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There are tons of questions about installing and replacing ceiling lights already, and I was looking through them but I didn't feel like checking 106 pages of results to make sure my question isn't a duplicate of another one! So... here we go. :)

I am very illiterate when it comes to electric installations and wiring, but I have a dated flush mounted ceiling light in a hallway I'd like to replace. Today I removed all the parts I dared to, but now I'm not sure where to continue.

First of all, what is all that insulation stuff inside the base of the old fixture? I'm hoping I didn't just expose myself to asbestos...

Second, many of the new fixtures I've looked at are for two bulbs and this one is just for one bulb. Is there any way I can use the existing wiring to install a two-bulb light fixture?

Third, I've seen pictures and read about there being a ceiling bracket that the light connects to. Will that be above this round box? I don't want to go too far and remove everything from the ceiling if it's not necessary.

I haven't bought a new fixture yet, but decided to get this much done for now.

So... what are your opinions on this? Is my goal possible? Do you see anything "scary" about what's there that I should address? enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

  • Buy an LED fixture and be done with it. – Tyson Nov 5 '17 at 2:27
  • It's an old building so I was hoping to get a fixture that echoes the age of the place. I'll probably use LED bulbs. – Tagger Nov 5 '17 at 12:05
  • @Tagger then get an LED fixture that echoes the age of the place :) If you can't imagine that can exist, that is an issue with imagination or where you shop (e.g. Big-box Stores). Try real lighting supply houses. Also get us a measurement of either the diameter of the box, or distance between screws. This looks like a common 4” (trade size) pancake box but might be the dreaded 3-1/2". – Harper Nov 5 '17 at 17:43
  • I measured my pancake box and it is closer to being 3-1/4". But I suppose it could be the 3-1/2" type if you measure a bit beyond the edges. – Tagger Nov 7 '17 at 2:49
  • So what does that mean for me? There are no new fixtures being made for this size pancake box...? :( – Tagger Nov 7 '17 at 2:53
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Nothing too scary about your situation. That is fiberglass insulation. I still would avoid breathing it in. One thing to start with is that light fixtures do not last forever, especially when they used incandescent bulbs. They deal with so much heat that the metal parts start to break down. I recommend that you replace the fixture. That is a pancake box screwed to the ceiling joist. Leave it be. Get rid of everything else except the pancake box and the wires coming through the back of the box. Purchase a new fixture, preferably with LED lights either integrated of bulb style. Follow the instructions with the new fixture for installation. You can do this! P.

  • Oh, I see now. So the piece that I have hanging down was essentially the bracket for the old fixture. But a new bracket may be able to screw to the same holes. – Tagger Nov 5 '17 at 11:59
  • I would say the piece hanging down is the old fixture. Note that the ceiling rose is part of the fixture, and if you buy a house with the fixtures gone, it will look like your second picture, wires dangling. Cut no wire!* That length coming out from the ceiling is precious and irreplaceable. Ther will be splices, typically wire nuts. – Harper Nov 5 '17 at 17:51
  • I have never seen metal fixtures break down in fact I currently own a 1930 home with several original light fixtures. I have seen the lamp sockets fail but this is usually from using a larger wattage lamp than it is rated for. Other than that I give a + – Ed Beal Nov 6 '17 at 0:15
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The mystery material is fiberglass insulation, which was probably part of the old fixture. I suspect it was more about preventing heat damage like blistering paint rather than actual fire prevention. In any case you should discard it with the old fixture and refrain from stuffing insulation into electrical boxes, which I believe is a code violation most places. Other than that you're good to go shopping.

Thankfully all fixtures use the same wiring regardless of the number of bulbs, just like Xmas lights and multi-bulb floor lamps use a single plug. The only caveat is that heavy fixtures such as ceiling fans and chandeliers require boxes rated for the weight. You should be fine with any fixture you like.

Your current fixture is attached directly to the electrical box, which is why you haven't found the mystery bracket. Boxes are a standard size, but not every light fixture can accommodate the screws being there. In that case the fixture is attached to a metal bar that's screwed across the box. If the new fixture needs a mounting plate it'll likely ship with it and instructions.

  • The fiberglass is probably part of the fixture and is probably needed for an incandescent bulb to not set the building on fire. – Harper Nov 5 '17 at 17:41
  • You're right, it does look like part of the fixture. I'll clarify it. – Matthew Gauthier Nov 5 '17 at 23:54
  • So when I get a new fixture, there is no reason to have insulation? But then why did they make this old one with it...? – Tagger Nov 7 '17 at 2:52
  • Incandescent bulbs are very inefficient, most of the energy is converted to heat rather than visible light. The insulation is probably there to prevent things like the heat bubbling the ceiling paint rather than actual fires. I suspect economics are in play as well. Most old fixtures were porcelain, which is a worse conductor of heat than that stamped steel one. – Matthew Gauthier Nov 7 '17 at 4:43
  • Okay, that makes sense. Some of the other fixtures in the place are porcelain, so maybe they fell on hard times when they installed this one. – Tagger Nov 7 '17 at 12:01

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