Replacing old, outdated light fixtures is an easy, effective way to update the look and ambiance of a room. New lights can add subtle style, create an architectural focal point or simply provide better illumination. Feeling apprehensive about working with electricity? Relax. Switching out old fixtures is perfectly safe and straightforward. In most cases, you simply attach the new fixture to the existing wires. Just remember to turn off the power at the main electrical panel.
Here, we’ll show how to replace a dining-room pendant light with a stylish new chandelier. In many ways, this installation is similar to replacing other types of light fixtures, except for one significant difference: Standard electrical boxes have a maximum load rating of 50 pounds. Most full-size chandeliers are too heavy to hang from a standard box. Therefore, if your new fixture weighs more than 50 pounds, you must install an appropriate support system.
WARNING: Always turn off the electricity to the circuit you're working on at the main electrical panel. Never attempt to work on live wires.
1. TAKE DOWN THE OLD FIXTURE Go to your house's main electrical panel and turn off the circuit breaker that controls the room where you'll be working. Flip the light switch in the room on and then off again to confirm that the power is off. Next, unscrew and lower the old fixture's canopy (the decorative, bowl-shaped disk against the ceiling) to access the electrical box. Carefully remove the twist-on connectors from the wiring. Check again to be sure there is no current by connecting the two leads with a simple electrical tester. If the tester's light doesn't come on, detach all the wiring to free the fixture. Tip: Hand the old fixture to a helper; don't attempt to climb down the ladder with it in your hands.
2. REMOVE THE ELECTRICAL BOX Remove the screws that hold the electrical box to its metal hanger bar. If there are no screws, the box is probably nailed to a joist. Use a flat bar to pry the box free. If it's a metal box, loosen the screws on the cable connector, then slide out the cable. For a plastic box, use a slotted screwdriver to pry up the flexible fin that pinches down on the cable, then pull the cable free. If the box was attached to a metal hanger bar, cut the bar in half using a close-quarter hacksaw. Remove the pieces of the bar and discard them.
3. INSTALL THE FAN BRACE Take the fan brace from its box and spin the hexagonal bar to reduce the brace to its shortest length. Next, slip the brace up through the hole and set it on top of the ceiling. Be sure that both of its feet are resting flat on top of the drywall or plaster. Rotate the hexagonal brace by hand until you feel its sharp prongs dig into the joists. Tip: Don't overtighten the fan brace; the tension it puts on the joists can cause nail pops in the drywall below
4. TIGHTEN THE FAN BRACE When you can't hand-tighten the brace any more, use an adjustable wrench for another few turns to fully embed the prongs in the joists.
5. PREPARE THE NEW ELECTRICAL BOX Use a slotted screwdriver to pry one of the pre-punched knockout plugs from the side of the metal electrical box that comes with the fan brace. If you're using a box that doesn't have an integral cable connector, fasten an NM (nonmetallic) connector to the knockout hole. Hold the box close to the ceiling and feed the end of the cable through the cable connector. Pull about 6 inches of cable into the box, then tighten the connector screws to lock the cable in place. Be sure the connector pinches down on the cable's exterior sheathing, not onto the individual wires.
Tip: Never put cable into a metal box that doesn't have a cable connector. The sharp edge of the knockout hole can slice into the wires and short them out.
6. BOLT ON THE BOX Locate the U-bolt, metal support flange, and hex nuts that come with the fan brace. Slip the U-bolt over the fan brace, then slide the support flange onto the threaded ends of the bolt. Thread a nut onto each side of the U-bolt and tighten each to lock it in position. Next, align the two holes in the top of the electrical box with the threaded ends of the bolt. Push the box up into the ceiling and secure it to the U-bolt with two hex nuts; tighten them with a nut driver.
7. CONNECT THE WIRES Remove any shades from the chandelier before installing it. Shorten the wires and remove chain links so the chandelier will hang at the right height. Thread the nipple first into the chandelier's chain holder, then into the fixture-mounting bar. Feed the chandelier wires through the nipple. Lift the fixture and screw the mounting bar to the electrical box. Wrap the cable's copper ground wire around the grounding screw, tighten it, then connect the wire's end to the chandelier's ground wire. Next, strip ½ inch of insulation off the chandelier's wiring. Use a twist-on connector to join the chandelier's white wire to the cable's white wire. Do the same with the chandelier's and the cable's black wires
8. SECURE THE CANOPY Carefully fold and tuck the wires up into the electrical box. Slide the chandelier's canopy up the chain and press it tight against the ceiling, making sure the wires aren't poking out from the canopy. Push the retaining collar up the chain and thread it onto the chain holder. Hand-tighten the collar to hold the canopy tight against the ceiling. Install the lightbulbs and glass shades, then restore the power to the room. Tip: If your replace your standard toggle wall switch with a dimmer switch, you'll have precise control over the light level.