Bronze pendant lights hanging in kitchen

Swapping out an old, outdated light fixture adds instant appeal and value to your home, and it isn't hard to do. If you're a novice do-it-yourselfer, don't be intimidated by working around electricity. This is a weekend project that can be done by even the most inexperienced homeowner. Just follow the steps below.

Step 1: Choose New Fixtures

Remove any outdated or damaged light fixtures. The replacement fixtures don't necessarily have to be contemporary or modern in style. There are many antique finishes and old-fashioned choices to consider. Whatever you decide, make sure it is something that integrates with your existing design, or if you're performing a makeover, something that will complement the new look. Many popular fixture finishes today are brushed nickel, or bronze with glass globes or shades.

Pendant lights and embedded ceiling lights in kitchen

Wall-mounted, vintage-style task light

Step 2: Turn Off Power

Start by turning off the power to the existing light fixture, at the circuit breaker. If you don't know which breaker controls the fixture with which you are working, shut off the power to the whole house. Make sure the circuit is truly dead before touching any wires or terminals. Check using a non-contact voltage tester. Test from the black wires to a grounded metal box or other good ground, then to the white wires. Also, test from the white wires to a ground. Also, be sure your tester is functioning by first trying it in a live receptacle. Never trust a light switch to render a fixture dead. After taking those precautions, now it should be safe to remove the light fixture.

Safety Alerts!

Working with electricity can be dangerous. A current less than that needed to light a 60-watt bulb can be lethal. Always follow proper safety precautions. If you aren't knowledgeable about working with electricity, call a professional.

If you're changing a ceiling fixture, use a fiberglass (not aluminum) ladder to help you reach it. Follow all ladder safety precautions.

Turning off circuit breaker

Step 3: Detach Existing Fixture

Remove the fixture's enclosure or shade and any bulb currently in the fixture. Use a screwdriver to detach the fixture from the wall or ceiling by removing any mounting screws. Keep some pliers handy in case any screws are hard to turn, due to corrosion or plain old stubbornness. Once the fixture is free, gently detach it from the wall or ceiling, taking care to not yank on any of the wires. If you're working alone, use a small length of rope or heavy string to carefully secure the fixture to the junction box or mounting bar, so that it stays in place. Tie the rope around the mounting bar or to the junction box and then to the old fixture.

Helpful Tip

Get a buddy. Enlist a friend or family member to help you hold the detached fixture while you disconnect wires or connect them when attaching the new fixture. It will make the job easier and cut down on the chance of the fixture falling and causing any damage or injury.

Unscrew the wire nuts connecting the fixture wires to the circuit wires by turning them counterclockwise. Untwist the connected wires.

Set the old fixture aside and ready the new fixture. Read the manufacturer's information/instructions carefully before installing the new fixture to be sure you will be installing it correctly. You should have all the mounting parts you need, supplied with the fixture in the box.

Removing ceiling light fixture

Step 4: Attach New Fixture

In most cases, you should be able to install the new fixture in the same way that the old one was attached. If not, follow the manufacturer's instructions and use the supplied parts that come with the new fixture. Place the fixture up to the junction box in the hole and check by sight that everything will fit correctly.

Helpful Tip

Keep a power drill handy, in case you do have to drill new starter holes for any mounting screws to attach the new fixture. Measure before you drill and mark the screw locations on the wall with pencil to make sure you drill in the right locations.

You should have at least a ½" to ¾" of bare wire on each wire end, on both the fixture and the circuit. If you don't, use wire strippers to remove the wire sheathing, or insulation, so that you have enough bare wire to twist two wire ends together. Connect the fixture wires: black or red (hot), white (neutral) and ground (usually plain copper wire or green-insulated wire) to the corresponding circuit wires, in that order. Note: Follow manufacturer's directions closely in case the fixture requires different connections. Twist them together clockwise and then cap each connection with a wire nut. If the circuit wire does not have a ground wire, just cap off the fixture ground wire and push it into the hole with the other connections or connect the fixture ground somewhere on the junction box (if it is metal).

After all the connections have been made, install the new fixture as shown by the manufacturer's instructions. Usually, it's a matter of simply screwing it to the junction box or wall, depending on the fixture.

Step 5: Finish Up

Once the fixture is attached and installed correctly, screw in a bulb or bulbs and restore power to the room. Turn the light on. If the light comes on, you've connected all the wiring correctly and you're done. If it doesn't light up, turn off power and check the connections to see if something is loose or not connected properly.

Good work! Your rooms should now shine with new light and charm.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.