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How to hang a ceiling light

Bring light and life into a room with a new ceiling light fixture. With so many different designs available, it’s easy to make the switch. All it takes is a little electrical know-how. Before we start, please read the important safety warning below:


If in any doubt, or where required by the law, consult a competent, registered electrician. All products must be installed in accordance with local building regulations.

Where to put ceiling lights

Light is one of the key aspects of interior design. Whether you are seeking ambient lighting to create an atmosphere or radiant brightness that reaches to the farthest corner of the room, careful consideration of the type and position of your ceiling light is essential.

Before you begin any DIY work, therefore, you should give some thought to the outcome you wish to achieve with your new ceiling light. Often, the obvious answer is the best: a centrally located ceiling light that spreads uniform illumination across the entire room. However, you should bear in mind the following key factors before settling on the precise position.

  • The size of the room
  • The height of the ceiling
  • The natural light entering the room
  • How the room will be used.

Some rooms are trickier than others. Where to put ceiling lights in a bedroom, for instance, is becoming increasingly important as modern bedrooms are often multi-functional environments that can be used for working, reading, exercising and applying make up as well as sleeping.

How high to hang a ceiling light

Once you have decided where to position your ceiling light, you need to think about how low it’s going to hang (presuming it’s a pendant style lamp, of course). Here, the size of your light is important. A low-hanging light may look odd if it is particularly large but fine if it is smaller. It chiefly depends on the height of the ceiling and the size of the room. A large room with a high ceiling, for example, would suit ceiling lights that are larger and hang lower.

As well as ambience and aesthetics, you also need to consider overhead clearance. There should be at least 30cm gap between the bottom of the light and the top of anyone’s head. Similarly, if you are positioning the light over a table, you need to consider the size of the table and the location of the people that will be sitting at the table before you decide on the light’s height. Nobody wants to be dazzled while they eat their meal, for example, or knock their head every time they reach for the salt.

Remove the old light fitting

Ceiling fixtures come in many styles. Typically, they involve a base screwed firmly to the ceiling and a cover that unscrews from the base. To access the fitting and carry out the task at hand, make sure you have a secure place to stand that allows you to reach the fitting and any tools you need without danger of losing balance.

1. Isolate the electrics

Before you begin dismantling the ceiling light, you need to isolate the electrics. When you switch the light off at the switch there is still live electricity in the ceiling rose or light fitting. It is essential, therefore, to fully isolate the area in which you will be working. To do this, switch off the fuse in your consumer unit that controls the circuit and remove the fuse itself, just to be sure. If you are in any doubt which fuse to switch off, turn off the main switch on the consumer unit to cut the power to the whole house. Test by turning the light ‘on’ at the light switch. If it is properly isolated, the switch should not have any effect and the light will remain off.

2. Open the light fitting

Now that there is no danger of electric shock, you can open the ceiling light fitting. The most common light fitting consists of a ceiling rose with a pendant lamp hanging down from it. There are many different types of fitting, and some may involve more work than others. This article focuses on removing a standard ceiling rose and replacing it with a similar fitting.

Open the existing ceiling rose by unscrewing the cover. Inside you will see a number of cables and wires. If you have a ceiling light with three wires, it means you have a single cable coming from a junction box above the ceiling. In this case, you are simply dealing with the cable that takes the live and neutral wires to the lamp holder (see wiring diagram below). Common among modern houses in the UK is the loop system.

A loop wiring system involves electric cabling running from the consumer unit to several light fittings, one after another, usually covering neighbouring rooms or an entire floor of the building. This provides power to all the light fittings on the loop. Each individual lamp can then be illuminated via its own switch, which directs the current through the bulb.

3. Identify the wires

Inside a ceiling rose using the loop system, you will see three cables:

  • One cable entering from the loop circuit
  • One cable exiting from the loop circuit
  • One cable going to the switch.

Each cable will contain three wires – live, neutral and earth – which can be identified by the following colours:

  • Live - brown (old colour, red)
  • Neutral - blue (old colour, black)
  • Earth - green and yellow stripes.

As the switch cable completes a live circuit flowing through the bulb, both its live and neutral are live. For this reason, the neutral wire in the switch cable should be tagged with brown sleeving to mark it out as being live.

In a typical arrangement, the wires will be grouped into three terminal blocks – ‘neutral’, live’ and ‘loop’ – as shown in the ‘How to wire a ceiling light diagram’ below.

How to wire a ceiling light diagram
How to wire a ceiling light diagram

  • A= entering loop cable
  • B = exiting loop cable
  • C = switch cable
  • Left terminal block = ‘live’
  • Middle terminal block = ‘loop’
  • Right terminal block = ‘neutral’

As can be seen in the wiring diagram:

  • The two loop circuit neutral wires connect to the ‘neutral’ terminal block
  • The two loop circuit live wires connect to the ‘loop’ terminal block
  • The switch cable live wire connects to the ‘loop’ terminal block
  • The switch cable neutral wire connects to the ‘live’ terminal block

The lamp itself completes the system:

  • The live wire connects to the ‘live’ terminal block
  • The neutral wire connects to the ‘neutral’ terminal block

All earth wires are connected to a common earth terminal.

Label the wires with masking tape, so you can clearly identify which are part of the loop circuit and which relate to the switch. Remember, the switch cable can be identified by the neutral wire which should be tagged with brown sleeving to identify it as being live. If the it is not identified like this, now is a good time to tag it. Then disconnect each wire from its terminal block.

How to label the wires
How to label the wires

Finally, unscrew the ceiling rose base from the ceiling and carefully remove it, leaving just the wires poking out from the ceiling.

Connect the new light fitting

Your new light fitting will have a fixing bracket of some sort that needs to be firmly attached to the ceiling. Take care to locate the fixing bracket exactly where you want it, taking into account the desired direction of the light fitting if it is a strip of spotlights.

If you are wondering how you wire a ceiling light switch, there’s no need to worry about that unless you are rewiring the whole room. Whether your light fitting involves a pull-cord switch, a motion detection switch or two-way switches, the switch simply interrupts the live feed to the light, and can remain as it was before, even with a new fitting.

1. How to hang a new ceiling light in the same place as the old one

The light should come with instructions to help you identify where each wire needs to connect. It will incorporate terminal blocks that correspond to those from the previous fitting. Simply reconnect each wire to its appropriate terminal as described earlier in the ‘How to wire a ceiling light diagram’. Ensure the wires are tightly secured in the terminals then fix the light fitting to the bracket, taking care not to trap any wires as you do so.

2. How to hang a new ceiling light in a different place to the old one

If you are going to position you new light fitting elsewhere on the ceiling, you will need to access the ceiling void above the site of the old light fitting. Carefully pull the cables through into the void. If the new position is close by and there is enough slack in the wires, you may be able to simply feed the cables back through a newly drilled hole. If the new position if further away, a junction box will be required to replicate the connections of the original ceiling rose.

A new cable can then be attached with one end connected to the junction box as if it is the live and neutral from the lamp holder and the other end being fed through a newly drilled hole where you wish the light to be positioned. Simply connect this end to the live and neutral wires of your ceiling light. Take care not to trap any wires as you fix the light fitting to the bracket.

3. How to hang a ceiling fan where a light was

If your new fitting is an electric fan or a combined fan and light, there will be a fixing bracket to be attached to the ceiling plus an additional support brace to fit in the ceiling void above to completely secure the fan when it moves. The fan motor can then be wired up following the same procedure as that for a straightforward ceiling light.

Enjoy your new ceiling light!

Installing a new ceiling light is a quick way to create a new look and achieve new possibilities in a room. And doing it yourself makes the transformation very cost-effective. Whether you are replacing a dreary fitting with something more cheerful, making a statement with an elegant chandelier, or completely revamping the appearance of a room, the results can be spectacular. So when you turn the electricity on again and see your new ceiling light begin to glow, you will glow too – with pride at a job well done!

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