How to Change an Outdoor Light Fixture

Outdoor light fixture turned on

Outdoor light fixtures help with everything from home security to finding the right key at night. However, many homes are currently outfitted with broken, unattractive, or malfunctioning exterior fixtures. Changing out an existing outdoor light is simple if it’s the same type of light. It’s not difficult to switch from one type of light to another, such as upgrading to a security light, but there are some considerations. Upgrade your home’s exterior lighting with these suggestions for a seamless swap.

Get Comfortable with Electrical Work

Man with a pair of pliers working on wiring for an outlet, close-up

Changing a hard-wired light fixture, whether you’re working indoors or out, will always require some amount of electrical work. If you’re not confident in your ability to shut off the power or securely join together two wires, you should leave this task to a professional. It’s relatively inexpensive to hire an electrician to swap light fixtures out, but it’s also a good beginner’s task for those new to electrical work. Make sure to read up on basic electrical safety before trying this project for a good grounding in the skill. Plan your work for a dry day and make sure the fixture is completely dry before beginning.

Find the Replacement Fixture

A couple in store looking at light fixtures with a store associate

All outdoor wiring uses the same three-wire pattern, so you should be able to swap practically any light for another fixture. Even security lights will use the same wiring except for smart or wired lights. If they’re designed to also capture video or sound, they may need a data cable run through the mounting plate as well. This is a more complex installation that is best handled by a pro. As long as you’re sticking with normal wiring, you can swap any outdoor light fixture for another. Consider looking for models with compatible or universal mounting bars. This allows you to replace the light without having to remove the old brackets and drill new ones into your siding.

Disconnect the Power and Remove the Light

Person looking at a breaker box with a flashlight

Go to the home’s breaker box and switch off the circuit for the exterior lights. This should be clearly labeled. To be safe, you can also shut off the power to the entire house, but be aware of any electronics that might need to be shut down manually first. Once you’re sure the power is disconnected to the fixtures, remove them. It can be tricky to find all the screws holding the fixture and mounting brackets in. You may have to lift pieces of trim and decorative covers to find the actual mounting hardware.

Deal With Difficult Siding

A black outdoor light fixture shining light on the stone wall behind it

The first step in installing the replacement light is to attach the wiring. Your light should come with a diagram clearly illustrating which wire is for the ground, neutral, and hot wires. Some fixtures may only have neutral and hot wires, in which case, you can simply cap off the ground wire coming from the house. Follow the installation instructions specific to the light, especially if there are any additional wires needed.

Mounting the new light is as simple as attaching it to the existing bar or bracket if you chose a matching or universal replacement model. For most homeowners, this step will involve hanging new mounting hardware as well. If the screws or bolts used for the fixture are larger than the previous fasteners, you can likely screw them right into the same holes if they’re following the same pattern. This is rare, so be prepared to drill into the siding, stucco, or other exterior cladding material. Masonry can be difficult to impossible to drill through. You can rent an impact driver to make the job easier to do, but consider sticking with universal mounting brackets or professional installation on homes with this kind of exterior. For vinyl and wood siding, installation should go smoothly as long as you take your time drilling the pilot holes. Cement board and stucco are much more likely to crack or chip. Keep repair putty and touch-up paint on hand to disguise any minor damage that occurs during installation of the new light fixture hardware.

Test the New Fixture

Person getting ready to flip a light switch

Once you’ve connected the wiring, mounted the fixture, and dealt with any siding issues, you’re ready to switch the power back on and test the light. If the light only responds to light or motion rather than a switch, try covering the sensor with your hand or waving at it. Troubleshooting wiring or compatibility issues can be tricky, so try an electrician if you can’t get a specific fixture to work.

Don’t let your broken or unattractive outdoor light fixtures leave you in the dark any longer. Pick up some attractive new security lights or exterior wall sconces and install them today.

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professional such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.


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