How to Change an Outdoor Light Fixture

Outdoor Lights

David Papazian / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 30 - 45 mins
  • Yield: One outdoor light installed
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to 150

Changing an outdoor light fixture gives your home's exterior an instant facelift and it improves safety and security. Whether you're replacing a broken outdoor light fixture or upgrading your outdoor lighting system, changing an outdoor light fixture is a relatively simple project. Even homeowners who haven't done electrical work can safely complete this project in about half an hour.

Before You Begin

Whatever style of wall-mounted outdoor light fixture you choose, most fixtures attach to a metal or plastic electric box set into the wall. The box contains the wiring needed for the new light, plus it provides a sturdy base for attaching the light with a mounting bracket. The leading edge of the box should be flush with the wall. 

In most cases, you can reuse the box that's already there. Before installing the outdoor light, it's worthwhile to check that the home has a standard 4-inch round, octagonal or rectangular box installed and that it is in good condition.

When to Change an Outdoor Light Fixture

You may want to change an outdoor light fixture if you've recently bought a new house or you're remodeling the exterior, especially when installing new siding or painting. It's also good to upgrade your outdoor light fixture if it's broken or you want to improve security around the home.

Safety Considerations

When changing an outdoor light fixture, make sure the power is turned off at the breaker in the main electrical panel or sub-panel and that you have double-checked this by touching a voltage tester to the wires. Wear safety glasses and gloves while working on the light fixture.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 screwdriver
  • 1 pliers
  • 1 electric drill
  • 1 voltage tester
  • 1 safety glasses
  • 1 ladder or stepstool

Materials

  • 1 outdoor light fixture
  • 1 roll electrical tape

Instructions

  1. Inspect the New Light Fixture

    Most new outdoor light fixtures come with a full mounting kit that includes a metal mounting bracket, screws, wire nuts, cap nuts, and washers. Make sure that the package has all items. Check the condition of the light and its wiring.

  2. Turn Off the Power

    Turn off the light switch to the outdoor light. Turn off the power to the existing outdoor light by turning off the circuit breaker at the electric service panel.

  3. Remove the Existing Light Fixture

    If necessary, use a ladder or stepstool to access the existing outdoor light fixture. First, remove the cover and the light bulb. By hand, unscrew the end cap mounting screws that attach the fixture's cover plate to the electrical box in the wall.

  4. Check for Power With the Voltage Tester

    Let the light fixture hang from its wires while you test the wires in the electrical box with the voltage tester.

  5. Identify the Existing Wiring

    Before disconnecting the wires, take a photo of the setup to make the changeout easier. Though outdoor lights usually have only a few wires, it can be helpful to photograph or label the wires so you know which goes where when you install the new fixture.

  6. Disconnect the Wires From the Old Light Fixture

    Once you have verified that the power is off, twist the wire nuts counter-clockwise off of the wires. Do not cut the wires coming out of the electrical box as you may need to preserve length.

    Tip

    If the cable is loose and unclamped in the box, it may slip out of the back of the box and become irretrievable inside the wall. To prevent this, splay out the wires or tape them to the box or to the side of the house.

  7. Attach the New Mounting Bracket

    In some cases, you may be able to use the existing mounting bracket if the bracket is in good condition and is compatible with the new light. Usually, it's best to remove the old bracket and install the new mounting bracket included with the light kit. Two long machine screws attach the mounting bracket to the electrical box. Use the electric drill to remove and replace these screws.

  8. Connect the Wires to the New Light Fixture

    Most light fixtures are connected on a one-for-one basis: the color of the wire on the light fixture matches the color of the wires in the box. Connect the copper wire from the light fixture to the mounting bracket with the pre-installed ground screw. Connect the black wire to the black wire (power), the white wire to the white wire (neutral), and the copper wire to the ground wire. 

    Tip

    Stranded light fixture wires should be individually twisted so that each wire bundle is cohesive and firm. Do this before attaching them to the wires coming out of the electrical box.

  9. Add Wire Nuts

    Twist wire nuts clockwise over the connections. Secure the wire nuts with electrical tape.

  10. Install the New Light Fixture

    Attach the new light fixture to the mounting bracket. Make sure that the fixture is level.  You can usually rotate the fixture before tightening the fixture to the bracket. Hand-screw the mounting caps in place.

  11. Test the New Light Fixture

    Add a light bulb to the fixture. Turn the power back on at the main breaker panel. Turn on the outdoor light at the light switch to test it.

When to Call a Professional

If you're not sure whether the wiring has been installed in accordance with the National Electrical Code and local codes, consult with a qualified electrician. If any wiring leading from the electric service panel to the outdoor light needs to be repaired or replaced, have an electrician do this for you.