Switching up your outdoor light fixtures is an easy way to revamp the look of a front porch or patio. Having adequate outdoor lighting on your home is not only attractive but also a safety precaution. Read on for simple instructions for installing outdoor lighting.

By Lucy Wendel
December 20, 2018

Replacing exterior lights on your porch, patio, or garage is a quick and easy weekend project that will add major curb appeal to your home. While outdoor lighting installation isn't complicated, there are some safety tips to know before you begin. 

Although exterior lights vary based on the type and manufacturer, there are a few key factors that are consistent with most. Outdoor lights typically have three wires: black or red (hot), white or gray (neutral), and ground (usually green or bare copper). Once you identify these, it’s easy to connect the wiring on your new outdoor light fixture. Make sure to connect black to black, white to white, and ground to ground.

If your light fixture is not flush against the wall (but the gap does not exceed 3/16 of an inch), use clear silicone-based caulk to seal the gap so that water does not leak inside. Seal the top and sides of the fixture, so that if any water gets inside, it can drain out through the bottom. If the gap is larger than 3/16-inch, the fixture must be corrected. Check to make sure that the junction box is in the wall far enough, the wires are tucked in, and all screws are properly secured.

The most important thing to remember when working on any project using electricity is to turn off the power from the main circuit breaker. Simply turning the light off is not the same thing, as there is still electricity flowing to that circuit.

How to Replace an Outdoor Light

Supplies Needed

  • Power drill or screwdriver
  • Outdoor light fixture with mounting hardware (we used the Harbor Bay exterior light from Kichler)
  • Level
  • Wire snips, if necessary
  • Wire connectors
  • Electrical tape
  • Caulk gun, optional
  • Clear silicone-based caulk, optional
  • Light bulb, if not provided with light fixture

Step 1: Remove Existing Light

Before you begin any project dealing with electricity, you MUST disconnect the power at your main circuit breaker panel or fuse box. Do not reconnect until your project is finished. Make sure your work area is dry before beginning. Remove the existing light from the wall. The screws may be located underneath a mounting plate, which can be lifted off. Hold the light fixture in place while removing the screws with a screwdriver or power drill. Lift the old light fixture off from the wall. While holding the light fixture, untwist the plastic wire connectors and wire ends to disconnect.

Step 2: Replace the Mounting Bracket

A new light fixture should come with mounting hardware. Replace the old hardware with the new mounting bracket. It’s important to use the bracket that came with the new light fixture, as things like screw sizes and hole orientation vary with different manufacturers and models. Use a level to make sure the crossbar is level. Leave the ground bolt loose. (This bolt is usually colored green.)

Step 3: Wire the Outdoor Light

Wrap the ground wire once or twice around the threading of the ground bolt near the head, then tighten the ground bolt to secure. Connect the wires from the junction box to the wires on the new fixture according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Connect black to black, white to white, and ground to ground by twisting the bare ends of the wires together clockwise. (The ground wire is typically green, but could also be a bare copper wire coming from the junction box.)

If the wire ends are not long enough to twist together (you need about an inch of exposed wire), use wire snips to trim some of the plastic casing away from the wire. Use plastic wire connectors or electrical tape to seal the ends of the wires. If you’re using plastic wire connectors, make sure they are screwed on tightly. Give them a gentle tug to make sure the wires do not come apart.

You may also want to wrap a couple of inches of electrical tape around the base of the connector where the wires meet for added waterproofing. Carefully tuck all wires back into the junction box, making sure none are poking out.

Step 4: Install the New Fixture

Attach the new light fixture to the mounting bracket using the provided hardware. Thread any lockup knobs onto the appropriate screws, and tighten to secure. Use a clear silicone-based caulk and a caulk gun to seal the top and sides, if desired. Insert a light bulb, if necessary, and turn the power back on from the main circuit breaker.


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