I took down an old ceiling fan in my home, and replaced it with a basic light fixture.

When I took the fan down, I saw the normal white and black wires, but no ground coming out off the ceiling.

The only ground was a wire screwed to the metal ceiling box and then the other end attached/wrapped up in the white wire's connector cap. In addition to the cap, they were also electrical taped together.

One, does that seem right?

Two, and I guess more importantly, the instructions for the new light fixture said to take the included ground wire from the new fixture and wrap it around the ground screw(which is screwed into the included bracket) and then attach the end to the ceiling box's ground wire.

Well, I cannot use the metal ceiling box that was being used with the ceiling fan. I can only use the bracket, which is currently screwed into place, right into the "hole" in the ceiling.

Everything is installed and up, working fine, but my biggest question is how the ground wire works. Is it supposed to have a shared current going through it from the white wire?

I'm currently using the included ground wire from the base of the light fixture, and that goes up and it's wrapped/attached to the ground screw on the bracket.

That to me doesn't seem like it would help anything at all. Would it? Did I do something wrong?

  • 1
    A photo, age of house and location would help in this case.
    – Bryce
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 4:44

2 Answers 2


It sounds like this is what you're describing...

enter image description here

If this is indeed what you've encountered, you should remove the grounding conductor from the twist-on wire connector used to connect the white wires.

enter image description here

The only place grounded (neutral) conductors and grounding conductors should be bonded (connected), is at the main service disconnect.

If there are no grounding conductors in the house, it's not that big of a concern. As long as the wiring is done properly, you should have no problems at all. If there truly are no grounding conductors in the house, connecting fixture grounding conductors will have no effect. If you're really concerned about the lack of grounding conductors, you can install combination ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breakers in the service panel.

This sentence also has me concerned...

I cannot use the metal ceiling box that was being used with the ceiling fan. I can only use the bracket, which is currently screwed into place, right into the "hole" in the ceiling.

Are you saying that the new light fixture is not installed in an electrical box?

If this is the case, you should correct that issue as well. All electrical connections must be made inside an approved, listed and labeled enclosure.

  • If there is a box (a big and important if as you indicate), why not bond the ground wire to both the mounting bracket and the box? I am not a big fan of mechanical bracket connections serving as electrical connections.
    – bib
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 14:26
  • @bib If there is no grounding conductor in the (possibly nonexistent) box, why bother hooking up the fixture ground at all?
    – Tester101
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 15:02
  • Well, if there is a box, and if it is connected by armored cable, and if the mechanical connections (yucch) of the armored connections are all good, then there might be a usable ground. And if there is not such a connection, why hook the fixture ground to the bracket (as shown in your [as always excellent] illustration)?
    – bib
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 15:06
  • 1
    Your illustrations always make me happy (and a good bit jealous).
    – bib
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 15:23
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    @AnthonyMyers You Must have a box. You might have to install a different size/type box, but a box is required. If there is no grounding conductor leading all the way back to the panel. Then yes, the fixture ground is doing nothing.
    – Tester101
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 17:10

It is incorrect to connect the white wire to any sort of case, metal box, or ground wire. Period.

There is likely no actual ground in this box. The proper thing to do is to connect the fixture's ground wire to the metal box or bracket and be done with it (there may be no actual ground).

You should also consider sealing the the hole to prevent energy loss via airflow.

As is often the case on DIY, a photo would help a lot, as would age of home and jurisdiction.

What is the purpose of a ground? It's a path for electrical current to take, should there be a flaw in the electric fixture. Without a ground, if there is a flaw, the case of the (fan, fixture) can be energized and the next person to touch it can get a shock. Work with your older fixtures only when off, and don't lick your ceiling lamps, and you'll be fine.

There's no need to worry in a retrofit about grounding a ceiling fixture.

  • Thank you! Yea, I do have the fixture's ground wire attached to the metal bracket's ground screw. I just wanted to make sure that was right. I guess I'm confused how exactly that would do anything to help prevent fires, since it isn't connected to the other wires whatsoever. I knew I should of taken pictures. I was in such a hurry. I'm in the northwest, and light was disappearing fast! The house was build in 1955. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 5:00
  • 1
    For a 1955 house it's good to check (or better wrap) any old wires entering metal boxes. Also in the northwest get back up there and air seal: it makes a huge difference. Note that SE etiquette is to upvote then 'accept' an answer, once you are satisfied.
    – Bryce
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 5:30
  • Thank you Bruce, but I was looking for a definite answer that my ground wire supplied with the light fixture really isn't needed, since there isn't a ground coming from the house. I was/am looking for an explanation of how a ground works. What really threw me off was the fact that they had a wire going from the metal ceiling fan box to the white wires. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 16:19
  • Added a "why" to the ground. You don't need the ground wire in your case with that box. Best to connect it to the metal box just so it has a place to go to. No ground is OK.
    – Bryce
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:58

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