How to Install a Wall Sconce
Wall sconces are perfect accent lights for brightening up a dark hallway, staircase, or an underlit part of the room. In bathrooms, they step in as task lighting when paired on either side of the mirror. Even if your home already has adequate general lighting, wall sconces provide the finishing touch, combining style and function.
Wall sconce lights that are hardwired into your home's electrical system aren't all that difficult to install if you're able to locate them in a certain way: between two studs and above an outlet. With just a couple of hours of work, you'll have stylish illumination that's a permanent addition to your home.
What Is a Wall Sconce?
A wall sconce is a light mounted on a wall that provides accent or task lighting to a section of a room rather than area or general lighting to the entire room.
How to Install a Sconce Light From Scratch
Most sconce light instructions assume that power is running directly to the installation area and an electrical box is already in place. Unless you are replacing an existing sconce light, your home will not have this.
Not only that, but the suggested 48- to 72-inch sconce height range might coincidentally have a wire behind the wall, but you can't count on it. What you can count on, though, is another location where you can draw power: electric outlets.
By code, electric wire runs through the walls, with outlets no more than 12 feet away from each other. Every outlet provides a convenient starting point for wire leading upward to a sconce light. As long as the sconce and outlet are horizontally within a few inches of each other, it is a direct, unhindered vertical run of wiring. There is no need to make unnecessary holes in the drywall or to drill through studs. Older homes and newer ones with great than 9 foot tall ceilings will have fire-blocking in the walls. These are 2x4 boards that run across the wall cavity and normally are approximately 48 inches from the floor. They can prevent easy fishing of walls.
Suggested Wall Sconce Heights
The height of the wall sconce depends on its location and the intended activity. For instance, a sconce next to the front door will be higher than a sconce next to the bed as a reading light. Factor in the type of wall sconce, its own height, and whether it points up or down.
Wall sconce heights are measured from the floor and are only suggestions. Adjust as needed.
|Bed||48 inches||60 inches|
|Room (Accent)||60 inches||72 inches|
|Bathroom (Sink)||60 inches||65 inches|
|Kitchen (Counter)||55 inches||60 inches|
Always turn off power to the working area from the electric service panel. If you suspect that water pipes are running through the walls, shut off the water at the main water shut-off before cutting into the drywall.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Manual drywall jab saw
- Cordless drill
- Wire ripper
- Wire stripper
- Non-contact voltage tester
- Stud finder
- Fish tape
- Tape measure
- Sconce light
- 4-inch round old work electrical box
- 14/2 electrical wire
- Light switch
- Old work switch box
- Light switch faceplate
Turn Off the Power
Turn off power to the work area by shutting off circuits at the electric service panel.
Mark the Wall Studs
With the stud finder, find the two vertical wall studs behind the drywall between which the sconce will be located. Mark with painter's tape. Studs are usually 14-1/2 inches apart from side to side (or 16 inches on-center).
Mark the Light and Switch Locations
With tape, mark the intended location of the sconce light and wall switch. They should be located between the two studs. Electrical code does not specify light switch heights, but generally switches are located about 48 inches high.
Mark and Cut the Hole for the Light Box
Round electrical boxes often come with paper templates for cutting into the drywall. If so, cut this out with scissors and then draw a circle at the sconce light location. A 4-inch box will require a 4-inch hole. Cut the hole by hand with a drywall jab saw or with a hole saw. Remove the drywall cutout.
Mark and the Cut Hole for the Light Switch Box
Use the light switch paper template, if available, to mark a hole on the wall. Otherwise, turn the box backward and use its edges as a template. Cut the hole and remove the cutout.
Assess the Outlet Box Type
Remove the faceplate of the outlet you'll be drawing power from. Double-check that no power is present with the outlet by using the non-contact voltage tester. Unscrew the outlet and pull it free from the box but leave it attached to its wires.
Determine if the outlet box is either an old-work box or a nail-in (or screw-in) box:
- Old-Work Box: The box will look similar to the one you purchased for the sconce light switch. It will have two screws that allow the box to be removed.
- Nail-in or Screw-in: These boxes will not have the two screws as specified for the old-work box. These boxes cannot be removed without pulling off drywall.
Remove the Old-Work Outlet Box
Turn out the two screws on the old-work outlet box with a manual screwdriver. Turn the screws counter-clockwise until the box loosens. Then, gripping an edge of the box, pull it into the room but leave it attached to its wires.
Run Wiring From the Light Box to the Switch Box
Manually fish 14/2 wire from the light box hole down to the switch box hole. Cut the wire long enough so that about 8 to 10 inches extend from each hole.
Install the Light Box in the Wall
Insert the top end of the 14/2 wire into the one of the holes on the 4-inch round box. Insert the box into the hole. Turn the box's screws clockwise to secure the box to the wall.
Attach the Mounting Hardware
For the 14/2 wire, rip the outer casing with the cable ripper, cut it off, and dispose of it. Strip the ends of the wires. The sconce light kit should come with a metal ring or strip that you attach to the electrical box with screws. Be sure to thread the three wires through the mounting hardware.
Attach the Sconce to the Wire and Box
Attach the sconce's wires to the 14/2 wires. Often, light wires are pre-stripped and you just need to pull off the cut ends by hand and tightly twist the stranded wires. Attach black wire to black wire, white to white, and bare copper to bare copper, or green/yellow green wire.
Cap off each connection with the wire nuts included with the light kit. Screw the sconce onto the mounting hardware with the included fasteners.
Run Wiring From the Switch Box to the Outlet
Run a length of 14/2 wire from the switch box hole to the outlet:
- For Old-Work Box: Drop the wire down from the switch box hole to the opened outlet hole.
- For Nail-in or Screw-in Box: Use the fish tape to run wire upward, starting through the back of the outlet box and sliding up to the switch box hole.
With either type of box, leave about 8 to 10 inches of wire extending from each hole.
Install the Switch Box in the Wall
Insert the two 14/2 wires into the back of the switch box. Place the box in the hole. With the manual screwdriver, turn the screws clockwise until the box is securely attached to the drywall.
Attach the Light Switch to the Wires
- Black: Attach the line (or powered) black wire to one end of the light switch and the load black wire (the side heading toward the sconce light) to the other end.
- White: Attach white wire to white wire, bypassing the light switch.
- Bare (Copper) Ground: Attach the two bare copper wires and add a third copper wire about 5 to 6 inches long. Twist the three wires together and cap them off with a wire nut. Attach the loose end of the third copper wire to the green screw on the light switch. Screw tightly into place.
Screw the light switch onto the box. Add the face plate.
Attach the Wire to the Outlet
Complete the wiring by attaching the wire from the light switch to the outlet.
On the 14/2 wire, cut off the ripped cable sheathing and paper. Strip the ends of the wires.
Wiring differs whether the outlet ends a run of other outlets or is one of the other group of outlets.
Ends the Run: On the spare (unused) side of the outlet, attach the black wire to a gold terminal and a white wire to a silver terminal. Remove the existing bare copper wire from the outlet.
Attach three ground wires: the existing bare copper wire, the bare copper wire coming in with the 14/2 cable, and a third bare copper wire. Twist the three wires, cap them off with a wire nut, then attach that third bare copper wire to the outlet.
Another method is to twist the bare grounds together, leaving on approximately 6 inches longer than the others, and placing a brass crimp over the twisted portion of the wire.
Within Group: When both sides of an outlet are attached to wires (one being a line wire and the other being a load wire), you should not attempt to squeeze extra wires under the terminals. Instead, the best practice is to detach the line wires from the outlet and create a third, pigtailed wire that attaches to the outlet.
Attach the black wire to the black wire on the switch's 14/2 cable, adding a third black wire. Twist the three wires and cap them off with a wire nut. Attach the end of that third black wire to the gold terminal of the outlet. Repeat for the white wire and bare copper wire.
Close the Outlet
Push the wires back into the box. Attach the outlet to the box. Add the faceplate.
Turn on Sconce Light
Turn the circuit back on at the service panel. Test the sconce light by turning it on and off at the light switch.
Tips and Troubleshooting Sconce Light Installation
- If the switch is reversed (flipped up turns the light off, flipped down turns it on), you can leave the wires attached and turn the switch upside-down. Be sure to turn off the circuit first before doing this.
- Purchasing a switched sconce light makes installation even more simple. With the switch located on the sconce housing itself, there is no need to install an intermediate wall light switch. But some users prefer the convenience of a wall switch.
- A lighted wall switch will help you turn on the sconce light more safely than fumbling around to find a non-lighted switch.
- When placing old-work boxes in drywall, it helps to use a manual Phillips screwdriver instead of a drill. The plastic swing clamps tend to break easily, and a drill can put too much pressure on them.
Article 210.52(A)(1). National Electrical Code