How to Install a Bathroom Light Fixture

If you're like me, then you pin lots of ideas on Pinterest but rarely get past implementing paint colors and the occasional crafty piece of art. I decided months ago that my next house project was going to be our master suite. It's where I spend the most time. My computer is in our bedroom (gah, the unmovable desktop!) so I have little choice in the matter. And I think a place where you sleep should be soothing. White walls and clutter are not soothing to me :) So I decided to start in the bathroom because it seemed the most manageable. Our bedroom has ginormous cathedral ceilings and figuring out how to paint so high at weird angles has me completely intimidated. So the bathroom it is! Last week I painted and installed NEW light fixtures. I was so excited about doing this. I have never replaced a light fixture before and I've never even seen anyone do it. My parents are not the handy type. They never did that kind of thing growing up. To this day, my childhood bedroom is the only one in their house that's painted its own color. They're just not home improvement people. So for me to change something that's PART OF THE HOUSE is a very big deal.

We won't even discuss Erik's lackluster response to this life milestone when he came home from work to see the glory of my efforts. It would only embarrass him and make people wonder about his inability to appreciate greatness when he is standing right before it. No, we won't discuss it.

Right, so the "how to" part of this post. I Googled this extensively before attempting it myself and found that I had to combine lots of articles and videos to see what I would actually be doing to install a bathroom light fixture.

Here's our yucky bathroom "before" pictures that show off the lights:

2014-03-24_0001 2014-03-24_0002Step 1: Cut power supply.

Erik says I didn't have to do this, but when I play with wires I'm cutting the power supply. Sorrynotsorry.

Step 2: Remove light bulbs and caps.

2014-03-24_0003And let them hang out in your sink, obviously. You will be grateful for this when you accidentally break one of these bulbs and all the glass is nicely contained in one little area.

Our bathroom lights were the "Hollywood" style ugly bare bulb things that most houses seem to come with. Part of my difficulty in finding tutorials was that I assumed removing these lights, which take up a lot more wall space than the one light fixtures I was seeing tutorials for, would be a lot more difficult. It's really not, but that's because I didn't know what was underneath the fixture.

Step 3: Remove top panel.

how to install a bathroom light fixtureHere's where you get freaked out because there is a mess of wires and you don't know what any of it means! What are those brightly colored cap things!? Why are the wires different colors!? But it's okay. You don't have to know what it all means. Just don't fry yourself.

Step 4: Remove the pretty caps and untwist the wires connecting the fixture to the power supply.

2014-03-24_00062014-03-24_0007This is the step that was missing from most of the tutorials I was reading. Maybe this is obvious to most people. Me, I had unscrewed the fixture and couldn't figure out why it wasn't coming off the wall. Don't judge me. I'm sharing my challenges for the benefit of those like me! :)

Step 5: Unscrew the fixture.

2014-03-24_0008For real this time. Just take it off! (Sorry for ridiculously blurry and out of focus photos. I was usually holding a light fixture in one hand and shooting with the other while taking these pictures. You're welcome, world.)

Be grateful that the wall underneath looks shiny and perfect and requires no additional effort on your part at all. Happy dance!

Step 6: Attach the mounting bracket for your new light fixture.

2014-03-24_0009Now, this is kind of a sidenote for my particular lighting situation that may not apply to you. I installed two new lights, one for my vanity, one for Erik's. Obviously, I purchased matching light fixtures. However, the mounting brackets were completely different. The first bracket was a T shape, this one was a circle. The other thing I found strange was that the old Hollywood lights I was removing also had different mounting situations. One screwed into the wall on the sides (requiring me to fill holes before I painted... you know, with toothpaste like my mama taught me), the other didn't. And one had a gaping hole in the wall, whereas this one pictured, had this white divider between the hole and the fixture. I still don't know if I was supposed to remove that white piece as well, but when in doubt I don't mess with things, so I just screwed the mounting bracket in right on top of it. Why on earth would BOTH sets of outwardly identical light fixtures have completely different mounting set ups???? So bizarre. /end rant

I couldn't get the bracket to fit perfectly over the hole without those two outward facing screws being crooked and since if they're crooked, the whole fixture is crooked, I prioritized those screws.

Step 7: Match your wires by color and connect the wires from your power source to the light fixture.

This is the part that is the hardest to do by yourself. If you're not being an idiot and trying to surprise your husband (don't bother!) by doing it yourself, I definitely recommend having someone help out with this part. The difficulty is in holding your new light fixture up with one hand and twisting all the wires together with the other. Luckily I have arms of steel thanks to my new purchase of the 70-200mm lens and my new swimming routine. I used the pretty colored caps to twist each color together, black to black, white to white, and then just left the caps on them like I'd seen when I removed the old fixture.

Again, weird discrepancies... but the first fixture I installed didn't say anything special about the copper wires, so I just twisted them together like the blacks and whites. The second fixture said I had to wrap the copper wire around the green screw on the mounting bracket first. Why? I don't know. I especially don't get why one fixture said I should and the other shouldn't when it's the SAME LIGHT... but again, whatever. They both worked in the end.

Obviously, there are no pictures of this portion. There would have been if I had four hands.

Step 8: Attach the fixture to the wall and test.

2014-03-24_0010With my light fixture, it was remarkably simple to attach and all I had to do was screw in those two balls to connect it to the outward facing screws I mentioned earlier. Two tiny balls seemed a little insufficient to hold up my beautiful new light fixtures at first, but it's been a couple days now and they're still there so hurray!

Also, test to make sure you did it right. The first time I did not and had to open it all up and realized I hadn't completely connected some of my wires. This required many annoying trips to the circuit breaker. Whoops.

Step 9: Attach shades and bulbs.

2014-03-24_0011Apparently, in the bathroom vanity light world, there is much debate about whether your light fixture should point up or down. Most people were saying down because more light on your face sounds like a good idea. However, it seemed like all the smart people were saying up because then you'll get a softer, even bounce light off the ceiling that's much more flattering and less shadowy to your face. So I went with up and I definitely prefer it to the harsh, direct light we had before. I guess if you're really trying to blast the room with light, you might go with down, but it seems more a matter of taste and I just prefer soft, moody light.

Step 10: Revel in your glorious achievement.

how to install a bathroom light fixture2014-03-24_0014I was so proud. You have no idea. I texted people. I left the lights on in the middle of the day BECAUSE I COULD AND THEY WORKED. Why is this such a big deal? I don't KNOW. It's like explaining why guys feel good about themselves when they use power tools. There's no logical explanation, but it IS. And my new lights look awesome.

I hope this post helps someone like me who thought changing lights would be scary and they'd be forced to live with bare bulbs forever. It's really not so terrifying, and if you have someone there to help you, you could definitely do it in about ten minutes. Me? Well, you don't want to know how long it took me. THAT IS IRRELEVANT :)

A full bathroom before and after will be coming soon. Paint and lights are done, but I have a couple other things I want to do before the grand reveal.