Give New Life to Your Exterior Lights
Are your exterior lamps looking totally out of place? Bring them back into the fold with a simple spray paint face lift.
As every fashion-conscious gal knows, accessories make all the difference. The same is true for your house: the decorative touches, accent pieces, and color schemes can make the difference between a house that looks all together or altogether tacky. Exterior lights are a perfect example: do your lamps match your home like the perfect pair of earrings match your outfit? If not, a well-chosen coat of paint can help pull it together in a snap.
This project, removing and repainting a set of carriage lamps, was part of our "First Impressions" video series of projects designed to help give the outside of your house a face lift without breaking the budget. When it comes to quick and easy, this is about as simple as it gets. That said, you will be working with electricity, which always requires a careful approach. But if you follow just a few simple precautions, you'll avoid any danger and soon have your house looking as handsome during the day as it does at night.
Designer Look Without the Budget
We wanted to mimic the high end lights we see in magazines and high-end retail stores, the ones that typically look beautifully aged. So for a fraction of the price, we figured out how to create the same look—with paint.
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One Paint, Two Uses
For this project, we made use of other materials we had on hand from the Garage Refinishing project. We used left-over paint so that the colors would match and then, as is the nature of faux painting—designed it as we went..
Turn off the power
Turn on all the lights you want to refinish. If your lights are controlled by a timer or sensor, go the control box and adjust accordingly so they stay on. Now, head to your circuit breaker or fuse box and cut the power to each circuit. Assuming you may not know which circuit breaker controls which light, once you flip the right switch the light will go out.
Jane Tip: It helps to have a friend telling you when you've cut the right circuit. Use cell phones if needed to communicate, since the breaker or fuse box may be well out of earshot from the individual lamps.
Taking the lights down
Position your ladder as needed and remove each lamp from the wall by unscrewing its mounting hardware and/or retaining cap. Your goal is to loosen the fixture and then pull it away from the wall so you can access the electrical connections inside. Again, having a friend nearby to help hold the lamp while you disconnect it can be really helpful.
Take off the wire connectors
Remove the small, colorful wire connectors (or nuts) on the electrical wires that connect the lights to the house power. Avoid touching any bare wires.
Disconnecting the wires
Again, test that the circuit is absolutely dead using your electrical tester on the exposed ends of the wires.
Next, go ahead and untwist the lamp's wires, noting which wires were connected to each other so you can replace them exactly as they were. Start by removing the white (neutral) wire coming from the house first (i.e. the one not attached to the lamp) and putting a cap on it. Do the same with the black (hot) wire from the house. (Just a note: Not everyone's home is wired up exactly the same, so the wires may not match. Make notes to help you when it's time to reattach the lamp.) The wires from the lamp itself should now be free and clear and the wires going to the house should have the electrical caps on them.
Prepare a clean and elevated area for painting
The lamp should now be completely free from the wall. Take each one down and bring them to the area you'll use for painting. Your painting zone should be outside in the shade, away from things like walls or plants that could get sprayed. Put the drop cloth down first and then consider putting a worktable on top. By having an elevated work surface (cover it with newspaper or another drop cloth), you won't have to bend over repeatedly while painting. No matter what your project is, we've found that if you're kind to your back when you work, you'll be much happier the next day when you're lounging with friends, admiring your work.
Disassemble the fixtures
Disassemble the fixtures and prepare them for painting. Carefully take them apart (removing the glass inserts if possible), thoroughly cleaning each one with a wet rag and wire brush as needed, then masking any sockets or connectors that could get painted. Depending on the condition of the lamps, you may want to prime them with a spray metal primer, which will protect them further from the elements and give you a smoother look overall. Lana's lamps were fairly new, and since we were after a hammered look, we chose not to prime them.
Jane Tip: Hate the glass inserts? If you're willing to spend the money, you can take the existing inserts to a local glass maker who can reproduce the same size cuts in a glass that's more to your liking.
Putting down the base color
Shake your aerosol spray can thoroughly. Then, holding the can 8 to 10 inches from the surface (or per the manufacturer's instructions on the can), spray all the surfaces evenly. Avoid puddles or drips, which are usually the result of spraying too long or too close. Paint all the various pieces, including decorative elements like finials and connecting caps and dry thoroughly, per the manufacturer's instructions.
Applying the accent color
Take one of the painted fixtures and hold it in place on the wall where it belongs. Is the color right? The texture? In our case, we found that the paint was too silvery and flat-looking for the look Lana, our Jane in Training, wanted for her Tuscan-style home.
We decided to apply some accents in dark brown using a faux technique to give the lamps a hammered, old-world feel. We applied some dark brown exterior paint with small foam brushes, dabbing paint on, and wiping off excess, until the surface had a nicely mottled appearance.
Let dry, then reassemble your light fixtures
Once the lamps are dry and you're satisfied with the look and finish, put the lamps back together: remove any masking tape and carefully reassemble all elements until the lamps are just as they were when you took them down.
Jane Tip: If your bulbs are halogen, avoid touching them with your bare fingers. The oil from your hands sticks to the glass, which can then shatter when it gets hot. Use a cloth or a pair of thin gloves when touching the bulbs and never touch a halogen bulb until it has cooled completely.
Reconnecting the wires
Bring each lamp back to its respective spot on the wall. Double check that the circuit is still off, then reconnect the electrical wires by crossing the stripped ends over each other in a skinny X shape. Twist the ends together clockwise until they form a point. Then, put the electrical connector over the point, push down gently, and twist clockwise. The connector should tightly join the two wires together and keep the stripped ends from being exposed. Check to make sure your connections are tight by gently pulling on the connector; if you pull it off, twist it back on, using a little more pressure this time, until it "bites" into the wires it's connecting.
Jane Tip: If the wires are not fully encased by the wire cap, then add a strip of electrical tape around the outside of the cap and the wires to keep them in place and cover any exposed copper wire.
Reinstalling your new (old) lights
With the connections back as they were, tuck the wires inside each fixture's housing, and reposition each lamp in its old spot. Now reattach them to the wall, using the mounting hardware you removed at the beginning. Screw them tight, and make sure the lamps look square and upright.
Check your work
Turn the circuits back on and check to make sure each lamp is working. If one is out of whack, you'll have to turn the power off at the circuit, disconnect and figure out the source of the trouble. (Bad bulb? Missed something in the rewire?) A little detective work will uncover the source of your problem.
There's nothing like that Aha! moment when you see lamps that finally fit the feel of the house. It may be even more satisfying than discovering those little stud earrings that perfectly complement your favorite necklace.
Sometimes it's the simplest changes—like a new coat of paint—that completely change the feeling of your home's exterior. Even better, the "accessory effect" can boost your curb appeal with very little time or money spent.
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