Old vintage or period light fixtures have universal charm. They delight and invite interest, whether hanging in the original architecture of a home or found in a pile at a flea market. Classic and antique fixtures are even favorite additions in the most conventional homes. Everyone seems to love the distinctive look of old light fixtures—until it’s time to refurbish hem. `
But fixing old light fixtures is actually a simple operation. While you could buy new reproductions of old light fixtures, think twice before you pass up the genuine articles, which are often found at a bargain. Many home investors and do-it-yourselfers have learned to see treasures when they find old fixtures in salvage yards or houses for sale.
Refurbishing and rewiring an old light fixture requires care, like any electrical project. But it is not complex like rewiring a house. While all light fixtures are different, the majority of them have been made with the same basic standards for much of the past century.
Basic Steps for Refurbishing Nearly All Old Light Fixtures
Fixing up an old light fixture usually amounts to the same process with some variations—taking the fixture apart, adding a new bulb socket or sockets, rewiring it, putting the fixture back together and polishing it up like new. Whether a light fixture has one or several sockets, the concepts are the same.
Remember always turn off the electrical power at the fuse box if you are removing or replacing the light fixture in the wall or ceiling.
Step 1. Take Apart Old Light Fixture
As you disassemble hardware pieces, lay each one out in the order removed. If it helps you to remember, label each piece as you go for easier reassembly later.
All the wiring and parts are exposed as you open the outer casing of the light fixture. Plan on replacing wiring. Loosen the wire nuts where the wire feeds into the fixture at its center.
Any worn out or corroded parts—from locknuts to threaded pipe nipple—can be replaced or closely matched at a specialty lighting store.
Take the opportunity to clean and polish parts as you go with metal polish or wax.
Step 2. Take Apart (and Test or Replace) Light Sockets
Disconnect the light socket (or sockets) from their caps with a screwdriver. Pull out the two wire ends from each socket terminal.
Test the circuit power of each socket with a continuity tester (an electrical tool available at hardware stores). Or just replace each socket (since many sockets on old light fixtures do not accommodate modern bulbs).
Step 3. Rewire the Light Fixture
You can pull the old wiring out—taking note of how it is threaded. But depending on the light fixture, the process of rewiring can be simplified by attaching the new wire to the old one with electrical tape—and then feeding it through. As you pull the old wire out, the new will replace it.
Measure enough wire cord to thread through the middle of the light and to all the sockets.
Once wire is in place, work from the socket ends. Pull apart the wire ends to form double wires—a hot wire and a neutral wire, which will insert into each light socket. (The hot wire is distinguished by having lettering on only one side of the cord.) Use wire strippers to peel the coatings from around the ends of both the hot wire and neutral wire, which then wrap around the screws at the bottom of the sockets. The hot wire wraps around the gold brass screw and the exposed neutral wire wraps around the silver screw.
Peel off the wire coatings in the same way at the other ends of the wiring to expose hot and neutral wires. Now twist all the hot wire ends together from each cord, depending on how many sockets there are wire running from. Twist all the neutral wire ends together also.
Now run a separate wire down the middle of the fixture to meet with the wiring from the socket(s). Peel off the ends of the middle wire coating to form hot wire and neutral wire, just as you did with both ends of the socket wires. Now attach or splice together the hot wires from the socket wiring to the hot wires from the newly fed middle wire. Secure them with a wire nut. Splice together the neutral wires in the same way.
Step 4. Reassemble Light Fixture
With all the internal wiring intact, screw the fixture back together. It is ready to be mounted to the outlet box.
Refurbishing an old light fixture is usually a matter of new sockets and some simple rewiring. The next time you see a beautiful old fixture at a rock bottom price, don’t hesitate to sweep it up so you can fix it up.
- Every light fixture is different, but the concepts for rewiring are the same, whether there is one light socket or several.
- You can find old fixtures sometimes for next to nothing in second hand stores, salvage yards or estate sales.
- Most old light fixtures are standardized—but many require updated sockets to fit modern light bulbs.
- Don’t let damaged parts, like brittle wiring or rusty finials, stop you from taking advantage of a good deal on an old light fixture—specialty lighting shops carry almost any part you need.
- When attaching wires at the socket—hot wires wrap around the copper screw and neutral wires wrap around the silver screw.
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