How to Install Fluorescent Lights

Cost-effective and powerful, fluorescent lights are a smart choice for many rooms in your home. Here's how to install them.

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Fluorescent lighting is inexpensive to run, but the light from standard tubes can look cold and industrial. There are, however, ways to warm up fluorescents to make them more suitable for home use. Tubes labeled "warm" or "full spectrum" produce a warmer light, while a translucent cover helps diffuse the light and reduce glare.

Replacing an incandescent fixture with a fluorescent one is relatively easy. If your goal is simply to save energy costs, simply install a fluorescent bulb in an incandescent fixture. Otherwise, an existing fluorescent light might have cable running directly into it with no electrical junction box. That's OK—usually the fixture's housing is considered adequate for protecting spliced wires. Because some fluorescent fixtures are heavy and bulky, enlist a helper when removing or installing one.

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What You Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Drill
  • Wire strippers
  • Side cutters
  • Voltage tester
  • Lineman's pliers
  • Ladder
  • New fluorescent fixture
  • Wire nuts
  • Screws
  • Electrician's tape

Step 1: Loosen Fixture

Shut off power to the circuit. Remove the wire nuts and disconnect the house wires from the fixture wires. Or snip and restrip them. Loosen and remove the locknut that holds the cable clamp to the fixture.

Step 2: Remove Screws

Remove the screws holding the fixture in place—usually there are several driven into ceiling joists. Support the fixture as it comes loose and guide the wires out through the hole. Note the locations of the ceiling joists. Mark the new fixture to line up screws with joists.

Step 3: Open Knockout Hole

With a hammer and screwdriver, open a precut knockout hole in the top of the fixture, then twist off the piece with pliers. Thread the wires through the hole and attach the cable clamp to the fixture with a locknut.

Step 4: Mount Fixture

Have a helper hold the fixture against the ceiling. Drive the mounting screws into joists.

Step 5: Wire Fixture

Wire the fixture. Connect the ground wires together and to a grounding screw on the fixture. Splice white fixture wire to white house wire and black to black. Install the fixture tubes and cover.

How to Work with a Suspended Ceiling

To replace a fluorescent fixture in a suspended ceiling, shut off power to the circuit. Remove the ceiling panels around the fixture. Remove the diffuser, disconnect the wires, unscrew the locknut, and pull out the cable. With a helper lift the old fixture out and set the new fixture in place in the ceiling frame.

If you're installing a fluorescent fixture in a suspended ceiling, clamp the cable and splice the wires, as in Steps 3 and 5 above. Replace the ceiling panels, install tubes, and slip on the diffuser.

How to Install a Circular Fixture

A round fluorescent fixture usually mounts to a box. Thread the house wires through the hole in the middle and splice them to the fixture wires. Start driving both mounting screws into the electrical box, then tighten.

How to Install a Fluorescent Fixture Mounted to an Electrical Box

Sometimes fluorescent fixtures are mounted to an electrical box. In this common arrangement a nipple (short threaded pipe) and the wires poke through a hole in the middle of the fixture.

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