I am hoping to replace a vanity light in my bathroom over my sink and I have already gone ahead and ordered a light fixture. However, I realized I may have made a mistake in choosing the new one...

The current light is a cheap, small fluorescent fixture with a built-in switch. It is not connected to a wall switch. The new light does not have a built-in switch. So now I'm concerned that the new light will simply be on permanently with no way to turn it off. This is an apartment I rent, so I can't really tear the wall apart to do rewiring.

Interestingly, though the current light functions independently, sometimes it doesn't turn on until I flick the room lights. Then it immediately comes to life! So it must be connected to the light switch somehow even though that switch doesn't control it otherwise.

So I guess this is really two questions in one.

First: What are my options of replacing an "independent" light with a "dependent" one? I read somewhere that there is a switch you can add to a fixture to use it independently, but I'm not sure how that works.

Second: Should I be concerned about the wiring, if I sometimes have to jumpstart the vanity light by flicking the room switch?


Oh! Also, the current fixture isn't even rated for damp areas and this bathroom had no exhaust, so it's a hazard as is.

  • 1
    Depending on the fixture it may be possible to add a switch to it.
    – Tyson
    Sep 15, 2018 at 1:53
  • What kind of fixtures can have a switch added?
    – Tagger
    Sep 15, 2018 at 13:43

2 Answers 2


Replacing an onboard-switch light with a no-switch light will result in the light burning 24x7. You cannot fix that. It is illegal to modify lamps (NEC 110.3).

You're a tenant, so you cannot decide to replace the light. You cannot alter the building: it does not belong to you. The most you may do is identify a light you like, and ask the landlord if it's OK to upgrade it, and then work out division of cost of purchase and installation.

Self-install is out of the question unless a) the landlord explicitly agrees to it, and b) local laws have a "minor repair" waiver that would permit this work to be done by a non-electrician. Needless to say, if there is a pre-existing condition which creates a code or safety problem, or if you botch the job, you are all-in for the cost until the job is done right - either now or at move-out. That seems risky.

There's what you can't do, and there's what you must do.

Light bulbs are consumables, and in a rental unit, you the tenant are required to replace them as they burn out! Fluorescent tubes and starters count. The poor performance of the fluorescent fixture is probably worn out tubes -- Every start, they get slightly more resistant to start, until the starter cannot start them anymore by itself - for a short time longer, they'll work with some sort of little extra "kick". Dark bands on the ends of the tubes are the surest sign of bad tubes. The good news is tube makers have not been idle; they're in a race with LED for best quality light and they're winning. Any tube sold today is 80 CRI; aim for 90 or 95. Looking at the tube, it'll look the same -- but when you look at the stuff in the room that the bulb is illuminating, it'll look fantastic.

It's also possible if the fluorescent has a starter, that the starter is worn out. You can wear it out by leaving it switched on; it will retry starting the tubes 120 times a second. Since it easily unscrews, it counts like a light bulb and it's in your bailiwick to replace it.

There's a small possibility the problem is a fluorescent ballast, especially if it hums, and the timbre of its humming has changed recently. You are not allowed to change ballasts; the landlord is responsible to maintain that part of the fixture. That is the time to sell him on the LED idea (which is a good one).

One more thing. I do not know what possessed you to go off and buy a house part. Plainly a silly thing to do. Wanting to do your own work on your tenant unit is a plain case of "HGTV Fever", you want to own a house, but you don't. Well, STOP No half measures. No kicking tires at Home Depot. No watching home improvement channels (or forums). Go straight to a fee-only financial planner and have an earnest, open-minded, "willing to consider new ideas" and "willing to let go of habits and patterns of belief", soul-searching talk about how to make home ownership a financial reality to you.

  • I have never watched HGTV so I don't have HGTV fever... I'm an aesthetic person at heart and my bathroom light is ugly. My land lady has given me permission to make any changes I want to the apartment as long as it's an improvement. It's her way of keeping me here for a long time, but I have refused to let her compensate me for the thing I plan to take with me when I leave. I am definitely allowed to change a light fixture. I have kept all the old things I replaced to put them back in when I move out. And if I can't use them in my own future home, I'll sell them.
    – Tagger
    Sep 15, 2018 at 13:27
  • Thanks for the thoughts about why flicking the light works sometimes and also what to look for in new bulbs!
    – Tagger
    Sep 15, 2018 at 13:41

Flicking the overhead light might give a voltage transient which starts the fluorescent light. The most you should do in a rental apartment would be to change the bulb. If this is a compact fluorescent with a screw base (and the fixture does not have a build in ballast), you could replace the the fluorescent bulb with an LED. Otherwise ask the management to put in a new fluorescent bulb or you do it. In my youth I got in trouble by messing with fixtures in a rental apartment.

If you are sure that the light is not controlled by a wall switch, I advise you to return the light fixture which has no switch. There is no good way to add a switch. If you want to change the fixture, get the apartment management to install one of the ceramic bases which has a pull chain. Put an LED bulb in it.

EDIT The fact that your landlord encourages you to make repairs changes my opinion of your changing the fixture. Until you get one though I would change the bulb.

I presume you have access to the breakers to shut off the breaker to this circuit. Now you can shop for a fixture which will have a switch. Is this mounted high so that a pull chain is needed or can you reach it so that a mounted switch would work?

  • I have a very unique situation in which my land lady actually encourages me to make changes to the apartment. It needed a lot of work when I moved in... I have already replaced a light in a hallway with no problems (thanks to StackExchange!). The light I bought ended up never being sent to me anyway, due to confusion over the listing online. They had it posted for the wrong price. So I guess I'll look for something with a built in switch instead. As I said, the current fixture is a safety hazard since it isn't up to code for a damp environment.
    – Tagger
    Sep 15, 2018 at 13:38
  • Yes, I do have access to the breakers, so I can shut it off for now. I really don't see much out there that has a switch or pull chain aside from the 1950's style glass globe type which wasn't quite what I had in mind... What I wanted was something that is more of a light bar like this fixture: ebay.com/itm/… Maybe I just have to be patient for something to come up. Oh! And a switch on the light would be easily within reach, if that's what you mean.
    – Tagger
    Sep 15, 2018 at 17:53
  • 1
    Would one of the round ceramic bases with pull chain work in the location and be acceptable in appearance. Personally I like the austere retro look, but not everyone does. Sep 15, 2018 at 17:57
  • That's the kind that doesn't really appeal to me. The apartment had sort of a mixed 50's and 70's feel when I moved in, so I've been trying to transition it to something more... Transitional. :) So a retro look is fine, but I was hoping for something not so authentic as to look like nothing was changed, if that make sense. I still want it to seem updated. The apartment actually has sort of a vague Tudor style to it and the building was built in the 1850's, so I'm trying to give a nod to its rich history...
    – Tagger
    Sep 15, 2018 at 18:02
  • So I guess this would be for a whole new question, but how difficult would it be to buy a fixture without a switch and add one to the base (obviously I'd have to cut an opening and buy a switch). Would it require a lot of rewiring or is it something fairly simple to do?
    – Tagger
    Sep 15, 2018 at 18:10

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