DIY Tutorial: How to Remove an Old Ceiling Light and Install Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting is one of our favorite household problem solvers.

If your rooms are too dim, it provides general lighting without taking up any floor or wall space or lowering the ceiling height. If you want to accent artwork or architectural features, you can angle recessed lighting and choose trims that fade into the background. If you need targeted task lighting on work areas, small recessed lights can be installed precisely where you need them.

LED Recessed Lighting Kit in Brushed Nickel,

(3” LED Recessed Lighting Kit in Brushed Nickel, from Designers Fountain)

The versatility of recessed lighting has made it hugely popular. Perhaps the best perk, though, is that they never go out of style. Because they’re so low profile, recessed lighting (or “can lighting”) is suitable for contemporary new construction, remodels and renovated historic homes. In fact, many homeowners are choosing to swap pendant lights and other dated or bulky ceiling lights for recessed lighting.

Feeling handy? You can safely and easily upgrade your light fixtures yourself. Here’s our DIY guide to replacing old ceiling lights and installing recessed lighting.

Equipment needed:

Tools

  • Ladder
  • Drywall saw
  • Manual screwdriver
  • Voltage tester
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Wire stripper

Materials:

  • Recessed lighting housing (choose a “remodel” or “retro” housing)
  • Recessed lighting baffle and trim
  • Light bulb

Safety:

  • Eye protection
  • Dust mask

Step 1. Turn off the electricity

Switch off the current at both the wall and the circuit box. Before you reach for any wires, use a voltage tester to make sure that they’re safe for you to handle.

Step 2. Remove the old lighting fixture

Use a screwdriver to take down the ceiling light you want to replace. Unscrew each wire nut individually to preserve the length of the wires.

This is also when you want to remove the junction box, which will be screwed into the ceiling above the fixture.

Step 3. Enlarge the opening in your ceiling if necessary

Use a tape to measure the diameter of your existing ceiling opening. Then, compare it to the size of your recessed lighting housing. If you need more room, use a drywall saw to make the opening bigger.

Double check your measurements before you cut. It’s difficult to make a too-large hole smaller. You can use a pencil to mark your measurements on the ceiling.

Step 4. Wire your recessed light

Your lighting housing has an attached junction box where the wires are. Open it. Then, use the attached wire clamps to secure the wire from the ceilings to the housing. Strip the wires so that about 3/8” is exposed and connect them using wire nuts, matching up the colored wires.

Turn the power back on temporarily and use your voltage tester to ensure electricity is running to the light bulb socket. Switch it off again when you’re satisfied.

Step 5. Insert the light into the ceiling

Slowly push the recessed light housing up into the opening in your ceiling. Insert the junction box first. Then, rotate your arm while pushing upward until the rest of the light enters the hole and is flush, or even, with the drywall.

Progress P183-26EB Remodel IC Energy Star 26w recessed lighting housing

(Progress P183-26EB Remodel IC Energy Star 26w recessed lighting housing)

There are clips on the inside of the housing that hold the light to the drywall. Use your fingers or a screwdriver to snap the clips into place.

Step 6. Attach the baffle and trim

The baffle and trim you chose probably use long springs to secure themselves to your recessed lighting housing. Slip the springs into the corresponding slots on the housing and slide the baffle and trim upward. The trim should rest evenly against your ceiling.

Progress P8130-22A Cone Trim in Gold Alzak Finish

(Progress P8130-22A Cone Trim in Gold Alzak Finish)

Step 7. Screw in your light bulb

In some situations, like in a bathroom, where the trim covers the bulb, you’ll need to screw the light bulb in before you attach the baffle and trim. In most cases, though, you can screw in the bulb afterward.

Step 8. Turn the power back on

Now, flip that light switch and enjoy your brand-new recessed lighting.

Ready for an instant room makeover? Put down the paint brush and give your ceiling a second glance. Swapping old light fixtures for recessed lighting is a one-day DIY project that you really can do yourself. Whether your style is rough and rustic, quaint and cozy or sleek and modern, this is one simple change that will bring you closer to your dream home.

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