How to Install Cable Lighting

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Estimated Time: 
3-4 hours
See the Light!


Most of us live with the lighting our home came with. But when we show you how easy it is to change out a light fixture, you'll realize that you've literally been 'in the dark' for too long.

After all, changing out a light fixture is neither dangerous nor very time consuming, so there is no reason to live with that '70s floral brass number in your bathroom. New light fixtures are relatively inexpensive and changing one out has a huge affect on your room and on your psyche.

Sometimes a light fixture defines the purpose of the room. Our Jane-in-training, Ellen, was living with a light that hung at head-height, intended to go over a dining room table. The problem was that her "dining room" was at the end of her apartment! It was far away from the kitchen and at the edge of the living room. By removing the existing fixture and installing track lighting, we were able to completely redefine the space. We moved the "dining room" closer to the kitchen and gave her a functional living room.

Track lighting is a great solution for any room in need of a lighting makeover. It has the ability to highlight certain portions of the room, such as a favorite painting, or it can light an entire area at once. You can adjust the individual lights as often as you need.

Designs and colors of track lighting can vary widely, so do a bit of shopping around before you make a decision. Our particular model had a base that could attach to where our old fixture was, while two parallel cable wires extended across the entire room held the individual lights in place.

Step 1

The first step to any electrical repair or upgrade is always to make sure the power is OFF in the area that you'll be working in. So start by finding the circuit breaker or fuse that corresponds to the fixture you will be working on and switch it off (or removing the fuse). Remember, if there are other people in the house, or you're expecting them to return home while you're working with the electrical, be sure to either lock the circuit breaker box or put a note on it letting your family know what you're doing.

Jane Tip: To be absolutely sure you have turned off the right circuit, test the wires with a penlight tester once you have removed the fixture from its base. This $10 device will let you know if there is any electricity still running though the wires by beeping and lighting up upon detection.

Step 2

cable2Once you have ensured the electricity is off, remove the old fixture. Start by unscrewing the cover and then removing the two screws holding it in the lightbox (the plastic or metal box installed in the ceiling). If possible, have someone help you here as you'll be holding the entire weight of the fixture at this point.

You'll then untwist the wires attached to the old fixture from the ones coming out of the wall. These wires will be held together by small plastic wire caps that you unscrew manually.

Step 3

Familiarize yourself with your track lighting system before you climb back on the ladder. You will probably need to do some pre-assembling. Read the instructions a few times and get a feel for where the unit will go and how it will look.

Step 4

cable4Attach the wires from your new fixture to the ones in the wall or ceiling. Pair black wires to black, white to white, and green to green or green to copper, twisting them together. (The latter are your ground wires). Place a wire cap on the wires and twist to secure.

Step 5

Place the fixture flush against the wall and screw into the ceiling.

Step 6

Our track lighting system was attached to the room in three places: the ceiling, where the base was, and on opposite sides of the wall. Not all lighting units are designed this way, so check with the manufactures' instructions if your model differs. The parallel wires of Ellen's track lighting unit had to be 4 ¾" apart and close to the ceiling, but not too close to avoid overheating. Measure out where your lighting system will go at least a couple of times prior to attempting to install it to make sure you have the right spot.

Step 7

cable7If you have to install your cable into the wall, start by finding a stud by using a stud finder. Mount the anchors on the wall by drilling into the wall. Secure the anchors into the wall and make sure they are sturdy.

Step 8

cable8Attach the lighting to the wires. Next, mount the individual lights to the unit and secure in place. Our room extended 19 feet, so we placed one light in the center of the track and then eyeballed where the other lights should go. If you don't like their placement, you can always rearrange them later. That's the beauty of track lighting!

Light it Up!

After you have your unit in place, turn the power back on and test your new track lighting. If it doesn't work, turn the power off again and trouble shoot your wiring and connections.

Play with the placement of the lighting. The model we bought adjusted left to right and up and down, literally giving us hundreds of options for lighting one room!

Changing light fixtures is easy to accomplish in a matter of hours and doesn't have to break the bank. Besides, lighting can add to or subtract so much from your living space. We often forget that lighting has everything to do with the ambiance of a room and that ambiance has an enormous impact on our mood! So, kick those atrocious, frosted glass fixtures to the curb. You aren't just doing something for your home; you are doing something for yourself!


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1 comment


I'd like more info on that light fixture,do you have a link?