Repairing or Replacing a Ceiling Light Electrical Box

Dear Mr. Electrician: I removed the hanging ceiling light fixture in my kitchen and found that the ceiling electrical outlet box appears to be very loose.  Since my new light fixture weighs 18 pounds (double the old fixture) I am nervous about replacing it.  The existing ceiling light fixture electrical outlet box seems to be mounted on one side to a joist or something, which I cannot see.  Any suggestions?

Answer: If it is a metal box, you may be able to strengthen its support by drilling a couple of screws through the side of the box and into the joist.  The box may have been originally installed using nails into the side of the joist.  They could have pulled out a little.

Turn the power off to this circuit.  Remove the fixture mounting bracket by taking out the 8-32 screws holding it in.  Without disconnecting the wires that are inside of the ceiling light electrical box, pull them down and away from the sides of the box.

Drill 2 or 3 holes using a 1/4″ or 3/16″ drill bit through the side of the box close to the ceiling joist.  DO NOT drill into the joist.  Screw some #10 or #12 sheet metal screws through the holes into the joist.

I’m not sure what screw length you will need but you want to have at least 3/4″-1″ of screw in the wood.  Probably 1 1/2′ or 2″ screws would work.  I recommend using hex head or Phillips pan head screws and a drill or impact driver to drive the screws in.

Paddle Ceiling Fans

The alternative to the above is to remove the box entirely and install a ceiling fan brace and box which will provide plenty of support.  Since the box is loose already, you may be able to pry it away from the joist completely using a small pry bar or a very large screwdriver.

Before you begin to remove the existing ceiling light electrical box, you must tag the wires so that they can be reconnected together properly.  You can use colored electrical tape or labels with numbers for this.  You must undo any electrical wire splices and then loosen the clamps or connectors and remove them from the box.  Next, twist the box around until you are able to pull it through the existing hole without doing too much damage to the ceiling.   Buy a fan brace and box kit for retrofit and follow the instructions for installation.

There is a side mount fan box and bracket available as well as a brace that expands between joists. If the joist is right at the edge of the ceiling hole, I suggest the side mount bracket.  If the hole is further away from the joist, use the expanding fan brace.
The retrofit expanding fan brace fits up inside the existing hole in the ceiling and you tighten it to lock between two joists.  Then the fan rated electrical box gets mounted to the brace with the included hardware.  Bring your wires into the new fan box before attaching it to the the fan brace in the ceiling.

You would also use the above technique to install a ceiling fan as that will require the use of a fan brace and box.  See my post here about ceiling fans and the fan boxes.