How to Install a Ceiling Light Fixture in 10 Easy Steps

Before You Begin

Turn the wall power switch controlling the light fixture to the OFF position. If there is any chance another person could turn on the switch while you are working (e.g., children or a spouse), then turn off the power at the main service panel.


Step 2: Detach The Wires

Use a bent piece of coat hanger to hang the fixture from the box in order to support it. Unscrew the wire nuts and detach the wire connections.

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.

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.

Things You’ll Need

  • Ladder
  • Sheet rock saw
  • Lineman pliers
  • Assorted screwdrivers
  • Wirenut assortment
  • NM type cable (a.k.a. “Romex”)
  • Snake or Fish tape
  • Switch box(es)
  • Switch(es)
  • Fixture
  • Fasteners
  • Spackle or other patching compound
  • Putty knife / scraper
  • Drill and bits.

Cut the hole and run the cable

Locate the studs. Then hold the fixture against the wall somewhere between the studs to determine the best location and lightly mark the top and bottom of the canopy with a pencil. Center the remodeling box on the marks and mark the box cutout carefully, taking note of notches needed for the clamps and other protrusions. Cut out the hole (Photo 2). Next, punch out one of the knockouts in the top of the switch box and push the cable up to the hole (Photos 3 and 4). Prepare the remodeling box for mounting by stripping about 12-in. of sheathing from the cable and pushing it into the box through one of the cable entry points on the back. Make sure at least 1/4-in. of sheathing is visible inside the box. Leave some slack cable inside the wall to allow some leeway when you connect the switch (Photo 5). Then fit the remodeling box into the hole and tighten the clamps.

Step 5: Connect With Wire Nuts

To avoid straining the connections, temporarily hang the new fixture from the box with the bent coat hanger. Beginning with the uninsulated or green insulated copper grounds, hold the stripped ends side by side and twist on a wire nut, turning it clockwise. Connect the white wire to the white wire and the black to the black.

What If You Have To Go Fish?

We’re showing how to run a cable through the same stud space that contains the switch. Positioning the light in an adjacent stud space is more difficult.

Add a Ground Wire to a Metal Box

Attach a ground wire to the metal box if it's not

Attach a ground wire to the metal box if it’s not already present (turn power off first). Wrap the end of a 6-in. length of bare copper wire around a No. 10-32 ground screw and drive it into the threaded hole in the bottom of the box. Wrap the wire at least three-quarters of the way around the screw in a clockwise direction. Tighten the screw to secure the ground wire.

Because most light fixtures are metal or have exposed metal parts, they need to have an equipment ground to be safe. First you have to make sure a grounding means is available (Photos 3 and 4).

If your house is wired with plastic-sheathed cable with a bare copper ground wire, you’re probably covered, but test it to be sure, using the same procedure we’re using to test the metal box. Once you’ve determined that a ground exists, it’s simply a matter of making sure that all the metal parts—electrical box, fixture-mounting strap and light fixture—are securely connected to the ground (Photos 5 and 8). If your crossbar doesn’t have a threaded hole for a ground screw, connect a ground wire to it with a special grounding clip.

Make Sure You Get the Polarity Right

The two lamp cord wires on many hanging light fixtures are hard to tell apart. However, it’s critical to correctly identify the neutral wire and connect it to the neutral wire(s) in the box. Connecting it to the hot will energize the threaded bulb socket and create a potential shock hazard. See Photo 8 for clues to identifying the neutral fixture wire.

3 Easy Ways to Remove a Broken Light Bulb

Close the Box

Fold the conductors into the ceiling box and slide

Fold the conductors into the ceiling box and slide the canopy over the protruding threaded support. Secure it with the decorative nut to complete the installation.

After testing to make sure none of the wires in the box are hot (Photo 2), disconnect the hot, neutral and ground (if your old fixture has one) from your old fixture and leave other wires bundled in the box. Reconnect the new fixture to these same wires (Photo 8).

If the old wires have twisted or damaged ends, cut them off and remove 1/2 in. of the insulated covering with a wire-stripping tool. Connect the wires from the new fixture with appropriately sized wire connectors. Read the packaging to determine the correct size. When you connect stranded fixture wire to solid wire, extend the stranded end about 1/8 in. beyond the solid wire before you twist on the wire connector. Stranded wire occasionally clogs the threads in a connector, preventing a tight grip. Discard the connector and use a new one if it spins freely without tightening.

Complete the installation by installing the canopy (Photo 9). If it doesn’t fit tight to the ceiling, readjust the screws or threaded rod. Add light bulbs, switch on the power, and turn on the switch to check out your work.


If you have aluminum wiring, don’t mess with it! Call in a licensed pro who’s certified to work with it. This wiring is dull gray, not the dull orange that’s characteristic of copper.