Let There be Light!

…and there was BETTER light!

My dad and step-mom came into town over the weekend to see our place to help us out with some projects.  My dad is kind of awesome (HI DAD!) and super handy and good with the problem solving necessary for old goofy houses.  Our project for the weekend was light fixtures.  Pretty much every light fixture in our house I want to replace, but I’ve never changed a hard-wired fixture before since I’ve only ever had apartments.  I figured I could learn how to do it through the power of You Tube, but it would be way easier to have someone here walking me through.

Sometimes I do actually make smart life choices.

The first light fixture we tackled was the family room ceiling fan which by far the most depressing of the 3.  We had also been unable to use the fan feature since the fixture was hanging out of the ceiling a good inch so we were not terribly confident in how well it was attached.  We also figured it would be the most difficult to deal with.


We were right.

The concern was that the electrical box in the ceiling would not actually be rated for ceiling fans.  The problem ended up being there was not actually an electric box in place.  Nope.  Instead there big ol’ screw in a ceiling joist that the fixture was hanging from.  Awesome.  I don’t actually have pictures of this step since I guess I was mildly in shock, but these are the pieces we pulled out:


WTF house?

The good news was that with the joist right there we had a really solid mounting surface.  I’m not really going to go into detail about what we did because it’s one of those things is not technically up to code (although still an improvement over what was there) so I don’t really want to encourage people.  But let’s be honest here, in an old home sometime you gotta do what you gotta do.


There was also a decent amount of ceiling damage that the previous medallion was covering. I hadn’t planned on putting a ceiling medallion in the family room, but at this point it seemed like the easiest solution and I was ok with it.


Better already.  At this point we could actually install the damn fan. Word of advice for old home owners, the hot and neutral wires may not be color-coded so you want to make sure which is which (our existing fan had the hot and neutral reversed… joy).  Everything else was following the instruction manual that came with the fan.  Putzy and annoying, but not ungodly difficult.


Ta-da! Much much better.  The light patterns from the water glass are a little crazy and it kind of turns into a disco in here when the fan is on so we’re going to try and find some more diffuse bulbs. This fan was also the last of its kind within 100+ miles of us.  I was scouring websites trying to find a ceiling with a some-what vintagey feel (nearly impossible) and finally found this one at Menards and had to drive out to Apple Valley to snag their last one on clearance.* It’s a Turn of the Century Cosmos 52″ fan in satin nickel.  The blades were faux birch on one side and silver on the other, so I just painted them white. It looks a little stark in the room at the moment so it may get another mini-facelift down the road.

The two other ceiling fixtures we tackled also had two more radically different mounting situations.


The living room was also lacking an electrical box AND there was what appeared to be a gas pipe (from when the house probably had gas lighting) jutting out of the hole. There was also a third random wire which in any sort of normal situation would have been the ground wire, but I think I’ve already established that we’re pretty far removed from normal in this house. (The picture make the wires look a frayed and scary, but they were actually in surprising good shape, just dusty)


Even though we were pretty sure the gas pipe was no longer connected to anything we didn’t want to mess with it so we went back to the hardware store (again) to get a different electrical box (technically an extender since it had an open back). We also had to saw a chunk out of the ceiling medallion to have it fit around the new electrical box that would be sticking out of the ceiling a bit.

Then we had to run to a hardware store (yet again) to get a 100 watt equivalent candelabra bulb** since the single bulb in the living room is kind of wussy and we wanted the bulb in before we finished assembling the fixture.


Voila! Matt was skeptical about the crazy mod MASKROS light in our fairly traditional (architecturally) home, but I think everyone was pretty impressed with the end result.

Fixture #3 was the entry light.  The existing light was this boring old (tiny) globe.


Not awful, but not so nice either.  Enter IKEA once again.  I loooove their VANADIN ceiling light.  Pretty simple, still interesting, cheap, and most definitely not a boob light.  It also has a vintagey vibe.  Win.

When we took this light down there was actually an electrical box in place.  WOOT! And color-coded hot/neutral wires!  There was even a ground wire! Craziness!  ….Only the electrical box wasn’t exactly attached to anything.  Luckily there were screw holes in the base of the VANADIN so we were still able to solidly attach that to the ceiling with drywall screws.


This one was hands down the easiest out of the three fixtures we tackled, but nothing was 100% as straightforward as it should have been so it took the whole weekend to change out three lights.  We also answered the slightly lesser asked question of “How many people does it take to change a light fixture.” Answer: 4 people, 2 days, and 5 trips to the hardware store.


* The lighting department guy is possibly my hero and also quite probably thinks I’m just slightly unhinged.  I called to make sure the store still had it and how much it was since the website didn’t list the price.  $80.  “I’LL BE THERE IN 20 MINUTES!” *click*

** The only 100 watt equivalent candelabra bulb we found was at Lowes and the closest one to us was in West St Paul.  Nearly every frickin’ road our GPS tried to direct us down was closed.  And then we went the wrong way on the expressway on our way home.  It was an adventure… or something.

2 thoughts on “Let There be Light!

  1. You are telling me that you let us sleep under a fixture that was held in place with a HOOK????!!!!!

    Other random thoughts:
    Technically those are laths, not joists. The joists are behind and perpendicular to the laths. This is important if you ever do more work and need to talk with the hardware store people. 🙂

    That weird third wire? We have two hot wires going to our ceiling fan fixtures. One is wired to the light switch and light kit in the fixture; the other is steady-on and wired to the fan. Maybe that’s it?

    After tons of fruitless searching for a candelabra bulb >60W-equivalent (and DON’T get me started on how many “lighting” people will chastise one for asking for a 75W-“equivalent” by saying “they don’t make incandescents over 60W anymore; everything is LED or CFL now”), I finally just swapped out the socket itself for a standard socket. I found that same Sylvania 100W CFL that you must have, but it was too long for the globe (the first one broke when we put the globe back on). It was surprisingly easy – certainly much easier than anything you just did, although I suppose that’s not saying a lot. But I didn’t have to make any extra trips to the hardware store in the process!

    If you want a REAL lighting challenge, try crawling through an attic over the joists sometime to fish a wire from the ceiling fan to the light switch. 🙂

    1. Um… yes. But it was actually secured to the joist, you can just only see the lath in the photo so it was actually very solid (dad will totally back me up here too). There’s a reason we didn’t turn it on while you were here though.

      It’s funny how we still think of things in terms of incandescent wattage, but I don’t have the standard CFL wattages memorized at all and have absolutely no clue where LEDs fall. We found some frosted candelabra bulbs to put in the new ceiling fan since it’s a tad disco-y at the moment, but they were too tall too. Next stop, IKEA!

      Our next lighting challenge may involve some attic excursions since we don’t know how well the ceiling fan in the bedroom is currently attached and may have to redo (or given the state of the other fixtures, add) the electrical box there.

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