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 built originally.  NOTE: Some text links below go to applicable products on Amazon or EBay.

REMOVING RECESSED 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 unsplice 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 connectors or cut the plastic connectors.  Move the wires out of the way to prevent them from getting damaged.

I use small pry bars to get behind the nails on the brackets nailed to the joists.  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.  This is all done blindly with only one arm up inside of the ceiling.  Getting the pry bar behind the adjustable bracket makes it easy to pull out the nail.

It is possible to get the whole recessed light frame loose, but it is too big to be completely removed from 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 some recessed lights removed and pendant lights installed.  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.

Pigtail light socket hanging from ceiling fan box installed in a hole formerly occupied by a six inch diameter recessed light fixture
Pigtail light socket hanging from ceiling fan box installed in a hole formerly occupied by a six inch diameter recessed light fixture

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.

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Pancake box mounted in the ceiling with a pigtail light hanging temporarily
Pancake box mounted in the ceiling with a pigtail light hanging temporarily

The layout for the new pendant lights did not line up exactly where the recessed lights were originally located.

Temporary pigtail lights hanging from roughed-in ceiling electrical boxes
Temporary pigtail lights hanging from roughed-in ceiling electrical boxes

I removed two recessed lights and installed wiring for three pendant lights over a kitchen island.

Pendant light fixture hanging by wires
Pendant light fixture hanging by wires
Pendant lights installed and hanging where recessed lights once were
Pendant lights installed and hanging where recessed lights once were.

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RECESSED LIGHT HOLE PATCH

Photos below are from a job where I removed four recessed lights and installed four LED disk lights in their place.  I had to first patch the holes before I could install the new lights.

Ceiling fan braces were used because they were easiest to install using the existing hole.  I inserted two pieces of wood and held them in place with drywall screws.

A ceiling fan brace installed inside of a hole that was once occupied by a recessed light
A ceiling fan brace installed inside of a hole that was once occupied by a recessed light

I used my RotoZip with the circle cutting attachment and made five rings (One extra) from a piece of drywall.

Drywall ring loosely fitted for size around a ceiling fan box
Drywall ring loosely fitted for size around a ceiling fan box
A cut drywall ring loosely fitted for size before being mudded in
A cut drywall ring loosely fitted for size before being mudded in

The cut drywall rings were a good fit.

A patched ceiling hole formerly occupied by a recessed light, now with a ceiling fan box
A patched ceiling hole formerly occupied by a recessed light, now with a ceiling fan box

I buttered the hole and the edges of the cut drywall ring with joint compound and pushed it into place.  I used my fingers to smear the joint compound so it would blend a little with the textured ceiling.

Fan rated ceiling electrical box with wires
Fan rated ceiling electrical box with wires

The joint compound dried nicely around the ceiling fan electrical box.

An LED disk light connected to the ceiling box wires and hanging by the connections
An LED disk light connected to the ceiling box wires and hanging by the connections
A single LED disk light mounted on the textured ceiling
A single LED disk light mounted on the textured ceiling

The LED disk light was big enough to cover the hole patch.  The ceiling was going to be painted after I finished.

Four LED disk lights brightly lit
Four LED disk lights brightly lit