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I have a kitchen light fixture with 3 bulbs. Each bulb has a black and white wire attached. This fixture is on a 3 way switch. I am replacing the current 3 bulb light fixture with an led fixture that only has a black, a white and a ground wire. What do i do with the extra wires coming to the light fixture?

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    The bulb itself has wires or just the sockets? Can you add an image? – Machavity Jan 11 at 14:39
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You either need to remove the excess wires, or you need to terminate them.

You may find that there is a void behind where the wires come out, and that it contains a junction box which turns one pair into three. If you can gain access to the junction box, the best solution is to remove the excess wires.

Alternatively, you need to terminate the wires. The minimum version of that is "wrap the ends in electrical tape" - this is not adequate. What you need, is to put the spare blacks into some sort of connector like wire nut, choc-block, or Wago connectors, and the spare whites into another, and then put the connectors in some sort of enclosure.

If it is not obvious that you should be doing all this with the power turned off, you should probably hire a contractor!

  • Thanks for the quick response. I would definitely use wire nuts to terminate the extra wires. Power is off anytime I do electrical work. – Gary Jan 11 at 15:00
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Connect all the grounds together with a wire nut.

There are a few options on the other wires but the simplest one is to cap each wire as you found it with a wire nut. Keep in mind that all wire ends - either connections to elsewhere or capped - should be inside a junction box. If a box is now exposed because it is not covered by a fixture you need to put on a blank cover plate.

Note that in many cases, you will have one set of wires (hot or switched hot/neutral/ground) per fixture. A track light or chandelier with 3 bulbs will normally have only one set of wires. You disconnect the entire set from the old fixture and connect to the new fixture - i.e., no "extra" wires. You only end up with extra wires if you replace two (or more) devices with one - e.g., replacing 3 truly separate light bulb fixtures that each have their own set of wires with one fixture that (obviously) only needs one set of wires, and in that case you pick one set (from one old fixture) and cap the other wires. Another example (though sometimes more confusing) is with a fan/light combination which will often have two separate hot wires, one for the fan and one for the light. If you replace with light only (or fan only) then you have an extra wire which should be capped.

In any case, if you found wires connected to each other, keep them together. Otherwise you will be back later with "I replaced the kitchen light and now the dining room light doesn't work any more".

  • I think that in the OP's case the blacks and whites are all electrically connected. Therefore there is no need to put each one in a separate wire nut. I suppose you could argue that "terminating each one separately" is good practise, even it is not absolutely needed in this particular case. – Martin Bonner Jan 11 at 14:44
  • Thanks for the quick response. That was the answer I was hoping for. – Gary Jan 11 at 14:58
  • @Gary Welcome to DIY. We thank people by upvoting and marking one answer as accepted. Take the Tour for more info. – manassehkatz Jan 11 at 15:09
  • @Gary except it may be wrong, no offense. See my answer. – Harper Jan 11 at 17:51
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    @Harper - I'll add more to my answer. Your answer is, as usual, quite good. I am working under the assumption (which may be wrong) that the separate black & whites listed were previously separate - i.e., truly for additional bulbs as stated. – manassehkatz Jan 11 at 17:54
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Stop. The wires coming from the ceiling must be left as they are

For some reason, this one drives people crazy. If a lamp takes multiple wires, and people see multiple wires coming from the ceiling to the fixture, they think there's some sort of correspondence. There's not.

Example: If you see 3 white wires coming from the ceiling, and 3 white wires going to the 3 bulbs in the fixture, and they're all clumped together, they are so for a reason. The 3 white wires are not only communicating with the 3 lamp bulbs, but also with each other.

the fact that it's 3 and 3 is pure coincidence. The ceiling-3’s first job is to connect the three ceiling wires with each other. Because those wires have other jobs unrelated to this light. Their second job is to provide the necessary service to the light-3.

So people take apart the wires from the ceiling because they think the ceiling wires are all about the light. After they discover this is wrong, they have the wires all confused and are unable to put them back the way they were. We see this all the time, we had one just yesterday.

Here's what you do

Take photos. Notice that all the black wires from all the lamps goes to one single wire nut. There will be one or more other wires from the ceiling also going into that nut. Whatever you do, those wires from the ceiling need to remain connected to each other.

The same applies to the lamp white wires.

The ceiling wires could be any conceivable color, and may also be the same color as other wires going into other wire nuts. If that offends your OCD, more on that later. Color coding is simply not a thing. The colors are a side-effect of cable manufacture, they must be made different so they can be distinguished on the other end. Real electricians rely on testing, position and grouping to determine which wires are which.

Although in all probability, the white-wire group will be all-white. Don't get too excited about that, it's a special rule for neutrals -neutrals must be white, but white wires are not necessarily neutral.

You may also find other groups of wires nutted together that do not connect to the lamp. Leave those alone. Seriously.

So all the white wires from the new fixture goes into the same bundle of wires that all the white wires from the old fixture went to, and all the other wires in that bundle stay together.

Ditto black.

If you were simply removing the fixture, then the new fixture would have 0 wires obviously, but the bundle of wires in the ceiling that was together before, must still be together. If removing the lamp wire(s) leaves a ceiling wire solo, it is capped. Do not split groups.

With safety grounds, follow the lead of the last fixture. Grounds are always green, yellow/green or bare, except in the old Soviet Bloc. It is the only color code that is reliable.

Marking wires by function

I can't stand seeing 3 black wires in a box each doing different jobs. That's why I own 10 colors of electrical tape. (5 will do). That is why I wrap tape around wires to re-mark wires by their function:

  • black for always-hot (you use that in switch loops)
  • red for switched-hot (this wire invariably feeds a lamp, note that the wires on lamps themselves are black)
  • white for neutral, but you don't have a choice here, since every cable has white, and if neutral is present, Code requires you use white for it.
  • blue for alternate switched-hot, if there's 2 switches involved or if red is in the box for other purposes.
  • yellow (solitary) for third switched-hot.
  • yellow (on a pair of wires) for 3-way travelers.
  • Etc.

This makes boxes make a lot more sense really fast.

Feel free to start your work by following the lamp blacks to their wire nut and marking all wires in that clump with red or blue electrical tape. No need to mark the old lamp's wires obviously.

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