Dear Mr. Electrician: How do I change recessed lights to pendant lights?
Answer: The recessed lights will need to be removed first. How they get removed depends on whether the recessed lights are remodel types or if they were installed when the room was originally built.
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REMOVE LIGHT HOUSINGS
Remodel type recessed light housing are the easiest to remove. It varies slightly between brands, but first shut off the power at the circuit breaker.
Next remove the light bulb and then remove the trim, the cover that shrouds the light bulb. Some are held in place by springs that can be unhooked by putting your hand inside of the can. Other types get pulled down a little and two springs get squeezed to get released.
With the light bulb and the trim removed, look around the perimeter of the recessed light can where it comes in contact with the drywall ceiling. You should see three or four clips of one type or another. Those clips need to be released in order for the can to come down gently.
The good news is that these clips are made to be removed, they are not permanent. Depending on the brand and the age of the fixture you can sometimes pry a screwdriver behind the clips or underneath the clips to get them loose.
Just keep working on the clips until they pop loose. Then gently pull the can down. It will be attached to one or more cables. Do not cut the cables.
Open up the attached junction box and un-splice the wires and remove them from the junction box. If a plastic crimped cable connector is preventing the cables from coming out of the junction box, cut the connector. I use my Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers to cut things like that.
The cables are used to power whatever new type of lighting you are planning to install. The wiring connections must be made inside of a junction box that is part of the light fixture or separately installed.
Some new work type recessed light housings have a three or four screws around the inside perimeter close to the ceiling. With the electrical power turned off at the circuit breaker, remove those screws completely. With the screws removed, the can that holds the light bulb socket can be pulled down through the hole in the ceiling.
The can will be hanging by the flexible metal conduit after you pull it down. Cut the flexible conduit and the wire.
Look inside the ceiling and you will see a junction box with a cover on it where the wires terminate. Remove the cover, usually just a spring clip. Take a picture of the wires before disconnecting. If they are connected differently than color to color, label the wires so that they go back the way they were. Do not cut the wires.
Remove the wires from the recessed light junction box. You may have to loosen the screws on the metal cable connectors or cut the plastic cable connectors that secure the cable into the junction box. Move the wires out of the way to prevent them from getting damaged.
I use small pry bars to try and get behind the nails on the brackets nailed to the joists. This is mostly done blindly with only one of my arms up inside of the ceiling. Getting the pry bar behind the adjustable bracket makes it easy to pull out the nail. The new work recessed light housing must be taken apart to be removed from the ceiling.
I use my BX cutters to cut apart the remaining recessed light frame inside of the ceiling. I also use my Knipex high leverage diagonal pliers for cutting pieces off. Little by little I cut pieces off and remove them until the entire housing is out of the ceiling.
It is possible to get the whole recessed light frame loose, but it is too big to be completely removed from the existing hole in the ceiling unless it is cut into smaller pieces. In addition to my BX cutter’s and my diagonal’s I also use my aviation snips to cut the can into pieces for removal from the ceiling.
Below are photos of a job that I did for a client who wanted me to change recessed lights to pendant lights. The recessed lights were installed when the house was built. Not as easy to remove as remodel housings, but with the right tools not extremely difficult either.
I installed a ceiling fan brace and box to use for mounting a future pendant light. I connected temporary pigtail light sockets until the holes were patched by someone else.
The layout for the new pendant lights did not line up exactly where the recessed lights were originally located.
I removed two recessed lights and installed wiring for three pendant lights over a kitchen island.
Click to see my blog post about installing recessed lighting in a condominium kitchen.
Click here to see how I patched holes from old recessed lights to install new surface mounted lighting.
Click to see my other enterprises here.