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How to Choose a Ceiling Fixture

Home design has shifted towards portable and easily replaceable floor fixtures. With electrical outlets controlled by a light switch, adapting your home to fit any kind of light source is easy. Open ceiling with recessed fixtures give a clean and spacious look to any room. But there are still times when installing a fixture on the ceiling, for lighting purposes or air circulation, is just the right kind of style to fit the room. But hanging a fixture isn’t easy, and an improper installation can lead to problems further down the road.

Find a Mounting Point

This is important no matter what you’re hanging. Ceiling fixtures are heavy, and can become heavier depending on the number of lights they use. Use a stud-finder to locate solid beams in your ceiling. While a sheetrock mount might be fine for something light -a single-bulb paper lamp for instance- a ceiling fan or chandelier will need something much sturdier to mount to. Make sure that you can securely mount every mounting screw to the ceiling beam. Simply driving a screw into the ceiling will leave you with a broken fixture and a damaged ceiling. If you’re installing a ceiling fan, an insecure mount will lead to noise and wobble when the fan is running.

Check for Height

Ceiling height is very important, especially when it comes to shorter ceilings, taller people, or ceiling fans. With any fixture, but especially for ceiling fans, you want at least seven feet of clearance beneath the lowest point of the fixture and the floor. On shorter ceilings, 8 to 10 feet, you should use smaller fixtures. If you need a fan for ventilation, find a flush-mount fan that takes up less than a foot of space. If your ceiling is less seven to eight feet above the floor, use floor lamps or recessed lights.

Vaulted ceilings are a different problem entirely. Ceiling fans need to be within 10 feet of the floor to help circulate air properly. If you have a high or vaulted ceiling, you’ll need to use a downrod to keep the fan close enough to the ground – fan blades should be about nine feet above the ground. Take the total height of the ceiling, subtract the height of your fan, and subtract an additional nine feet. That is the length of the downrod you need. If you’re mounting to a slanted ceiling, you’ll also need an angled mount to ensure a perfect vertical rod.


While we highly recommend hiring a professional electrician, a house that already has a place for mounting a ceiling fixture can be, but is not always, simple to install a new fixture. If you’re replacing an existing fixture, the first step is to turn off power in the room. Do this at the circuit breaker not the light switch. Isolate the room you’re working on and turn off the breaker to protect yourself while working. After this is done, get a couple of friends to help you out. You’ll need one person to help hold the old fixture as you remove it and it’s always a good idea to have a second friend on standby in case of emergencies.

Remove the old fixture from its ceiling mount. You’ll notice several electrical connections between the fixture and your home’s electrical system. Most of the time, these connections have been spliced together using a twist connector. Remove these caps and free the wires before setting the fixture aside.

Take note of the exposed wires. The insulation on them is color coded:

BLACK: This the hot or live lead. This is where current is going to flow from the source into your fixture. Connect this wire to the positive or hot lead of your fixture.

WHITE: This is the neutral wire, where electricity flows from your fixture and back into the home’s electrical grid to complete the circuit. Connect this to the negative or neutral terminal on your fixture.

GREEN or GREEN with YELLOW: This the common ground wire. Connect this wire to the grounding point of your fixture if it has one.

After all connections have been made, secure the new fixture to its mounting plate. Clear the room, and turn the breaker back on. Test the fixture to make sure that everything is in good working order.