Design Inspo

How to Change Your Light Fixture

Swapping out an old light fixture at home is one of our favorite ways to transform a space. Read this step-by-step guide to learn how to change your light fixtures in a jiffy. No experience necessary.

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This article was written in partnership with Character, a home improvement brand on a mission to make tackling DIY projects and creating a home you love more accessible.

When we talk about decorating our home, we often talk about painting, styling new furniture, or something much more involved. Ironically enough, a design topic that often remains in the shadows is one of the easiest home DIY projects to tackle: Changing your light fixtures. While it might seem like an intimidating DIY to tackle, it’s actually one of the simplest. With some guidance and know-how, you’ll be on your way to a newly refreshed space with better lighting (no boob lights included).

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Safety is key when replacing light fixtures yourself, like with any DIY project. If you feel unsafe and would prefer to call a professional at any point during this project, please do! However, if done correctly with the right tools, swapping a light fixture can be a simple, fun project to do yourself. If you’re up for the challenge, here’s our step-by-step guide to get you started.

Note: This project can take as few as 30 minutes to complete, up to about 1.5 hours, depending on the complexity of your fixture and experience level.

Supplies you’ll need for this DIY project

  • No-touch circuit tester and battery
  • Red, orange, and yellow wire nuts (your fixture may come with extras)
  • Needle nose pliers with wire cutter 
  • Electrical tape
  • Ground screws and ground wire (you may or may not need extra ground wire depending on your junction box material and if your fixture comes with what you need)
  • Screwdriver 

Pro Tip: These tools can be found in Character’s Light Fixture Kit.

Character light fixture kit
Sold on Character's website for $39

Learn the lingo before you dive in

Before jumping in, let’s review some terminology you might hear while tackling a light fixture DIY project.

  • Hanging light: More commonly known as a chandelier, this is a decorative lighting fixture suspended from the ceiling by a chain, cord, or rod. Chandeliers are often used as a focal point in dining rooms, entryways, or living rooms, adding illumination and a touch of elegance.
  • Sconce: A wall-mounted light fixture that provides both ambient and task lighting. Sconces are typically found in living rooms, offices, or bathrooms.
  • Flush Pendant: Also known as a surface mount, these fixtures are mounted directly against the ceiling. These are commonly known as the dreaded boob light, although there are much more modern options as well. 
  • Semi-Flush Pendant: These fixtures hang slightly lower than flush pendants, usually by a few inches, creating a bit more visual interest while still maintaining a relatively compact profile. They are a popular choice for rooms with higher ceilings, such as hallways or bedrooms.
  • Ground wire: A typically green or exposed copper wire attached to a metal part of the fixture. Directs excess electricity into the ground to reduce the risk of shock or fire.
  • Wire nuts: Sized according to the wires they can fit, wire nuts allow you to safely attach wires by screwing over their exposed ends. 
  • Circuit breaker panel: This protects household electrical by “breaking” the flow of current to its associated circuit. Circuit breakers will automatically shut off in emergencies and can be switched manually to safely work on electrical appliances.
  • Electrical box: Also known as junction boxes or wall/ceiling boxes. They provide a place to safely enclose wire connections and should be used behind all light switches, light fixtures, and electrical outlets.
  • Mounting base: This should be sized to match the electrical box and the light fixture. A mounting base allows a light fixture to be mounted on an electrical box. 

How to replace a light fixture

Step 1: Turn off the power to your work area

Turn off all power to your fixture and test to make sure it is off. You can do this by finding your circuit breaker and turning off the power in your work area. Then, flip your light switch on/off in the room you’re working in to ensure no electricity flows to your fixture. This is the most important part and will prevent any electrical accidents from happening.

Step 2: Remove your old fixture

Remove all globes, bulbs, and shades first, then unscrew your light fixture or unhook mounting clips until the fixture is separate from the electrical box. Your wires should still be attached (this may be easier to do with a partner!).

A diagram for a typical setup of a hanging light or chandelier

Step 3: Test your wires and double-check they’re not live

Before you disconnect your wires fully, test to ensure the power is off by touching the tip of your no-touch circuit tester to the casing of each of the wires in the electrical box. It’s important to test each of the wires. If no voltage is detected and it's safe to continue, the no-touch circuit tester will not flash red, and the buzzer will not sound.* If they are live (aka flash red or buzz), stop immediately and revisit Step 1.

*Different circuit testers have different methods of indicating live wires. Read the manufacturer’s instructions to know what to look out for.

Step 4: Disconnect the wires to remove the old fixture fully

Unscrew the wire nuts from each of these wires. The fixture can be fully removed now. Most fixtures have three color-coded wires:

  • Black (or red) is “hot”
  • White is “neutral”
  • Green (or copper) is the “grounding wire”

Pro Tip: In older houses, some wires aren’t color-coded or won’t match the description above. Contact a professional or Character’s Expert Support team if yours doesn't match the description above.

Step 5: Prep your new light fixture

Have your screwdriver, hardware, and new fixture’s mounting base on hand. Also, grab any hardware, wire nuts, or grounding wire included in your fixture’s packaging.

Step 6: Attach the mounting base to the electrical box

On your base, identify which screw holes will be used to support the light fixture and which screw holes will be used to attach the mounting base to the electrical box. Use the screws included with your new fixture to screw the base into the electrical box. This may take some tweaking to get it right.

Pro Tip: Often, light fixtures come with a manual or diagram that can help with this step. Check the manufacturer's website online if it doesn’t come with your fixture.

Step 7: Prep your wires

With your wire cutter pliers, fix up any frayed or damaged wires by cutting them back, and then strip about ¾ of an inch of the insulation off. 

Step 8: If your light fixture has a center stud, install this now

You can do this by screwing in the stud to the mounting base. Before the next step, you may want to thread your new fixture’s wires through the center stud (like if you’re fixture is a ceiling-mounted chandelier) before connecting the wires.

Center stud installation shown above

Step 9: Connect the ground wires 

If your electrical box is plastic (usually blue or white), you’ll just need to attach two ground wires.

Connect the circuit ground wire to your light fixture’s green or copper ground wire by twisting the tips of the exposed wires together and using a wire nut to secure the twisted section. Tug on each wire to ensure they are securely twisted into the nut.

If your electrical box is metal (usually silver in color), you’ll need to ground the electrical box as well. Take some ground wire and a grounding screw. Screw the grounding screw into the mounting base or electrical box, then wrap an inch or so of ground wire around the screw. Tighten it.

Connect the grounding wire you installed with the ground wire on your light fixture. 

If your electrical box has a green/copper ground wire coming from the box itself, you’ll need to connect this wire with the other two, so you’ll have three wires coming together with one wire nut.

Demonstration of ground wires being connected

Step 10: Connect the rest of the wires

Connect the white wires with each other and the black wires with each other — one from the box and one from the light fixture. After twisting the color-matched wires together, use a wire nut to secure them.

Step 11: You’re almost there! Mount the fixture

Using your screwdriver and any necessary screws, attach the new base of your fixture to the electrical box.

Step 12: Insert bulbs and install additional components

Depending on the type of light fixture you’re installing, you may need to install additional shades or bulbs. Consider this the finishing touches step.

Step 13: Turn your power back on!

Voila! You installed a new light fixture in under 15 steps. It’s time to turn your power back on and create that *just right* mood lighting at home.

For expert help on DIY projects like light fixture installations and more, check out Character’s DIY Guides.

Photo Credit (Left): Helle Mardahl Studio

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Date Posted
October 10, 2023



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