Wall-mounted light fixtures, commonly known as sconces, offer a great way to add character to general room lighting. Replacing an old sconce with a newer, more stylish fixture is a great way to update the look of a room.
If you have ever replaced a ceiling fixture, you will be familiar with the basic technique for replacing a wall sconce. The only real difference is that wall sconces may have special mounting brackets attached to the electrical box to support the weight of the upright light fixture. Replacement will usually mean removing the old bracket and installing a new one included with the new light fixture.
Equipment / Tools
- Non-contact circuit tester
- New wall sconce light fixture
- Wire connectors (wire nuts)
Turn off the Power
Before any repair is performed on an electrical circuit, you need to make sure the power is off. Turn off power to the circuit feeding the switch and light fixture by switching off the corresponding circuit breaker at the main service panel.
Some people feel that it's sufficient to simply turn off the wall switch that controls the light fixture in order to work on it. While this generally does turn off the power flowing to the fixture, it's possible that the electrical box will still have live wires passing through it. Or, it's possible that someone could accidentally turn on the wall switch while you're working on the fixture. It's always safest to turn off the power to the circuit by switching off the circuit breaker controlling the circuit.
Remove the Old Light Fixture
Remove any shade or globe on the sconce, then remove the light bulb. Loosen the mounting screws or knob that holds the base of the light fixture to the electrical box, then gently pull the fixture away from the box.
Use a non-contact circuit tester to check the wires for power. Once you've verified that the power is off, disconnect the wire leads on the light fixture from the circuit wires by unscrewing the wire connectors. If the light fixture has a ground wire that is attached to the metal box, loosen the green ground screw to disconnect this wire. With all wires disconnected, remove the fixture and set it aside.
Remove the Mounting Bracket (If Necessary)
Compare the existing mounting bracket to the new one included with the new light fixture. These brackets usually come in two varieties. One type is a round plate, as shown here. With these brackets, the circuit wires extend through the center of the plate, and the fixture attaches to screw holes in the sides. The other type is a mounting strap that spans the electrical box.
In our example, the new fixture uses a strap-style bracket, so we are removing the old plate-style bracket. But if your new bracket matches the old one, you can leave it in place and reuse it when mounting the new fixture.
Install New Mounting Bracket
Attach the new mounting bracket included with the fixture (if necessary) to the electrical box, threading the screws into the openings on the box. Make sure the bracket is secure and can't move around.
Install Threaded Post (If Required)
Some light fixtures using a strap-style mounting bracket are secured with a threaded metal post that screws into the center hole in the strap. The post will extend through the base of the light fixture, which will be held in place with a decorative cap that screws onto the post.
Install the threaded post (if appropriate) and test-fit the new fixture by positioning it against the electrical box, over the post. The post needs to extend through the fixture base about 1/4 inch to provide a snug fit when the cap is threaded onto it. Adjust the depth of the post in the box, as needed, by screwing it clockwise or counterclockwise to shorten or lengthen it.
Attach the Ground Wire
Your new fixture will have a bare copper or green insulated wire that serves to ground the fixture. Attach this ground lead to the green ground screw on the mounting bracket by wrapping the wire clockwise around the shaft of the screw, then tightening it down.
This connection links the fixture ground to the circuit ground wire, via a pathway through the metal box. The circuit ground wire should be attached to the metal box. If it is not—or if your wall box is plastic—grounding can be accomplished by joining the circuit ground wire directly to the fixture's ground lead, using a wire connector. Sometimes this is done with a pigtail wire that allows both the light fixture and the metal box to have a direct connection to the circuit ground wire.
Connect Hot and Neutral Wires
Use wire connectors to join the white fixture lead to the white circuit wire (the neutral), and the black fixture lead to the black circuit wire (the hot wire). Tug on the wire connectors to make sure the connections are secure.
If the wires are the same color (and there is no black and white wire), distinguish between the two by looking at the wires themselves: The neutral wire will usually have ridges along the side of the wire, while the hot wire will not.
Tuck in the Wires
Carefully fold the wiring into the electrical box behind the strap or disc so as not to pinch the wires as you attach the fixture to the mounting bracket. Try to naturally coil the wires, rather than bending them sharply.
Often, fixtures won't have a black wire and both wires will be the same color. To differentiate between neutral and hot wires, the neutral wire will usually have ridges along the side of the wire, while the hot wire will not.
Attach the Fixture
Position the light fixture over the box, and attach it with either mounting screws or a decorative cap threaded onto the mounting post (the method will depend on the style of your fixture). You may need to fine-tune the depth of the mounting post by screwing it in or out.
Install any light bulbs that are required for the fixture, then attach the shade or globe.
Turn on the Power and Test the Fixture
Restore power to the lighting circuit by turning on the circuit breaker, then test your new wall sconce.