How to Remove a Recessed Light

Removing Recessed Light

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Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to $20

Recessed lights provide unobtrusive ceiling-level light to rooms. But when a different lighting system is desired, the recessed lights may need to be removed. Plus, since some types of recessed lights waste energy, many owners find it best to remove them.

Before You Begin

The most common way for do-it-yourselfers to remove a recessed light is to take out the recessed light housing, install a remodel (or old-work) box in its place, terminate the wires in the box, and cover the box with a blank ceiling box cover. This is a popular approach because it is easy, fast, and creates little mess. While it does leave blank plates on the ceiling, the plates can be painted to match the ceiling color.


If you have a series of connected recessed lights, all but one of the light locations can be patched over with drywall. One remodel box—the first one in the series—is installed as the safe termination point for the series. With this, the circuit can remain live in case it's powering other devices.

Safety Considerations

Terminated live electrical wires cannot be left buried within ceilings or walls. Wires must be safely terminated within an approved electrical box. 

The box cannot be left in ceilings or walls. The outer (bottom) edge of the box must be flush with the finished surface of the ceiling or wall. The box's cover plate cannot be faced with drywall or any other covering. The plate must be exposed and accessible.

While it's acceptable to leave abandoned dead wires in a ceiling or wall, it's good practice to fully remove old wires whenever possible. This eliminates the possibility of the wire inadvertently being energized later on.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Wire stripper/cutter
  • Cable ripper
  • Cordless drill
  • Non-contact voltage tester
  • Flashlight or head-lamp
  • Step ladder


  • Remodel (old-work) ceiling electrical box
  • Non-metallic round blank ceiling box cover
  • Wire nuts
  • Electrical tape
  • Ceiling paint


  1. Turn Off the Power

    Turn off the recessed light circuit at the electric service panel. To prevent the breaker from accidentally being turned on, place a strip of painter's tape over the breaker switch.

  2. Remove the Bulb

    Remove the recessed light bulb by turning it counter-clockwise. 

  3. Remove the Light Trim

    Place a ladder below the recessed light. Remove the light trim. For most recessed lights, the trim is removed by prying the trim slightly loose with a putty knife. Then, by hand, pull straight down to disengage the clips.

  4. Remove the Recessed Light Housing

    The recessed light will either be a remodel (old-work) light or a new-construction light.

    A remodel recessed light is attached directly to the ceiling drywall and is easily removed without attic access. A new-construction recessed light is attached to two joists above the ceiling drywall and is not easily accessible from below.

    Remodel lights have variations but there is often a spring-loaded clip system that applies pressure from above. Prying the metal clips inside the light can will loosen these clips.


    With remodel lights, after removing the decorative trim, you will see a lip at the bottom of the light. The lip and the upper clips press together (with the ceiling drywall in the middle) to hold the light housing in place. A new-construction recessed light will not have this lip.

  5. Access Wires

    With the light suspended by the wires through the hole in the ceiling, test the wires with the non-contact voltage tester. Open up the small box on the light by flipping open the spring clip or by unscrewing a door.

  6. Disconnect the Wires

    Disconnect the electrical wires from the light by turning the wire nuts counter-clockwise. Unscrew the retaining ring on the cable clamp and pull out the wires.


    If the light won't be used again, it's often easiest simply to cut the wires.

  7. Insert Wires in the Old-Work Box

    Push the wire into the back of the electrical ceiling box. If you snipped the wire earlier, use the cable ripper to rip away 3 to 4 inches of cable sheathing. Cut away the sheathing and paper. Do not strip the wires.

  8. Terminate the Wires in the Box

    Terminate the ends of the wires by twisting a wire nut on each wire individually (do not combine wires in the same wire nut). Secure the wire nuts with electrical tape.

  9. Install the Old-Work Box in the Ceiling

    Push the box into the ceiling. Holding the box firmly in place with one hand, use the cordless drill to turn the screws on the ceiling box's attachment wings.

  10. Add the Blank Plate

    With a manual Phillips screwdriver, screw the blank plate into place on the box.

  11. Turn on the Circuit

    Test the circuit by turning on the circuit breaker. If the circuit powers other devices, leave it on. If not, there is no need to leave the circuit on—so, flip off the breaker.

  12. Paint the Blank Plate

    Most plastic blank plates are white or off-white and match a white ceiling color reasonably well. For a closer match, paint over the blank plate with matching ceiling paint.

How to Remove a New-Construction Recessed Light Without Attic Access

A new-construction recessed light is attached to two adjacent joists within the ceiling. Two bar hangers are attached at four points on the joists.

A new-construction light is installed before the ceiling drywall is installed. If you want to repair the ceiling hole with a drywall patch, the recessed light must be removed. With access to the attic and a flashlight, hammer, and screwdriver, you'll be able to remove the recessed light.

Without access to the attic, the light still needs to be moved. Usually, the best option is to cut out a square of drywall large enough to access the light's frame. This allows you to retrieve the light from the attic. Otherwise, even if you were able to detach the light from the joists, it would be too large to fit through the 6- to 8-inch round hole in the ceiling.

  1. Turn Off the Power

    Turn the circuit breaker off.

  2. Remove the Trim and Bulb

    Remove the light trim and light bulb.

  3. Mark the Joists

    With a stud finder, identify and mark the location of the joists on both sides of the light. Usually, the edges of the joists are 14-1/2 inches apart.

  4. Mark a Square

    Mark two more perpendicular lines that are about 14-1/2 inches apart.

  5. Cut the Drywall

    Cut the drywall on the lines with a jab saw, jig saw, multitool, or reciprocating saw. Remove the square of drywall.

  6. Detach the Light

    Pry out the nails holding the recessed light bar hangers to the joists.

  7. Remove the Light

    Remove the light housing and detach wiring.

  8. Cut a Ceiling Patch

    Cut a 14-1/2-inch square of drywall (or any size necessary).

  9. Add Backers

    When patching a large hole in drywall, be sure to add 3-inch wide by 14-inch long plywood strips on the hanging seams. Place the strips inside the ceiling, with half of the width exposed. Secure the strips with drywall screws driven upward.

  10. Finish the Ceiling Patch

    Tape, mud, sand, and paint the ceiling.

When to Call a Professional

To remove all of the wiring or to disconnect the circuit at the electric service panel, have an electrician do the work. 

Article Sources
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  1. Article 314.20 Flush-Mounted Installations. National Electrical Code