire ripper, rip around four inches of cable sheathing. Eliminate the coating from the wires contained within the sheathing. Connect the wire to the junction box of the lamp.

For instance, a black wire from the lamp will be connected to the black wire on the cable. Alternatively, certain lights may use push-fit connectors that are color-coded.

4. Install the Light

Incorporate the light into the ceiling hole by pushing it up. The fit should be snug but not so snug that it damages the adjacent drywall. The majority of recessed lights utilize some type of clip system to secure them to the interior top of the ceiling drywall. Add the bulbs.

5. Wire the Circuit

Pull the electrical cable into the circuit breaker or electric service panel. Connect the wire to a circuit breaker and attach the latter into a free slot on the service panel.

Track Lights

These are usually several lights attached to a single track that gets installed. If that’s what you have, then follow these steps.

1. Memorize the Setup

Using your phone or some other camera, take a picture of the existing configuration. Alternatively, label the wires using masking tape to know exactly their original positions.

2. Connect the Ground Wire

The ground wire must be properly connected. The ground wire acts as a safety valve, diverting excess current away from the outlet, where it could cause damage.

  1. Locate the bare copper and insulated green wires.
  2. Connect them using a wire nut.
  3. Wrap the ground wire around the screw’s shaft.
  4. Tighten the screw to secure the wire.
  5. Complete the wiring by connecting the black wires and the white ones.
  6. If you have to connect the red wires, cap it with a wire nut. If you have a dimmer switch, check the manual.

3. Install the Track

Tuck the connected wires back inside the junction box. Secure the mounting plate and use locking screws if need be. Take the angle and straight track and the T-connectors to create the layout of your choice.

Mount the track into the ceiling joints. Use a drill and drill bit to pre-make the mounting holes. For attaching screws to plaster or drywall, use anchors or toggle bolts. Place the end caps at the end of the track for a nice look.

4. Add the Bulbs

After attaching all light heads, complete the fixture by adding the light bulbs. Assure that you install light bulbs that adhere to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Bulb Tip

Incorrect bulb selection might result in frequent replacements or possibly a fire hazard if the wattage is excessive for the fixture.

5. Test the Lights

Reconnect electricity at the circuit breaker box. If the lights do not function, reset the breaker and inspect the connections.

Conduct a visual inspection of each wire connection to ensure that they are properly fastened and secured. Reconnect the power, and your lights should come back on.

How to Change a Ceiling Light Fixture

It might seem like a simple task, but read these steps first. And remember, safety first!

What You’ll Need

  • Electrical tape.
  • Screwdriver.
  • Wire stripper.
  • Diagonal cutting pliers.
  • Coat hanger.

1. Remove the Fixture

Safety First

It’s critical to make sure the power is off. Don’t just turn off the light, but make sure the electricity is cut off entirely.

Remove the bulb from the existing fixture. Remove the nuts and screws that might be holding your fixture in place. Hold the fixture when removing the screws, so it doesn’t fall.

2. Detach the Wires

Unscrew the wire nuts and detach the connections. Again, you have to make sure the fixture doesn’t fall off as everything supporting it is coming loose. Use your screwdriver to remove the old strap.

3. Strip the Wires

Grab a pair of diagonal cutting pliers. Nip off or snip the bare wire used to make the connection. Remove ¾ inches from the insulation. Install the strap that’s available with your new fixture.

4. Connect the Wire Nuts

To avoid squeezing the connections, use a bent coat hanger to temporarily suspend the new fixture from the box. Hang the light on the hanger, and the hanger hook to the box. This will allow you the space to make your connections.

Hold the stripped ends side by side, starting with the uninsulated or green insulated copper grounds. Twist clockwise on a wire nut. Connect two of the white wires and the two black ones.

5. Make the Connections

While securing the wires in the wire nuts, twist them around one another. Pull each wire nut to ensure the connection is solid. Secure the connection by wrapping some electrical tape around the wire and nut.

6. Install the Fixture

Position the new fixture as it should stay and tighten the mounting screws using your screwdriver. Take a look at the base of the fixture to see the wattage needed for the bulbs. Put in the right type of bulb, turn the power back on, and check to see if the light turns on.

FAQs

Still unsure? Hopefully, these frequently asked questions and answers will help you out.

Do You Need a Junction Box for a Ceiling Light?

While you cannot install a light fixture without a junction box, the absence of a box at the desired location does not indicate you cannot install the light.

When it is too late to place a junction box in the wall without removing a large amount of drywall, a renovation junction box might be used instead.

Is It Safe to Change a Light Fixture Without Turning Off the Power?

You may, but it is not recommended. If the room has a light switch that controls the fixture, you must turn it off and ensure no one comes close to it. If the switch is three-way, ensure that no one approaches either switch.

How Do I Install a Light Fixture Without a Ground Wire?

Sometimes you have to install an electrical light fixture that does not have a ground wire into an electrical box that also does not have a ground wire. Connect the hot wire on the light fixture to the one from the electrical box.


The Bottom Wire

Even if you know how to install a ceiling light all by yourself, brush up on the steps. It’s crucial to understand the dangers of working with electricity.

If you attempt such a project yourself, make sure you cut off power throughout the house. Don’t just turn off the light switch and assume you’re safe.

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About the Author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond is a USA TODAY Bestselling Author and Award-Winning Interior Designer. Using her years of hands-on experience, she now writes about design and DIY. She currently resides on the rocky East Coast of Canada with her family and slobbery bulldog.