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An attic view from above the ceiling of an installed fan brace and fan box with a Romex cable entering the rear of the box.

Repairing a Ceiling Electrical Box

Dear Mr. Electrician: How do I go about repairing a ceiling electrical box?  I removed the hanging ceiling light fixture in my kitchen and found that the ceiling light electrical 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 electrical box seems to be mounted on one side to a joist or something, which I cannot see.  Any suggestions? Answer: There are a few tricks to repairing a ceiling electrical box.  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.  NOTE: Some text links below go to applicable products on Amazon or Ebay.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. The box may have been originally installed using nails into the side of the joist.  They could have pulled out a little.  I have encountered electrical boxes that were fastened to joists using only cable staples.  Staples tend to pull out easier than nails. If it is a metal box that is attached to a metal bracket in-between joists you may be able to just tighten the center screw to tighten the box.  If it is still loose after that, the bracket may have come loose from the joist.  In that case you should follow my instructions down below for installing a retrofit ceiling fan brace and box. If the ceiling box is plastic, I would just remove it and install a metal box.  Non-metallic boxes can be made of different materials such as PVC, fiberglass, or a composite material.  Fiberglass boxes can be broken apart as can the boxes made of composite material.  PVC boxes do not break apart that easily unless they are old and brittle. Usually I start with a small pry bar or a large screwdriver and try to get behind the box to force it away from the wood joist.  See below about labeling wires first before doing this.  At some point after prying I take my Knipex 10" High Leverage Diagonal Pliers and nip away pieces of the box until I can get it out of the ceiling.  Take good care of the wires when doing this. REPAIRING A CEILING ELECTRICAL BOX THAT IS LOOSE 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 long sheet metal screws with fender washers through the holes into the joist. I'm not sure what screw length you will need but you want to have at least 1" of screw in the wood.  Probably 1...