Methods for Swapping Out or Putting in a New Lamp
If done correctly, switching out or installing a new light fixture is as simple and risk-free as swapping out a bulb. Due to a lack of understanding of electricity and its uses, many individuals avoid it out of fear. You can save money on setup costs by following a few easy guidelines.
An almost infinite variety of styles and materials are available for lighting fixtures. Modern fixtures are typically made of plastic, metal, wood, or glass. Large-scale retailers, home improvement stores, and lighting emporia sell lighting fixtures. The specialized shops offer the option to order or create custom-made fixtures but typically stock a more expensive line. Big-box retailers are notorious for their lack of service. A jelly jar fixture can be purchased for about $5.99 and is perfect for use outside a garage. A specialty shop would be more appropriate if you were looking to spend $8000 on a chandelier for your main hallway or dining room that was eight feet tall. Please don’t make the rookie mistake of trying to replace a light fixture with an eight-foot Chandler. Get going with a simple, low-cost jelly jar rack.
The initial step is to check that all fixture parts are present and accounted for after unpacking. Fixture, mounting plate, screws, wire nuts, and installation instructions. You will also need a screwdriver, a voltmeter or test light, wire-stripping tools, and a pair of flat-nosed pliers with side cutters. The following step is to shut off the main electrical panel’s breaker for the outlet in question. There is no exception to this rule. It might be a matter of life and death. Avoid becoming careless. People were hurt yearly because they panicked when they thought the electricity went off. Verify that there is no room for doubt. When in doubt, get help from an expert. Avoid taking any hazards. Now that the breaker has been turned off use your testing device to double-check that the electricity has been cut off at the outlet. To test the continuity of each black and white wire, remove the wire nuts and gently contact a lead from your tester to the wire. You shouldn’t be able to see or read anything. You have shut off the wrong circuit breaker if you have. Just try it again. Without electricity, we may safely disconnect the old light. Carefully remove the fixture’s fasteners (bolts, screws, wire nuts, ground straps, etc.), then set it aside until it can be thrown away.
In most cases, I’ve found that the mounting bracket for the new fixture is identical to the one that came with the old fixture. The time and effort saved by this is negligible. The ground wire of the power line in the jewel box must be connected to the bare copper fixture wire first. This will help stabilize the fixture and keep it grounded as you operate. Then, using the flat-nosed pliers, twist the remaining inch of the white fixture wire and the white power wire together, and secure the connection with a new wire nut. Switch to the black wire and do the same thing. A wire has been run to the light. Then I flip the switch on and replace the light bulb. If you have a helper on hand, you can have them test the main breaker by turning it on. If the light turns on, you succeed. If the circuit breaker trips, it could be because the wires are crossed or because a bare wire is touching the electrical box. The breaker should be turned off again after inspection. Turn off the electricity whenever you need to. If the power check is successful, you can return to the fixture and tuck the wires into the jewel box neatly, taking care not to dislodge the wire nuts. Attach the light to the wall using the provided screws, then add any necessary bulbs, chains, or other attachments.
Please restore power. As you move on to more complex and substantial replacements, you could find yourself wanting to put in a light where none previously existed. A new fixture is considered an expansion of the home’s electrical system under the national electrical code (NEC), which nearly all states recognize as the authority. The insurers will provide an electrical certificate after inspecting the new construction, and many local governments also need you to submit a copy of this certificate to them. Does this ever occur in the real world? False, but that is how the code works. This job requires extra caution because many fixtures are altered or installed without the necessary permissions or inspections.
People often install an extra outlet in the basement or garage without giving it any thought. Adding a new light fixture over the sink or swapping out an old outlet for one with a grounding hole are examples of electrical system modifications. A GFI outlet that hasn’t been adequately placed can give users a false impression of safety when they aren’t protected at all. It’s not worth risking someone’s life over $75 to have a professional electrician fix a defective GFI. In many cases, I’ve discovered that the homeowner rewired a whole section of the house without considering the number of outlets that could be safely placed on a single breaker, the correct wire size for the circuit, the location of the outlets, and so on. There is logic behind every one of these prerequisites. You and your loved ones’ safety is at stake. Get someone familiar with the regulations to help you out. Obtaining a license is now mandatory in many areas for electricians. Ask to view it before letting the contractor into your home if they have one. If there is a fire or an injury and you have made unauthorized changes to your home’s electrical system, your insurance provider will likely give you a hard time. In my region, homeowners who undertake their electrical work must adhere to the same codes and undergo the same inspections as professional electricians.
If you think you can manage it, adding a new light follows the same rules, whether adding one light or ten. The fixture can be installed if the total amperage required to power the fixture and everything else on that circuit breaker is less than the breaker’s rating (say, 15 amps). In this example, we’ll show you how to put a jelly jar outside a side door. Locate the panel’s closest power source and use it. Usually an outlet; however, it could also be a light switch. Feeding from an already-installed fixture is discouraged because you must have the original fixture on to use the new one. Find a neighboring outlet that stays on even when the breaker is turned off, and open the box to count the wires. If just two wires are involved, you can safely connect to the outlet without worrying about blowing a fuse.
Turn the circuit breaker off, then gently pry the old outlet out of the box by unscrewing it. At the same time the wires are removed, the wire nuts will be revealed. Connect the newly installed box for the light switch and the fixture near the door with the old one using a new electrical wire. Wire of at least 14 gauge would be required. For maximum security, I employ all twelve gauges. There will be a solid copper wire in addition to the black and white ones inside the jacket of your wire. Gently yank the wire through the holes in the two electrical boxes. Keep about a foot of wire exposed from each enclosure. Plastic gem boxes typically come with a tab to keep the wire from dangling inside the box. Metal gem boxes typically come with a clamp and screw that must be tightened to keep the power cable from slipping out of place. Ensure the screw is tightened securely but not so much that it crimps or cuts the power wire’s plastic jacket. Install electrical staples in the studs to secure the new wire if exposed. The wire must be stapled in place with at least one staple within four to six inches of the boxes. Again, be careful not to crimp or cut the wire jacket when driving the staples.
Your jelly jar light fixture comes with in-depth instructions for unboxing and installation. The mounting bracket is attached to the gem box with two screws, the black, white, and copper ground wires are connected with three wire nuts, and the fixture is attached to the mounting bracket with two more screws or nuts. Put in the light bulb and any protective glass or coverings.
You can now put in your switch. Use a wire nut to join the two bare copper wires, then stuff them into the back of the box. Using a wire nut, join the two white wires together before placing them in the box. Now, using the two black wires, remove a quarter of an inch of insulation, bend the ends into a loop, and secure them beneath the switch’s screws. To hide the screws, I like to tape over the switches and plugs using black electrician’s tape. Do this to avoid getting shocked by brushing your fingertips across the screws when removing them later. Insert the toggle switch into the jewel box and secure it with the screws.
Now let’s move to the other cable end, where your power outlet is located. Remove the outer plastic coating from your cable into the box so the three conductors within can be seen. The outer sheathing of the black and white wires must not be broken. The copper cable is bare. Join the solid copper wire to the other solid copper wires in the gem box or, if necessary, the outlet’s green grounding screw. With this, the grounding wire is finished. Join the black and white wires together and plug them in. The colors should be linked as white to white and black to black. If you mix up the colors of these wires, you’ll cause a short circuit. In some modern outlets, the wire can be inserted by removing about three-quarters of an inch of insulation and then poking it into the back of the outlet through the appropriate hole. The black and white wires are located in holes that are diagonally opposite from one another. If the black piece is in the
upper hole, the white piece must be in the lower hole. This arrangement can power both sockets. The wires should be stripped and attached to the outlet using the screws on the side. The fasteners come in silver or brass and chrome finishes. Black = brass, or B to B, so keep that in mind. Using the two holes directly across from each other when connecting your cable to your outlet will give you constant electricity to your light switch. Put the outlet back where it was when you took it out of the box.
Now is the time to re-activate the circuit breaker. Assuming you did everything right, the breaker should remain on. If it sparks, there’s a short somewhere, so double-check your calculations. After turning the breaker back on, double-check to ensure no wires are crossed, touching metal boxes, etc. If the breaker remains on, verify the proper functioning of the light switch. Cover the outlets and switch whether the fixture is functional. This jelly jar lamp is finished.
The wiring process is standard across all fixtures; some may require more nuts or screws for mounting, and many may consist of dozens of individual parts. Once you have mastered this fundamental technique, you can move on to more complex wiring tasks like installing three- and four-way switches.
Pete, the Approachable Inspector
Software for Building Inspections and Code Enforcement (BICES)
Pete Ackerson has worked as a building inspector in the public and private sectors for over 30 years. He has experience in both the office of building design and the field of construction in the Eastern United States. His portfolio includes schools, treatment plants, individual residences, condo projects, and substantial residential landscaping. Wagsys LLC, which he and two other building inspectors founded in 2006, makes software for city departments like the building department, the planning board, and the Zoning Board of Appeals.