I purchased a home built in 1958 and a few rooms have these square recessed light boxes. I would like to hang a larger diameter modern flush-mount fixture over them, but I'm not sure what the way to do that is. Should I remove the box completely and then mount a ceiling electrical box like this in its place? I'm worried there will be a large hole in the ceiling to have to fill. Thanks!

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  • Depends on the new fixture and the level of hackery you're willing to accommodate. What kind of light did you have in mind, specifically? – Mazura Jul 18 '15 at 19:57
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    Your ONLY option is to remove the old light and install a properly mounted electrical box, patch the ceiling, then mount the light to the new box. – Speedy Petey Jul 18 '15 at 22:50
  • I love your post and hope that you get this note. Do you have any pictures of the finished recessed light project? I want to do it but can't visualize how it looks when the work is done. Thanks! --Mike – user58315 Aug 4 '16 at 14:54

Inside that small access hatch in your picture you will likely find the original wire connections in a small box. Make sure that power is turned OFF either at the switch (tape the switch in the off position and put a note there so nobody turns it on while you are working) or at the circuit breaker/fuse panel. Open the access hatch and disconnect the power to the original bulb holder.

Some surface mount fixtures can be mounted directly over an open electrical box. If this is the case simply leave the access hatch cover off and wire up your new fixture. If not, and your fixture has an integral box for the electrical connection, leave the access cover off and pull the wires out of the original box and make the new connection in the integral box on your new fixture (hopefully the wires are long enough). If you must extend the wires you will have to figure out how to make pigtail connections in the original box and replace the cover (I would use a punch to create a "knock-out" hole in the access cover and feed the pigtails through a strain relief).

  • My code requires EMT. I wonder if this would violate anything, running conductors through an old lamp inclosure. -Strain Relief / Bushings +1 – Mazura Jul 18 '15 at 20:26
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    Fixtures do not have "integral" electrical boxes, they are mounted to them. NO WAY I'd recommend installing a new light fixture over that old recessed light, let alone actually do it. To suggest someone does is quite irresponsible. This also proves a handyman is NOT an electrician. – Speedy Petey Jul 18 '15 at 22:49
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    @Speedy Petey, you are wrong my friend, many a light fixture (and appliance too, for that matter) has a built-in metal enclosure for the electrical termination... I have been selling and installing them for years. Have you ever installed recessed lighting cans? Where is the "electrical box" for those? Hmmm... it is "integrated" into the fixture! Are you a "theoretical electrician", a "practicing electrician", or what? – Jimmy Fix-it Jul 19 '15 at 0:30
  • @JimmyFix-it, I was not referring to another recessed can, I was talking about a flush-mount fixture like the OP is asking about. To answer your question, I am a gynecologist. – Speedy Petey Jul 19 '15 at 0:58
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    110.3(B) Does not say that at all, it states. National Electrical Code 2014 Chapter 1 General Article 110 Requirements for Electrical Installations 110.3 Examination, Identification, Installation, and Use of Equipment. (B) Installation and Use. Listed or labeled equipment shall be installed and used in accordance with any instructions included in the listing or labeling. – WarLoki Jul 19 '15 at 1:49

If that was installed in 1958, the wire may or may not have PVC insulation. If it's the old rubber insulation, it's going to be brittle. Bending the wires could crack and compromise the insulation.

Also, it's virtually guaranteed that there is no ground wire in that fixture. You should check local electrical code to make sure that replacing the fixture doesn't require you to bring the whole circuit up to code with new wire. If it does, code requires a grounding wire everywhere, every metal fixture must be grounded, and you'll have to have a neutral in the switch box.

Personally, I would be looking to pull new wire to that spot, rip and replace the ceiling box, and enjoy the confidence that I didn't create a fire or electrocution hazard. That is unless I could inspect the existing wire and the underlying box without damaging it, and gain an assurance that the existing wire will be safe and will reach appropriately into the new ceiling box. You can't make splices inside walls. If the wires aren't long enough, they have to be spliced in a junction box. (There are devices for splicing NM cable inside walls, but I doubt they're approved for use with 60 year old wire that isn't constructed with modern materials).

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    +1 for comments on old wiring & the associated woes. This is always good to mention to at least make the OP aware. – mjohns Jul 18 '15 at 19:48

The decision as to whether you have to remove and replace the existing light box rests on a number of factors.

  1. The electrical wire hookup to the existing light box appears that it may be under the access lid toward the rear part of the box in your picture. There will be a question as to whether the existing wiring will be long enough to make it to the inside of a new ceiling fixture electrical box.

  2. There may be issues with splicing into the existing wiring and having that dangle into the existing light box for the case where you might choose to leave the existing box in place.

  3. An new surface mount light fixture would have to have a quite large base unit to fully cover the existing light box. If that is achievable with the style of light that you want you could leave the existing box in place. However you would still have to rig up some means for securing a new fixture in place. Fixtures are usually designed to mount to an electrical box directly or to a metal bracket that spans across the electrical box. Any means to mount the fixture to the light box would have to be customized bracket of some sort.

  4. Removing the old light box does involve a ceiling patching job. It the ceiling in the older house is lathe and plaster this could be a lot more work than if the ceiling were constructed of drywall.

  • #3, +1. A 4' florescent would cover it, most other luminaires would need that box removed. – Mazura Jul 18 '15 at 19:11
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    If a fluorescent light were used as suggested by @Mazura, some toggle bolts could be used to attach it to the ceiling without requiring the use of an oddball bracket. This of course depends on the ceiling construction. – mjohns Jul 18 '15 at 19:43
  • @mjohns Ah, I see we've both been there and done that ;) – Mazura Jul 18 '15 at 19:48
  • @Mazura I've always found it to be a juggling act in which I wish I had 3 arms... – mjohns Jul 18 '15 at 19:50

I realize this is old, but I want to share my experience with these fixtures. They make conversion kits, but I couldn't find one large enough to cover the old 14" square fixture. I made my own conversion kit out of a 16" wood circle with a ceiling electrical box mounted in the center. I removed the old socket and hardware from the recessed box. There was enough slack on the electrical wire to run to the new ceiling box. I painted the wood, screwed it to the studs, and installed a standard fixture. This won't work for everyone, but it works for me. Don't be stupid, turn off the electricity.

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    I'd add a bit of FMC (flex pipe, greenfield) to run the fixture wires through to this, but it sounds like a good approach overall for dealing with a "fixture over ex-fixture" situation. – ThreePhaseEel Jan 23 '16 at 21:23

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