How to Change an Outdoor Light Fixture

Changing an outdoor light fixture can seem daunting, but it’s actually a straightforward project that most DIYers can tackle. With some basic tools and safety precautions, you can swap out an old, worn-out exterior light for a new fixture that updates and brightens your home’s curb appeal.


Outdoor lighting serves both aesthetic and functional purposes. Well-placed lamps illuminate walkways, entries, and yards to enhance security and ambiance. Over time, exposed elements take a toll, resulting in fixtures that look dingy or fail to operate properly. Replacing them with new energy-efficient models containing LED bulbs can slash energy costs while beautifying your property.

This guide explains the equipment, preparations, and step-by-step process to safely change over an exterior light. We’ll review the basic factors to consider beforehand, materials needed, and installation tips to complete a professional-looking job. With a little know-how, you can complete an outdoor lighting makeover in just an hour or two.

How to Change an Outdoor Light Fixture

Changing light fixtures above ground level comes with some risks that require safety gear and precautions. Make sure to take the necessary measures to avoid electric shocks, falls, and other hazards.

Here are the key steps to changing an outdoor light fixture safely and correctly:

Inspect the Existing Fixture and Prepare the New One

  • Examine the current fixture to determine the bulb type, voltage, and wiring setup so the new one matches. Make note of the mounting bracket configuration as well.
  • Carefully remove the new fixture from its packaging. Inspect it for damage. Read all instructions.
  • Lay out all parts, including the mounting hardware. Make sure you have everything you need.

Shut Off Power and Remove Old Fixture

  • Check for power by flipping the light switch on and off.
  • Shut off electricity via the appropriate circuit breaker or fuse box switch.
  • Use a voltage tester on the wires to confirm power is off.
  • Unscrew the fixture mount and gently lower it. Maintain control of the wires.
  • Disconnect wires and remove the old light. Scrape corrosion and apply anti-oxidant gel if needed.

Install the New Fixture

  • Feed the wires from the new light through the mount arm/bracket. Attach the mounting bar to the junction box according to directions.
  • Connect the wires correctly with twist-on connectors. Usually, white to white and black to black. Connect ground wire to grounding screw or green wire.
  • Tuck wires into the box neatly and secure the fixture to the mount. Don’t pinch wires.
  • Caulk around the fixture mount with exterior silicone sealant if there are gaps that could allow moisture in.

Restore Power and Test Operation

  • Go back to the main panel and switch the circuit breaker on to restore electricity.
  • Flip the light switch on to verify proper operation. The new fixture should work correctly.
  • Make any wire connections or alignment adjustments needed if issues arise.
  • Install light bulbs following package wattage limits and specifications if the fixture doesn’t come with them. Screw them in securely.
  • Turn the light on to make sure it works properly. Enjoy the upgraded illumination!

With the right preparations and safety steps, the process of changing over an outdoor light takes just a short time. The rest of this guide provides more details on process planning, materials, safety tips, and troubleshooting to help ensure success.

What to Consider Before Changing an Outdoor Light Fixture

Several factors should guide your planning when replacing an exterior fixture to make the project go smoothly:

Electrical Load and Wiring

  • Outdoor circuits are often wired with a heavier electrical load capacity than indoor lighting circuits. Make sure the new fixture doesn’t exceed the circuit amperage rating.
  • Determine if the wiring is modern 3-wire with a ground or older 2-wire that lacks a grounding conductor. This affects the replacement fixture options.
  • Corroded and cracked wire sheathing increases the shock hazard. Consider rewiring if the insulation is damaged.

Location and Placement

  • Note the existing fixture position and height. Choose a new model with a comparable design and scale.
  • Ensure the new light won’t be blocked by trees and other objects if it hangs lower.
  • For wall mounts, make sure the fixture will cover any marks left by the old bracket.

Local Codes

  • Exterior lighting is subject to codes for location, light spillage, and acceptable lamp types. Consult local regulations.
  • Waterproof fixtures with safety ratings are required in wet locations like porch ceilings. Make sure the new one complies.

Light Source

  • Match the lamp type and socket. Most fixtures take A19 or BR incandescent, CFL, or LED bulbs. Know the voltage, wattage limits, and bulb quantities the new light is rated for.
  • Choose attractive energy saving LEDs that offer plenty of long-lasting illumination. Select the appropriate lumen output, beam spread, and color temperature.

Fixture Style

  • Consider the style of your home, existing lights, and desired look when selecting a replacement. Types include lanterns, flush mounts, and simple wall brackets.
  • Match architectural aesthetics and finish. Oil rubbed bronze, brushed nickel, and black are popular options that pair well with most exterior color palettes.

Weather Conditions

  • Ensure the new fixture has ample weatherproofing, including sealed gaskets and junction boxes. Look for “wet location” ratings.
  • In cold climates, outdoor lights should withstand winter conditions and prevent ice buildup.

Security Needs

  • Motion-sensing lights are ideal for enhancing exterior security around yards, driveways, and doors.
  • Position lights to provide safe access without creating nuisance glare for neighbors.

Evaluating these factors in advance allows you to choose the optimal fixture that meets your lighting needs and makes for a seamless installation.

Supplies Needed to Change an Outdoor Light

With the right gear and a few basic DIY tools, you’ll be equipped to change over exterior light fixtures successfully. Here are the typical supplies needed:


  • Ladder or step stool to safely reach the fixture
  • Headlamp or handheld flashlight if working in dim conditions
  • Voltage tester to confirm electricity is off
  • Screwdrivers (standard, Phillips, and flat head)
  • Wire strippers
  • Pliers or channel locks for grabbing and tightening
  • Wire nut or cap twister makes connections tighter
  • Caulk gun if sealing gaps in light mount
  • Vacuum to clear debris from the fixture box

Electrical and Safety

  • Circuit tester to identify the correct breaker
  • Lineman’s pliers to disconnect stubborn wires
  • Electrical tape to insulate wires and connections
  • Anti-oxidant gel or paste removes corrosion
  • Exterior silicon caulk for sealing the fixture mount
  • Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) provides added protection

Fasteners and Hardware

  • The new light fixture and included parts like shades or globes
  • Any new wiring needed to extend short wire leads
  • Required number of light bulbs for the fixture
  • Compatible wire connectors or nuts for the gauge and number of wires
  • Possible junction box adapter plate to fit odd configurations or sizes
  • The correct screws, bolts, or anchors to affix the mounting bracket

With these supplies handy, you’ll have everything necessary to safely change exterior lights. Pick up any additional parts specific to your new fixture like shades or decorative elements.

Safety Tips for Changing Outdoor Lights

Replacing exterior light fixtures comes with electrical risks that require safety awareness and precautionary steps:

  • Turn off power at the breaker panel and verify it’s deactivated using a non-contact voltage tester before touching any wires.
  • Check wires for damage and apply electrical tape over cracked areas to avoid exposed conductors.
  • Use a fiberglass ladder and place it on level ground away from power lines and water sources. Have someone steady the ladder.
  • Don’t ever work on a wet fixture or in rainy conditions which significantly increase the shock hazard.
  • Wear rubber-soled shoes and gloves for insulation when handling electrical components.
  • Connect wires properly matching hot, neutral, and ground. Keep bare wire ends twisted together when disconnecting to avoid contact.
  • Make sure all wire connector twists are tight and secure. Tug gently to confirm.
  • Coil and tuck connected wires neatly into the junction box so they don’t get pinched or stressed when the fixture is mounted.
  • Secure the fixture mount carefully without putting strain on the wires.
  • Seal any gaps in the fixture backing or holes in the junction box that could allow moisture to penetrate.
  • If at any point you feel unsure about the work, consult a professional electrician. Safety comes first.

Exercising common sense precautions goes a long way toward preventing electrical mishaps. Take your time and work methodically to change exterior lights safely.

Step-by-Step Outdoor Light Replacement Process

With the right gear, safety awareness, and some basic DIY skills, you can change an exterior fixture successfully in six main steps:

1. Inspect and Prepare

  • Examine the existing light fixture to identify the bulb type, wattage, quantity, voltage, and wiring method (2-wire or 3-wire).
  • Carefully unpack the new fixture and organize all the parts including shades, globes, and mounting hardware.
  • Read the full instructions. Check that the electrical specifications match your home’s exterior lighting circuitry.
  • Gather all necessary tools and lay out supplies. Have a voltage tester on hand.

2. Turn Off Power

  • Start by turning off the light at the switch to confirm which circuit it’s on.
  • Shut off power via the correct circuit breaker or fuse corresponding to the outside light.
  • With the light switch still on, use a non-contact voltage tester near the wires to verify electricity is off.

3. Remove the Old Fixture

  • Use a screwdriver to detach the fixture assembly from the mount arm and/or junction box. Maintain control of dangling wires.
  • Unscrew the mounting bar keeping one hand on the fixture to avoid pulling and stressing wires.
  • Carefully lower the fixture once the mounting screws are out. Keep electrical wires organized together.
  • Disconnect wires using pliers to loosen stubborn connections. Scrape off corrosion and apply anti-oxidant gel if needed.
  • Remove the old fixture and set aside all reusable hardware like mounting screws.

4. Install the New Fixture

  • Feed the new fixture’s wires through the mounting arm bracket.
  • Attach the mounting plate securely to the junction box according to the manufacturer directions.
  • Connect the wires correctly matching hot, neutral, ground, and any travelers. Secure with twist-on connectors.
  • Neatly tuck connected wires into the junction box leaving room for the fixture backing.
  • Mount the fixture assembly onto the brackets lining up screw holes. Don’t pinch wires.

5. Restore Power and Test

  • Return to the main panel and switch the circuit breaker back on to restore electricity.
  • Flip the light switch to test operation. The new fixture should power on.
  • If it doesn’t work, turn the power back off and check for issues like loose wires or incorrect connections.
  • Screw in the recommended wattage and type of light bulbs following package guidelines if the fixture doesn’t include bulbs.

6. Finishing Touches

  • Use clear exterior-grade silicone caulk to seal any gaps around the fixture mounting plate or wires entering the junction box.
  • Run a bead along the back edges and perimeter to prevent moisture ingress and bugs.
  • Turn the light on and verify proper operation. Adjust the fixture position or aim as needed.
  • Dispose of the old light fixture appropriately. Recycle metal and plastic components when possible.
  • Return tools and supplies to storage and clean up the work area.

With attention to safety and some careful troubleshooting, your new outdoor light will function flawlessly for years of reliable illumination.

Troubleshooting Common Outdoor Lighting Issues

If your newly installed exterior fixture doesn’t operate properly, a few fixes can get the light back in working order:

Fixture doesn’t turn on:

  • Check for a tripped breaker and reset it. Verify power is active with a voltage tester.
  • Try replacing bulbs first in case the old ones failed. Use correct wattage and type.
  • Inspect wire connections for loose nuts or incorrect wiring between hot and neutral.

Light turns off intermittently:

  • Connection points may be corroded. Disconnect and re-strip wires to expose clean metal.
  • Check wiring for damage like nicks exposing copper. Tape any compromised areas.
  • Ensure wires are secured tightly with wire nuts and that the fixture is mounted firmly.

Flickering light:

  • Typically a sign of a loose wire connection. Tighten nuts and secure screws.
  • Try a new bulb since an old or failing one can flicker even if power is stable.

Bulb burns out quickly:

  • Confirm bulb wattage matches fixture rating. Over-powered bulbs burn out faster.
  • Check that the socket doesn’t have paint or corrosion preventing full contact.

Fixture doesn’t mount properly:

  • Misaligned screw holes usually just requires adjustments and using washers to space and align.
  • If holes don’t line up with box, use an adapter plate or make new mounting holes.

With some basic troubleshooting, you can diagnose and remedy any issues that arise after installing a new outdoor light. Contact a professional electrician if problems persist.

FAQs About Replacing Outdoor Light Fixtures

What are outdoor lights wired to?

Most exterior lights operate on a dedicated outdoor lighting circuit connected to a GFCI breaker. The heavier gauge wiring used for these circuits carries more amperage than typical indoor lighting.

Can I put a higher wattage LED bulb in an older fixture?

Maybe, but check the fixture’s recommended wattage first. LEDs use less energy but still produce heat that could damage an old fixture designed for lower wattage incandescents.

Do outdoor lights need caulking?

Sealing gaps around the fixture’s mounting plate provides an extra layer of weatherproofing and prevents water ingress into the junction box behind it. Use exterior-grade silicone caulk rated for wet locations.

Why does my new motion light stay on?

Fixtures with photocells that control automatic operation can get stuck if aimed at other lights or reflective surfaces. Try repositioning the sensor head or blocking sources of false triggers.

Can outdoor lights be on a dimmer switch?

Dimmers designed for LED bulbs usually work, but not all exterior fixtures may be dimmable. Check manufacturer specs. Using a standard dimmer with a fixture that’s not compatible can cause premature failure.

How do I stop outdoor lights buzzing?

Buzzing or humming fixtures often have a loose wiring connection. Secure all wires tightly with twist-on connectors. Faulty electronic ballasts can also vibrate and make noise. Replace old electromagnetic ballast fixtures with LED models for silent operation.

Why does my porch light flicker?

If fixtures only flicker when turned on via a switch, and not when power cycles on automatically, it indicates a faulty switch likely making poor contact. Switches wear out over years of use. Replacing the switch repairs the issue.

Changing exterior light fixtures renews worn-out installations and lets you upgrade to better lighting. With some planning and standard safety steps, it’s an achievable DIY project resulting in a more beautiful and functional home exterior.


Updating tired and outdated outdoor lights with new fixtures restores curb appeal, saves on energy costs, and enhances your home’s security and ambiance. While changing exterior fixtures involves working at heights and dealing with electrical wiring, taking sensible precautions makes the process straightforward and safe for most do-it-yourselfers.

Start by evaluating important factors like electrical requirements, light placement, local codes, and fixture style that govern product selection. Gather the necessary tools and supplies, taking safety gear like a fiberglass ladder, voltage tester, and rubber gloves. When installation day arrives, remember to always turn off power at the breaker before touching any wires. Follow standard wiring procedures and use twist-on connectors for secure, waterproof connections.

Mount the new fixture carefully to avoid pinched wires, seal up any gaps in the housing, and test operation before completing the job. Troubleshoot and fix any issues like flickering or improperly functioning lights. Proper maintenance keeps new outdoor lights working perfectly for years. With a modern LED fixture and energy efficient bulbs, your home exterior will shine beautifully and affordably.