By Joseph Truini
There’s no such thing as a typical chandelier, which is why shopping for one is so much fun. Visit any home center or lighting showroom and you’ll see dozens of chandeliers in every imaginable size, style, shape and finish, ranging from rustic wrought iron and antique silver to polished brass and gorgeous gold leaf. While most chandeliers are intended for placement over a dining room table, there are many other styles that can be used in hallways, foyers and even above kitchen islands.
Make sure you have read and understand all of the instructions before you begin the installation. While this is a straightforward job for most DIYers, always stop and consult a licensed electrician if you have any questions. Likewise, read all the instructions first before attempting to begin an install yourself, just as you would read a recipe all the way through before cooking.
Here’s a brief step-by-step look at a typical chandelier installation. Start by turning off the electricity to the fixture at your main electrical panel. Never attempt to work on a live circuit. Then, flip the light switch on and off to ensure that the power is indeed turned off.
Removing the Old Fixture
- Once you’ve confirmed that the electrical power is off, begin to disconnect the old light fixture by loosening the screws that hold its base plate or canopy to the ceiling. (The canopy is the bowl-shaped part that fits against the ceiling to conceal the wiring.)
- Disconnect the wires in the ceiling box by twisting off the plastic wire connectors.
- Loosen the grounding screw on the fixture-mounting bar to free the grounding wire (it’s usually green or bare copper).
- Remove the old fixture.
- Be sure the electrical box in the ceiling can support the weight of the new chandelier (the chandelier’s weight is usually listed in the installation instructions). Never hang a chandelier from a standard electrical ceiling box, which is rated to support only 50 pounds. You must replace the box with a code-approved mounting system.
Hanging Hardware: Two Options
The two simplest ways to safely, securely hang a chandelier include 1) screwing a shallow pancake-style electrical box to a ceiling joist, and 2) installing an old-work ceiling-fan brace between two joists. If you’re unsure whether or not the existing box can support a chandelier, call a licensed electrician.
Pancake electrical box. A pancake electrical box can be screwed directly to a ceiling joist to support the heaviest chandeliers. It’s important to secure the box with the provided screws; using any other screws is a code violation. Protect the electrical cable from the sharp edges of the metal box by first snapping the black plastic cable connector into the knockout hole, then pulling the cable through the connector.
After installing a pancake box, hold the chandelier’s canopy against the ceiling, centered over the box. If the canopy isn’t large enough to cover the hole from the old electrical box, you must either patch the ceiling or cover the area with a decorative ceiling medallion.
Fan brace. A fan brace is designed to support ceiling fans, but is also approved for hanging chandeliers. A properly installed fan brace will support up to 150 pounds, and best of all, it can be slipped into place from below without having to cut open the ceiling. Simply disconnect the old light fixture, pry out the existing electrical box and install the new fan brace.
Slip the fan brace through the ceiling hole and rest it on top of the drywall. Then rotate the hanging bar by hand until its spiked ends contact the ceiling joists on either side of the hole. Lock the brace in place by tightening the hanging bar with a wrench until the spikes penetrate deep into the joists.
Remove one of the knockout plugs from the metal electrical box. Attach a cable connector to the knockout hole to protect the electrical cable. Pull the cable through the connector, then screw the box to the hanging bar.
Installing the New Chandelier
- Assemble all the parts of your new chandelier. This can take an hour or longer depending on the size and complexity of the fixture. Manufacturers will provide step-by-step instruction manuals on how all the parts fit together.
- Slip the hollow plastic candle sleeves over the tall socket arms. If any arms are bent, straighten them out first.
- Feed the chandelier’s lamp cord and bare copper grounding wire through the hole in the base of the fixture loop. Then tighten the loop into the threaded hole in the top of the chandelier.
- Hook the hanging chain onto the fixture loop, and pinch it closed with pliers.
- Thread the lamp cord and bare copper wire back and forth through every third or fourth link in the chain—not through every single link.
- Pass the chain and wires through a retaining collar and through the hole in the base of the canopy.
- Slip a chain holder over the wires, then secure the upper end of the chain to the chain holder.
- Feed the lamp cord and bare grounding wire through a long conduit nipple.
- Screw the fixture-mounting bar to the electrical box in the ceiling.
- Thread the conduit nipple into the fixture-mounting bar and chain holder.
- Make the wire connections: Loop the grounding wire from the electrical cable around the grounding screw on the mounting bar; leave about 2 in. of wire sticking out. Connect the chandelier’s grounding wire to the end of the cable’s grounding wire with a twist-on connector.
- Peel the lamp cord down the middle and strip ½ in. of the insulation off the end of each wire. Note that one of the lamp wires is differentiated from the other by a raised ridge, groove or lettering. Join that wire to the white wire coming from the electrical cable.
- Connect the remaining lamp cord wire to the black wire. Secure all wire connections with twist-on connectors.
- Carefully tuck the wires into the ceiling box, then slide the canopy tight against the ceiling and tighten its retaining collar.
- Install the appropriate light bulbs, turn on the electricity and test your work.
When hanging a chandelier above a dining-room table, follow these four steps to ensure the hanging chain is the correct length:
- Measure the distance from the ceiling to the top of the dining table.
- Subtract the height of the chandelier.
- From that total, subtract the distance you want the chandelier to hang above the tabletop—typically 24 to 30 in.
- Shorten the chain to that length.
If the chandelier is controlled by a simple on/off toggle switch, consider replacing it with a dimmer switch. That way, you’ll be able to control the light level and set the mood for dining, conversation or reading.
If you see a four- or six-light chandelier that you like, but it’s too small for your use, ask the salesperson if it’s available in a larger size. Most lighting manufacturers make chandeliers in a number of different sizes, and larger versions typically have more lights.
Lighting showrooms typically have only one example of each chandelier on display. However, most fixtures come in three or more different finishes or colors. Ask to see the manufacturer’s catalog to see if the chandelier is available in any other finishes.
Editor's Note: Joseph Truini is a home-improvement expert who writes about easy-to-accomplish DIY projects. He offers DIY tips on a multitude of topics ranging from installing insulation to changing out a chandelier. If you are looking to change your lighting, visit The Home Depot to see a selection of chandelier options.