How to Replace an Incandescent Light in 6 Steps

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Home Improvement

Swapping out a light fixture is a relatively easy task, with the main challenge being the mechanical complexities of attaching a new fixture to older mounting hardware.

This article will guide you through the process of replacing an incandescent light fixture. The simplest installation involves using a fixture strap that is secured to the electrical box. Connect the white wire to the white wire and the black wire to the black wire.

Follow the next page for step one.

What You’ll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Wire stripper with cutting blade
  • Replacement fixture
  • Wirenuts

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1. Turn off the Power

Before you start to replace or fix any light fixture, make sure to switch off the electrical circuit by either tripping the appropriate circuit breaker or pulling the correct fuse.

2. Remove the Light Cover

Once you remove the light cover, you can disassemble the fixture.


Remove the light cover, unscrew the bulb(s), and take apart all mounting hardware. Usually, there are screws holding the fixture against the wall or ceiling. If the light fixture has no visible mounting hardware, it may have a decorative feature that doubles as a fastener. Remove the mounting hardware and take the fixture out of the electrical box.


3. Disconnect the Fixture

Disconnect the lamp fixture wires from the circuit wires. If the wire joint is fused together with old insulating tape, cut the wires close to the tape. Warning: If the wires or insulation coming into the electrical box are brittle or frayed, that part of the circuit should be professionally rewired. After removing the old fixture, inspect the electrical box and the new fixture to determine which installation procedure to use for the additional steps.

For installing a fixture in a standard electrical box:

Ensure that you have around 3/4 inch of bare copper conductor on the end of each line wire before connecting the wires of your new lighting fixture. If needed, remove enough insulation from the line wires so you can twist each end of the line wire together with the end of each light fixture wire, connecting white to white and black to black. Screw the wire nut tightly over each pair of twisted ends. Hold the fixture to support its weight until you attach the mounting screws; otherwise, you may break a connection or damage the fixture wires.

If the fixture has more than one socket:

Connect the black wire from each socket to the black line wire and the white wire from each socket to the white line wire. When three or four socket wires are joined to the line, use the larger wire nut.

4. Insert the Screws

Mounting screws of the correct length are usually included with your new lamp fixture. Screws that are 2 or 2.5 inches long are adequate for most fixtures. Insert the screws into the attachment screw holes in the electrical box and tighten each screw four or five turns to hold it in place. Mount the fixture by passing the fixture’s keyhole slots over the screw heads. Then rotate the fixture enough so the screws are forced into the narrow parts of the keyhole slots.

5. Secure the Screws

Make sure to securely fasten the screws, but be careful not to tighten them too much as it may cause the fixture to distort or become misaligned. The screws should be tight enough to hold the fixture in place. Once the fixture is properly mounted, screw in the light bulbs and attach the cover or globe.

6. Reassemble the Fixture


If the circuit breaker tripped, reset it or replace the fuse in the fuse box.

Some fixtures may require a short piece of threaded pipe, referred to as a nipple, for mounting. To mount these fixtures, screw the nipple into the center hole of the strap and place the fixture on the nipple. Secure the fixture in place by screwing a cap nut onto the nipple.

Other light fixtures may not be strap-mounted, but instead, a nipple is connected to the box stud with a reducing nut or a “hickey” adapter. A reducing nut is threaded at one end to fit the stud and at the other end to fit the nipple. For fixtures that use a reducing nut, screw the nut onto the stud and the nipple onto the nut. Secure the fixture in place by placing it on the nipple and screwing a cap nut onto it. To mount a fixture with a hickey adapter, screw the hickey onto the stud and then mount the fixture in the same manner.

If the fixture you need to replace is fluorescent instead of incandescent, refer to the next page for instructions on replacing fluorescent lighting fixtures.

Additional Resources

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • How to Replace a Wall Switch
  • How to Rewire a Lamp
  • How to Install a Fluorescent Light
  • How to Repair a Doorbell


1. What tools do I need to replace an incandescent light?

To replace an incandescent light, you will need a few tools, including a screwdriver, a new light bulb, and a ladder or step stool if the light is in a high location.

2. What type of light bulb should I use to replace an incandescent light?

You should use an LED light bulb to replace an incandescent light. LED bulbs are more energy-efficient and last longer than incandescent bulbs.

3. How do I turn off the power to the light before replacing it?

Before replacing the light, turn off the power to the light fixture by flipping the switch in the room or turning off the circuit breaker that powers the light.

4. How do I remove the old light bulb?

To remove the old light bulb, gently twist it counterclockwise until it comes loose from the socket. Be careful not to break the bulb.

5. How do I install the new light bulb?

To install the new light bulb, simply screw it into the socket clockwise until it is snug. Be sure not to overtighten the bulb.

6. How do I turn the power back on to the light after replacing it?

After replacing the light bulb, turn the power back on by flipping the switch in the room or turning on the circuit breaker that powers the light.

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