Like a lot of homes built in the past 20 years or so, my home has a large, tall, two-story entry way. It’s over 17 feet from the floor of my entryway to the ceiling of my entryway. And, like a lot of home built in the past 20 years, it had a really ugly light fixture that my wife and I simply could not wait to remove and replace with a light fixture that was more our style.
But large light fixtures, especially large hanging chandelier fixtures, are not cheap or easy to replace when they’re installed 17 feet up in the air. If you want to replace most other interior light fixtures you just need a few tools and simple step-ladder to get to the ceiling, but with a heavy hanging fixture that’s way up in the air, the job becomes quite a unique challenge.
So when my wife found our perfect $400 chandelier on clearance for $60 she had to pick it up, which, of course, means that I had to figure out a way to hang it. I had a few options, but this is how I eventually replaced our high-ceiling chandelier…
Options For Replacing A Light Fixture In A Tall Entryway
To be fair, we had a few viable options, but we wanted to pick the most affordable method we could think of and still get the fixture hung in a very short time frame. Here are the options we looked at:
Hire An Electrician: Okay, this is an obvious one, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Some electricians simply won’t want this sort of job and those that do tend to want to charge a lot for it. The cost for an electrician to replace a regular light fixture in our area is about $100. But when I went looking for electricians to replace the light fixture in our two story entryway we received one quote for $400 and one quote for $800. That seemed like a lot of money to spend on our $60 fixture.
Rent Scaffolding: The most obvious way to get 17 feet into the air is with some sort of scaffolding, but renting and then setting up scaffolding is not a very affordable option. Scaffolding is, honestly a pain to set up and use. To get two stories into the air you need more than a single layer and at that point you’re going to end up paying a few hundred dollars for any sort of decent scaffolding setup.
Rent a Ladder: For a two story entryway you need a 16 foot ladder, though a 14 foot ladder might do in a pinch, depending upon how brave and how tall you are. I went with a 16 foot ladder (you don’t generally stand on the top step or two) and with my six-foot height I was able to reach the light fixture pretty easily and still stand a few steps down from the top of the ladder. The cost to rent a 16 foot ladder? $32 per day. The cost for delivery and pickup the next day from my local rent store: $50. For a total cost of $82 I was able to use a ladder for 24 hours and have it picked up and dropped off at my home.
The ladder made the most sense, so that’s what I went with.
Removing the Old Light Fixture
With my ladder in place I was able to remove the old fixture fairly easily, though there are some things you need to be aware of. An assistant may be especially helpful during a few of these steps. Do not ever have both you and your assistant on the ladder at the same time. That’s simply not safe.
First, be sure to turn off the power to the old fixture and use a voltage detector to make sure it’s really safe to work on. You may need to climb up your ladder and hold the detector next to the wires to do this.
Once the power is off you should begin to careful remove any glass globes, hanging baubles or light bulbs your hanging light fixture has. You want to remove as many loose, heavy and breakable things that you can from your fixture before you bring it down off the ceiling.
Next, climb up your ladder until you can easily reach the light fixture cover plate that’s attached to your ceiling. Be careful. You’re high up and a fall could be dangerous. Remove the cover plate at the ceiling to see what’s holding your old fixture up. It’s probably just a few small nuts on two protruding screws. After checking again to make sure you don’t have any power to your old fixture, separate the fixture from the wires coming out of your ceiling. I like to remove the black (hot) wire first then move on to the white (neutral) wire and lastly the ground wire. Once your old light fixture is no longer wired into your electrical box you can begin to remove the screws holding your old fixture up in the air.
Here’s where you have to be careful because your existing fixture is probably heavier than you think it is. You may need to hold the chain and wires with one hand while you slowly unscrew the screws of the bracket with the other. Just be careful and try to let your old light fixture down slowly and carefully.
Once your existing fixture is removed, inspect the ceiling box to make sure it’s solid and strong enough to hold your new fixture. For a light fixture you typically need to have an electrical box that’s tied in directly to a stud or you need a heavier brace that can be installed between two studs and provide enough support for a ceiling fan. You can check your local electrical codes or go to your local big box hardware store to see exactly what they recommend. If you don’t have that in your ceiling, then take the time to install the correct electrical box. It will be a lot safer and it will save you the trouble to cleaning up a broken chandelier when it falls out of your ceiling a year from now.
Hanging the New Fixture
When you’re ready to hang the new fixture, you’ll want to check the weight. Anything over 50 pounds may require additional support. An easy way to do this is to connect the chain and globes to your new light fixture and weigh the whole thing with a cheap luggage scale that will tell you how much your light fixture weighs once it’s installed.
Now that you have a weight, you know it’s going to be fairly heavy trying to lift that fixture into the air while you’re attaching three wires and various screws while you’re standing 17 feet in the air on a ladder.
My solution: Remove the light fixture itself from the chain and wires hanging from the ceiling. This means you’ll end up having two installation points: One point 17 feet up in the air where you’ll attach the light bracket, connect the electrical and install the cover over the whole assembly and then at the end of the chain where you’ll connect your heavy light fixture.
You’ll do this by cutting the wire (leaving some extra slack) and opening up the chain at the light fixture itself. This allows you to rest the light fixture on the floor (or in another room or.. Anywhere) while you follow the proper installation instructions and install the light fixture in the ceiling.
Here’s how it will work.
Step 1: Cut the wires about 6 inches above the light fixture. Use pliers or a screwdriver to bend open a single link of chain that’s close to the top of the light fixture. You just have to open this link up enough to slip it off, separating the light fixture from the chain. Leave that “open” link on the end of the chain.
Step 2: Climb up your ladder and install the light fixture bracket to the ceiling box as instructed in your fixture instructions. There are several different types. Connect the wires as instructed with wire nuts, but do NOT turn on the power yet. At this point you have wires and a chain connected to your ceiling, but you don’t have anything at the other end of your chain. You just have some wire ends and chain hanging in your entryway.
Step 3: Lift your heavy light fixture and climb up the ladder. When you get to your open chain link carefully lift your fixture and slip it back onto the end of the chain. Once secure, you’ll want to bend or pry that link closed once again. Your light fixture is now hanging off the chain.
Step 4: Now it’s time to connect the electrical, but these wires might be a little more visible, so I suggest using some wire connectors that you can then either tape over or tuck in at the top of your light fixture.
Step 5: Install bulbs and globes and test our your new chandelier!
I was able to remove our old light fixture and install our new one in little over two hours. I took my time and was especially careful on the ladder. The total cost of my ladder was $82 for a single day’s rental. That’s about one tenth of the price that one local electrician wanted to charge me. The few hours I spent on the ladder were well-spent. I have an extra $700 in my pocket and I have a beautifully lit two-story entryway!