Most light fixtures have decorative parts and electrical parts. The decorative parts include the globe, the shiny tubing, and other embellishments that make the fixture nice to look at. The electrical parts consist of the sockets and their wiring.
Sockets can fail because they simply wear out and no longer make a good connection with the bulb, they can overheat (usually caused by a high-wattage bulb), and they can short out. Fortunately, if a socket fails, you can take it out and replace it so your beautiful decorative fixture works like new again.
Choosing the Right Replacement Socket
Light bulb sockets come in a huge range of types and styles and are designed for specific uses and bulb wattages. The process for replacing the socket is the same for an outdoor or indoor fixture, but it's important to use the right socket for the fixture. Outdoor sockets are generally more robust than indoor sockets and often have special features that resist moisture.
For any type of fixture, choose a socket that looks identical (or nearly identical) to the original and has the same maximum wattage rating. You should be able to find the wattage rating on the old socket, usually on a silver label.
While the same basic steps are followed for replacing a socket on a stand-alone lamp, for this project, we'll focus on replacing the socket in a hard-wired ceiling fixture.
Equipment / Tools
- Ladder (as needed)
- Non-contact voltage tester
- Replacement bulb socket
Turn off the Power
Turn off the power to the circuit that you'll be working on by switching off the appropriate breaker in your home's electrical service panel (breaker box). If you don't know the specific breaker to flip, you should turn off the main breaker to kill power to the entire house.
Remove the Globe
Remove the globe from the fixture. The globe may be held by internal clips, screws on the outer ring of the fixture, or a retainer nut on the bottom of the globe. Hold the globe in one hand while loosening the screw or nut with the other. Set the globe aside for now.
Test for Power
Remove the light bulb from the socket, then use a non-contact voltage tester to check for power in the light socket. Touch the probe of a non-contact voltage tester to the metal tab inside the socket. Flip the light switch and test the socket again. The tester should not light up for either test.
The reason for testing with both switch positions is because some switches (such as three-way switches) can be on or off in either position.
Loosen the Fixture and Test for Power
Loosen or remove the mounting screws securing the base of the light fixture to the electrical box in the wall or ceiling.
Carefully pull the fixture away from the box without touching any wires. Test for power again by touching the probe of the voltage tester to each of the fixture wires and all of the wires in the box. The tester should not light up; if it does, return to the service panel and turn off the correct breaker, then retest the wires to confirm the power is off.
Disconnect the Wiring
Twist the wire connector (wire nut) counterclockwise and remove it from each set of wires, then separate the wires. Disconnect the ground wire from the box or fixture mounting strap, as applicable.
Take the fixture down and place it on your workbench or table. Pull the black and wire wires from the bad socket through the hole in the fixture so that the socket can be removed.
If the wires holding your fixture are connected with push-in wire connectors rather than wire nuts, the wires can be loosened by gripping the connector in one hand while twisting and pulling the wires with the other hand. You may want to use new connectors when reconnecting the wires after replacing the socket.
Remove the Socket
Look inside the socket and locate the Phillips screw (or screws) holding the socket to the fixture. Alternatively, the socket may be held by a retaining nut at the back of the fixture or bulb housing, or there may be a screw and a nut.
Remove the screw or nut with a screwdriver or pliers, as applicable. Remove the socket from the fixture, but keep the screw and/or nut in case you need it for the new socket.
Install the New Socket
Fit the new socket into the fixture in the same position as the original, and secure it with the screw and/or nut. Be careful not to tighten too much, as sockets can be fragile.
Reinstall the Fixture
Hold the fixture back up to the wall or ceiling box and connect the wires as before, using the same wire connectors. Black wires connect together under one wire nut, and white wires tie together under another. Also reconnect the ground wire, as applicable. Mount the fixture to the electrical box with its mounting screws. Be sure that no wires are protruding from the fixture base; you don't want to pinch an electrical wire as you tighten down the fixture.
Clean and Install the Fixture Globe
Screw a light bulb into the new socket, clean the globe (this is convenient while it's removed), and reinstall it onto the fixture.
Turn on the Power
Turn on the circuit breaker in the breaker box and test the fixture for normal operation.