How To Wire A Light Fixture With Two Black Wires
homedude is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, We may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
If you’re renovating or perhaps dealing with a flickering light fixture, you can attempt to do a DIY replacement. Changing out a light fixture is usually relatively simple, thanks to color-coded wires. But unfortunately, sometimes, wiring a light fixture isn’t always as straightforward as you would hope.
Typically, light fixtures feature a black wire and a white wire which you connect to matching wires coming from the ceiling. But, if you need to wire a light fixture with two black wires, it’s essential to determine which one is hot and which is neutral. Luckily, there are other clues you can look for, like the wire texture, or you can use a voltage tester.
If you need to wire a light fixture with two black wires, your first step is determining which wire is which. It’s best to test the fixture first before doing a complete replacement, so you don’t have to potentially uninstall the fixture. But, if you aren’t comfortable dealing with electricity, then your best bet is to call an electrician.
Understanding Light Fixture Wire Colors
Normally, light fixtures feature different color wires that match the wires in the electrical box in the ceiling. This makes replacing an existing fixture with a new one reasonably easy–until you realize your fixture has two black wires.
Usually, the different colors of the wires represent specific things. In a simple fixture with one light switch, you would perhaps have a black and white wire in the fixture.
The white wire is the ground wire and is neutral, while the black wire is live. The same goes for the black and white wire in the ceiling. If you see a red wire in the ceiling, it usually represents a switch that will control the light fixture.
In some cases, you might notice yellow or blue wires in the junction box or other colors. These all typically mean there are other switches. For example, you might see this if you have a light fixture with a three-way switch or a ceiling fan.
These types of replacements can become more tricky; the more wires, the more challenging. But, again, in a simple fixture, you’re likely dealing with a white and black wire.
But what happens when you open your new fixture and you don’t have color-coded wires?
Why Aren’t The Light Fixture’s Wires Color Coded?
It actually isn’t unusual to end up with a fixture that doesn’t have color-coded wires. You might have a fixture that someone made, perhaps converting a lamp into a hardwired fixture. Or, you could have a light fixture that was made in another country.
In some cases, your fixture could be an antique with older wires before color-coding was a thing. No matter what the reason for it, you need to figure out which wire is which.
Determining Which Wire Is Neutral
If you end up with a fixture with two black wires, you can examine the texture first. Some fixtures with black wires have one smooth wire and one that has a ribbed texture.
If this is the case, the ribbed wire is neutral and connects to the white wire in the ceiling. The smooth black wire connects to the black wire in the ceiling. Or one of the black wires might have a stripe on it, which indicates it is neutral.
Typically, you can also look at which wire connects to the fixture’s lamp holder. This is the wire that should connect to the black wire in the junction box.
Wiring A Light Fixture With Two Black Wires
If both black wires are smooth, or you just want to make doubly sure (good practice), you can test the fixture. This is a good idea before going through the trouble of replacing the fixture and installing it completely. You don’t want to get the whole project done only to learn you need to undo it to switch the wires.
Tools You Need For The Job
- Safety glasses
- Electrical probe
- Wire nuts
- A helper
- Ladder or stepstool
- Flashlight or battery-operated lamp (so you can see as you work in the dark)
- Electrical pliers (these can make it easier to grab and manipulate the wires)
1. Step One: Turn Off The Power
Turn off the power at the breaker box. You can test the wires coming from the ceiling with the probe to ensure they are dead. Do not touch any wires until you have confirmed they’re no longer live.
Don’t simply turn off the fixture at the light switch; this does nothing to the circuit. Also, never start working on a fixture until you’ve tested the circuit.
Sometimes, flipping the breaker will turn a fixture off, so you think it’s not live. However, there’s another circuit that could be delivering juice to the same junction box. So, safety first.
2. Step Two: Take A Picture
If removing an old fixture, this can sometimes be the best way to determine how to install the new one. Take note of how the current wires are attached to the existing fixture and snap a pic to remember the setup.
3. Step Three: Attach The Wires
Use the wire nuts to attach one of the black wires from the fixture to the black wire in the ceiling. Attach the other black wire from the fixture to the white wire in the ceiling. If the wires in the ceiling are crimped or damaged, use snips to cut them.
4. Step Four: Test The Connection
Ask your helper to stand near the circuit panel. Touch one probe of the multimeter to the fixture’s bulb socket (the sleeve, not inside the socket). Place the other probe on the ground wire in the ceiling.
Have your helper flip on the breaker. If it reads “0”, the wires are correct. If the multimeter shows positive, you need to switch the wires.
Have your helper turn the circuit back off at the panel. If the multimeter had a positive reading, when the circuit is back off, switch the wires. Redo the test, and this time, you should get a reading of “0.”
Note: Even if the fixture works when the wires are reversed, this is not safe. You still need to switch the wires to the correct position to avoid a fire hazard or electric shock.
5. Step Five: Install The New Fixture
Once you’ve determined the hot and neutral wires, you can finish installing the fixture. Do so according to the instructions that came with your light. It typically will mount using screws or other hardware that usually comes with the piece.
Keep in mind if there is a red wire in the ceiling, this is likely the wire for the light switch. Therefore, your live black wire from your fixture should connect to the red wire, so the switch continues to operate the light.
When Should You Call An Electrician?
Normally, when installing a simple light fixture on one light switch, it’s pretty straightforward. But, sometimes, it can prove to be more difficult than first expected.
If you attempt to change out your fixture yourself, you might run into a few scenarios where it’s better to call an electrician.
- If your fixture has three wires and they are not labeled, call an electrician. They will have special tools necessary to test the fixture properly. In this situation, you could mistakenly connect the neural wire and create a fire hazard.
- You could be dealing with three-way switches or multiple fixtures on the same circuit. This could also include fixtures with dimmers or other features.
- Things could get tricky if you’re installing a plain light fixture where a ceiling fan or ceiling fan-light combo once was.
- You no longer feel comfortable handling the task yourself or are unsure about whether the circuit is live.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost for an electrician to swap out a light fixture?
Not including the price of the fixture, you could pay between $75 and $115 for an electrician to swap out a light fixture. This is as long as there are no unexpected problems or issues. To install a new light fixture with electrical, it could cost closer to $300 to $400.
How do I know which wire is neutral if they are clear?
Some light fixtures feature transparent coatings over the wires instead of black and white. If this applies to your fixture, you can see the actual wire through the coating.
One should be silver, which is neutral, and the other would be copper, which is hot. Therefore, you would attach the copper wire to the black wire in the ceiling and the silver wire to the white one. Of course, always test as described above to ensure you have the proper connection.