How to Hardwire a Light Fixture

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!The simplest act of switching out a light fixture can dramatically change the atmosphere of a room. But if you don't know how to hardwire a light, it's not such a simple act, is it? I've spent all of my adult life calling my dad whenever I've wanted a light fixture changed. It's gotten to the point that I could never move away, or I would be doomed to live with ugly lights for the rest of my days. Or else call an electrician, I guess. But why would I do that when I'm perfectly capable of learning how to hardwire a light myself?

I had three lights that needed changed during our recent renovations, and instead of calling Dad to hardwire them for me, I asked him if he could walk me through the process. You guys, it's so easy— I don't know why I thought it was so scary! It's a good skill to keep in your mental tool box (aka brain), so read on to find out how simple it is to hardwire a light without calling an electrician.

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!When we first moved into our house, I thought I'd probably replace our kitchen light right away with the light from our old bedroom at my brother's house, but I never got around to it. Pretty soon, the kitchen light became invisible to me. I never really noticed it until we began renovating our kitchen, when it suddenly stood out against all of the changes we were making. So as things were wrapping up with our renovation, we swapped out the light that came with the house for the light from my old bedroom.

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!Supplies:
-wire stripper
-wire nuts*
-optional: voltage detector
-screw driver (You may need both a flat head and a Phillips head depending on the hardware for your light.)

*Wire Nuts

Wire nuts are for finishing the connection of wires from the light to the wires coming out of the electrical box in the ceiling. You can select the type of nut for your project by looking at the box of nuts and seeing what wire groupings they're rated for. These yellow nuts are rated for 1-3 12 gauge wires, or 600 volts maximum. You are probably only going to be joining two 12 gauge or two 14 gauge wires with the nuts.

Wire Gauges & Safety Warning

If you're working with a 15 amp circuit, the wiring will probably be 14 gauge, though a thicker 12 gauge wire is acceptable as well. If you're working on a 20 amp circuit, you need to be sure the wires are 12 gauge, which is thicker than 14 gauge wire. If you're not sure about the amps on the circuit, just check your breaker box— the number should be right next to the switch. Don't assume you're working with 12 gauge wire just because they're on a 20 amp circuit. Use scrap pieces of partially stripped wire to compare and verify what gauge wire you're working with.

Older homes often use 20 amp circuits, which may be wired with 14 gauge wires. This is a fire hazard and will not pass inspection. Rather than upgrading all of the wiring on that circuit to 12 gauge, you can just downgrade the circuit to 15 amps to meet code standards.

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!Step One: Turn off the breaker for the circuit housing your light. To make sure you have the right circuit, turn on the light. Flip the switch on the breaker box, and if the light turns off, you're good to go. This would be a good time to label the breaker if you haven't yet so you don't have to guess in the future.

Step Two: Remove the existing light from the ceiling by twisting bolts and pulling it away. Remove the old wire nuts and untwist the wires. Loosen the grounding bolt and remove the grounding wire. My house doesn't have a grounding wire coming from the electrical box, so I only had to remove the grounding wire from the light. Finally, remove the screws that are securing the metal plate and remove both the screws and the plate.

Step Three: Determine which of the two wires is the hot wire. This is the one that will shock you if it's live. Usually black wires are hot wires while white ones are neutral, but my house just had red wires. We flipped the breaker back on and used a voltage detector to determine which wire was hot (it lights up red around the hot wire), then flipped off the breaker before continuing.

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!Step Four: Decide how much slack you want in your hanging chord if it's a pendant light. This can be adjusted later. To set our chord length, we used a strain relief that was tightened by screws. Some lights just use a plastic piece that looks like an s-hook.

Step Five: Mount the light fixture's metal plate to the electrical box with the mounting screws. This is what keeps the light securely in place. Make sure the wires from the electrical box are coming out from one side of the metal plate.

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!Step Six: This can be done at any point in the process. You'll need to strip away the plastic sleeve of the wires to expose enough wire to twist together. Wire strippers have a series of holes in them for various gauges of wire which prevents the cutters from touching the copper part— you only want to cut away the plastic.

Step Seven: Twist together the neutral wire from the electrical box and the neutral wire from the lamp's chord. Do the same with the hot wire. Like I mentioned in step three, usually neutral wires are white and hot wires are black, but that's not always the case, so it's a good idea to verify the hot wire with a voltage detector.

If you have a grounding wire in your electrical box, connect it along with the lamp's grounding wire to the grounding bolt as shown in image two.

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!Step Eight: Twist wire nuts onto the wire connection. Then shove the wires and excess lamp chord back into the electrical box.

Step Nine: Twist the light fixture into the metal plate using whatever connectors are provided with your light fixture. Mine just twisted into place at the base of the chord.

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!Wiring a light is a great skill for any DIYer to have, but if you're uncomfortable doing this yourself, you should invite someone skilled to observe you the first time. I've had college level training on electrical wiring and building plans, but I was still too nervous to try it myself until recently.

How to Safely Hardwire a Light- a great skill to learn!Working with electricity is a little intimidating if you're inexperienced, but if you follow my safety tips and have a second set of eyes on your work, it's not something to be afraid of. –Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Stella of the Signature Collection.

  • I guess I’m lucky… I’m married to an electrician. So he does all this kind of stuff for me. But glad to see you sharing this information for those who need it though. Looks like a great tutorial!

  • We hardwired a light at my SIL’s place this summer, it was our first time, and it was tough as we just went back and forth missing few things.. it always helps to keep a tutorial handy..

    xo

    agoldentulip.blogspot.com

  • My husband has gotten very good at changing out light fixtures (even though he would prefer not to). He just gives me a look and re-wires whatever fixture I’ve come up with. I tell him he gets to do ceiling work since he’s taller.

  • Hi ABM team,
    Please know how much I enjoy reading all the fun, creative and inspiring ideas you share here on your blog, and that my following comment comes from a place of genuine concern for you and your readers. After showing your post about hardwiring a light fixture to my father-in-law (a qualified electrician) and seeking his advice I really felt I needed to write and urge you to reconsider posting it. While DIY can be really fun and satisfying, working with electrical wires should be left to professionals – it is too easy for an inexperienced person to make a mistake that severely injures or kills them, or that leads to electrical fires later on. It would be tragic if this were to happen to one of your readers and could also potentially be damaging to your business should you be sued as a result of someone’s injuries. As I said at the beginning, I love your blog and I admire the success you have achieved, so this really is said from a place of genuine concern, and of wanting you to continue to do well. I hope you understand.

  • Love your website but just to let you know I am reading from Australia and it is illegal to do your own wiring here as our voltage is much higher here (240v) and must always be done by a licenced electrician or you risk being fried!
    Jo

  • Hey guys,
    I just thought that you (and your Aussie readers) might be interested to know that here in Australia it is actually illegal to do your own electrical work. Great tutorial though 🙂 love love love your blog! Keep up the great work!
    xoxA

  • Very timely, I just had to do that two days ago and I was terrified to do it, but in the end it was easy and I felt so good for doing it myself. Thanks for sharing

  • Thank god I’m not the only woman who’s calling her dad for every little job in my house… Like you, I decided lately that it’s about time to learn this stuff myself. Because at some point in the future, you can’t expect your 90-year old dad to keep doing everything for you… 😛

  • This could not have come at a better time! My friend just smashed the globe light fitting in my kitchen and I have had a bare bulb hanging for like a month because I had no idea how to change the fitting and was freaked out about dealing with wiring! Thanks guys !

  • Mandi, you’re the handiest blogger I know! You’re always working with power tools and wires and everything that I think it intimidating, but you make it look easy! As always, I love your posts.

  • LOVE this tutorial, Mandi! This is something I’ve been wanting to learn. Pretty much all the light fixtures in our new fixer-upper house are dated (in a bad way, not a fun-vintage way) and I really want to switch them out! I may still have my dad come watch over my shoulder the first time, but this gave me a lot more confidence to try it!

  • Thanks for the great tutorial! Not sure I would try this alone for the first time. My husband usually does this, depending on the height of the ceiling. We updated a few light fixtures a while back, and I let our contractor do the work.

  • As a qualified Australian electrician I can confirm it is illegal to do your own electrical work in Australian and New Zealand. I know America has
    A different voltage but i would urge you all to take extreme caution with electricity. It kills. Do not turn on the power when there is exposed wire. It is incredibly dangerous.

    I really love your work on this blog but electricity is something to be scared of. I consider it very irresponsible to be publishing tutorials on this subject.

  • Oh my goodness is my fiance knew I was reading this…for years I’ve contemplated switching out a few of the light fixtures in our home (we have extremely understanding landlords) but I was put off by the challenge of learning how.

    Now with this how to available I can’t promise he won’t come home one day to find I had followed through on my threat!

  • Changing out light fixtures is really easy. We have changed quite a few in our home as well as ceiling fans. I can’t imagine calling an electrician for such a simple job or an electrician actually wanting to come do it. Turn off the power at the breaker and you won’t be shocked just like she said. People are being kinda dramatic.

  • Many home repair work involves danger— working with saws, compressed air, chemicals, etc. Wiring a light is a common DIY skill to learn, but it can be a dangerous task if you are adding new wires to your home or replacing fuses in your home. Doing work on an electrical panel should definitely be left to a professional. This post simply instructs a person how to change a light fixture— not rewiring a home. Yes, I do give advice for checking to see if your home’s existing wires are properly rated— by checking the wires’ gauges with the amp service on your breaker box. This home-owner’s tip could save lives, not take them.

    If you follow the tips and use a working voltage detector, no one will be injured or killed in the process of changing out a ceiling light fixture. -Mandi

  • Thanks for letting us know! Thankfully it’s not illegal in the states, or I would be up a creek without a paddle, as often as I’m changing light fixtures in our home! Many local townships do require permits to do electrical work, however, to ensure the safety of people currently in the home and future homeowners. -Mandi

  • Electricity is definitely something to be respected and treated with the utmost care and safety, but not to be feared, in my opinion. Of course, the rest of the team might disagree. It might be a difference in culture, but many Americans learn about how to wire lights, including decorative lamps, signs, etc. It’s also quite common for home owners to change out their hard-wired light fixtures without calling a professional electrician. BUT— Changing wiring in your home or making changes to an electrical panel is, however, something to leave to professionals and in most areas of the U.S. would be illegal to do on your own.

    Many townships do require permits even when just changing a light fixture, to ensure the safety of those living in the home. But homeowners doing this themselves is pretty commonplace in the U.S. Teaching a person how to safely check your wires when changing a light is something that could save lives, so I don’t think it’s an irresponsible article to publish. If people cannot follow directions, they should definitely hire a professional— no doubt about it. Thanks for your concern! -Mandi

  • Cool! I’m glad to have helped! Just make sure you check with your local township to make sure you get permits if required, and I’d also recommend making sure your landlord knows your changing out a hardwired light. 🙂 -Mandi

  • I love the fixtures you’ve picked out! They’re funky and unique, and I love them! I’m putting new fixtures in my home, but I’m not as brave as a handy woman as you are. I stick to picking out the decorations, and leave the electrical issues to the electricians.

    Sara Welsh | http://www.ejkennedyelectric.com

  • Thank you for this!! We recently bought a new fixture and I was thinking we were going to kill ourselves installing it. Thankfully we didn’t!

  • Best.Tutorial.Ever.

    (translation: I’m still totally scared, but look out Home Depot, I’m coming and I’m going shopping!)

  • Thanks for the help. Was especially interested as I am in the process of rewiring an entire house–with the huge help of a licensed electrician, and a man who was trained in radar industry by military and taught same for 22 years at university level. My electrician is hooking up the new boxes inside and out but is allowing me to run the wires, put in the boxes, and hook them up so they can be checked by before pushing them inside the box and closing it.

    Now retired the teacher has come to our rescue to help us rewire our house, which was a disaster. Just couldn’t afford the 10 K for an electrician to do it. What little work I do by myself I leave exposed for easy checking, by my teacher and our electrician, and I label each wire as I run it from beginning to end writing on it as I was taught by my electrician.

    Naturally at this stage nothing has been hooked up yet so no worries about turning off the power. We are running on old power which was put in “willy-nilly” and we are amazed the house didn’t burn down. When you open up the walls and ceilings on these old houses it’s always interesting what you find isn’t it?

    I too believe if you treat electricity with a great deal of respect, and use common sense, you’ll be fine. It’s the same as about anything you do such as running power tools or crossing the street. Not everyone has common sense and those people shouldn’t be doing any of this. Or crossing the street for that matter!

    Just so you know there is a new piece out there, our electrician introduced us to, that takes the place of the wire nut. It’s called a “sure-in” and it is WONDERFUL! It joins many wires together. If I knew how to add a photo I’d send it to you, but we are using them exclusively on this project and I love them. I think you would as well. Using all new wire is also really nice to work with. : )

    My sister and I have recently started a business together, which is difficult as she lives in California and I live in Wyoming…but we’re committed to making it work– so congrats on having a business with your sister! Bobbi