I'm a big time novice but determined not to hire an electrician for what is probably a simple job. This is embarrassing, I think. Here is an exposed light fixture that I have in my attic exposed lamp

I want to install this simple Ikea lamp, but I'm dumbfounded by what is expected from me.

enter image description here

I guess I need to remove the black thing in which the light bulb currently is screwed and plug insert those wires into this contraption. Am I at risk for being electrocuted? Also: Am I correct that it doesn't matter in which hole I put the blue or black wire?

enter image description here

  • 6
    Dang if those aren't some of the most confounding instructional diagrams I've seen in a while. No shame for asking this question. I've hung a lamp or ten myself and it would still take me quite a while to parse that one out. May 5 '16 at 11:25
  • 3
    Yeah - IKEA's famous for its wacko diagrams. Comics all over the web mock them. May 5 '16 at 14:17

I want to install this simple Ikea lamp, but I'm dumbfounded by what is expected from me.

Yeah, I can see why you might be.

Honestly, I understand the original reason for picture-only instructions (they save money and paper when you're selling the same product in many countries with different languages), and I even understand that they've become a part of IKEA's brand identity. But surely it wouldn't kill their budget (or their marketing) to occasionally splurge a bit and indulge in a couple of words on their manuals, especially when said manuals deal with electrical safety. The Sumerians invented writing 5000 years ago for a reason, and the reason is that, sometimes, there are some things that you just can't express clearly and easily by drawing cartoons on clay (or on paper).

Still, being kind of used to deciphering these kinds of instructions, let me decode this picture puzzle for you, and provide the "missing captions" that the instructions should've included. For clarity, I'll do this panel by panel, and highlight each panel above its explanation:

Panel 1

Panel 1

You can attach this light fitting either directly to wires coming from a hole in the ceiling (as in your case), or using a cord that runs along the ceiling surface (e.g. if you want to install it at a spot where there isn't a convenient access hole available).

In the former case, follow the instructions on this page; in the latter case, follow the instructions on the next page instead. (That's what the little arrow and the page-flip icon are supposed to mean. That's probably the most confusing part about the instructions right here.)

Panel 2 (left page = direct attachment)

(Since you're attaching the lamp directly to wires coming from the ceiling, these are the instructions you should follow.)

Panel 2, left page

You will need a mounting hook in the ceiling to hang the lamp from. Do not just hang it from the wires! If you need to install your own hook, make sure it's solidly attached (e.g. drilled into a support beam, not just into a flimsy fiberboard sheet) and will bear the weight of the lamp.

(In your case, you might be able to attach a suitable hook to the existing mounting bracket, but it's probably better to remove it and replace it with a hook that attaches directly to the ceiling.)

The picture shows the correct hole to use to hang the lamp from the hook. Do not use the other holes; they may not properly bear the weight of the lamp!

Panel 3 (left page = direct attachment)

Panel 3 (left page)

You will then need to attach the wires to the connector block. While the instructions don't actually mention it (at least not on this page), you should obviously turn off power to the fixture first, preferably at the main circuit panel, and verify this with a voltage tester. Also make sure that nobody can accidentally turn the power back on while you're working on the light.

Another thing the instructions don't explicitly mention is that, in your case, you'll first need to remove the existing "sugar cube" screw connector along with the currently installed lamp, leaving just the wires (black and brown in your photo) coming out of the ceiling.

To attach the wires to the connector, press the rocker switch on the connector, insert the bare end of the wire into the hole, and release the switch. You may want to give the wire a gentle tug to check that it stays in. Then repeat this for the other wire. (That's what the "2x" presumably means.)

The actual electrical work should be done at that point. You are then instructed to flip to page 13, but since you haven't shown us a scan of that page, I can't tell what it's supposed to say. (If it's anything like these assembly instructions I found for another version of the same lamp, it's probably about assembling the lampshade.)

Note: In the IKEA instructions, the black wire (shown going into the upper hole in the connector) is the live one, and the white wire (going into the lower hole) is the neutral, as shown e.g. on page 4 of the PDF manual I linked above. You can consult e.g. the Wikipedia page linked by RedGrittyBrick to find out which color means live and which means neutral in your part of the world. The lamp will work even if the wires are swapped, but doing so can make it slightly easier to get shocked if you accidentally touch the inside of the bulb socket while changing the light bulb, so getting them the right way around is recommended.

Incidentally, looking at your photo, and the various color combinations listed on Wikipedia, I suspect that 1) you're living in Australia or New Zealand, 2) the brown wire is the live one, and 3) your current bare bulb socket is wired the wrong way around. That's just a guess, though.

For completeness, let me also briefly annotate the alternative installation steps shown on the right-hand page:

Panel 2 (right page = indirect attachment)

Panel 2 (right page)

If you want to attach the lamp to a surface-mounted power cord, you'll first need to cut a notch for the cord in the plastic cone thingy. (I have no idea what the proper name for that thing is.) Otherwise it won't sit flush with the ceiling, and will look ugly.

Panel 3 (right page = indirect attachment)

Panel 3 (right panel)

As before, you will need to hang the lamp from a hook in the ceiling. Make sure to use the correct hole for the hook.

Panel 4 (right page = indirect attachment)

Panel 4 (right panel)

To make sure that the power cord doesn't get accidentally torn off from the connector block, thread it through the two holes on the connector assembly as shown in the picture. (That's what they're for; you're not supposed to hang the lamp from the hook using them.) Then insert the bare ends of the live and neutral wires into the connector, as shown on the previous page.

  • You're amazing. What else can I say? Thanks a million
    – Teusz
    May 5 '16 at 19:37
  • @Ilmari Karonen: curious what tool you used for the graphics that highlight areas of an image. I know tools like Photoshop make it possible but did you use a tool specifically made for that? If not, I'm impressed you spent the time.
    – DaveBurns
    May 10 '16 at 18:22
  • @DaveBurns It's pretty trivial to do in any paint program that supports layers. I used Paint.NET (freeware) for this one, but GIMP (free software) or Photoshop (not free) would do just as well. Just make a new layer, set its blend mode to "multiply", draw a red rectangle and fill its outside with gray. May 10 '16 at 19:31

I'm a big time movie

Ask your best boy to handle this. ☺

I'm dumbfounded by what is expected from me.

The light fitting apparently requires a hook in the ceiling.

enter image description here

Am I at risk for being electrocuted?

Yes. ⚡

  • Go to your main panel and turn off power to the light circuit.
  • Test that power is off. Use a Cat-II (or better) rated test device.
  • Test that your test process produces a correct result on a live circuit.
  • Be cautious.

Am I correct that it doesn't matter in which hole I put the blue or black wire?

In general, simple AC lamps will work either way around.

However it is safer, especially for pendant fittings, to use the appropriate colour for live. If you switch wires at the top of the pendant cord, you may fatally confuse someone subsequently working at the bottom of the pendant cord. This is a small risk but since it is easy to do the safer thing, you should.

For wiring colours see Wikipedia, they vary from country to country and change over time.

  • 2
    +1 for thinking internationally, suggesting best practices, and decent jokes 😊 only suggestion might be to expand on your second bullet point, maybe with a link to an example of the sort of test device you're referring to? May 5 '16 at 11:28
  • I don't think you want a ceiling "hook." The plastic plate , whose loops are for strain relief, should attach to a standard metal cross-bar that mounts to the junction box. May 5 '16 at 14:20
  • 2
    isn't it sufficient to turn the existing light on, then off, then turn off the power in the main panel, then assert that turning the light back on has no effect?
    – njzk2
    May 5 '16 at 14:40
  • 1
    @njzk2 What if the bulb chose to fail at that exact moment? May 5 '16 at 15:17
  • 5
    I moved the notes about testing into a separate question and answer because: 1) it is too long. 2) it might be of more general interest. 3) Other people can also more easily write general answers on that specific topic. @kenbellows May 5 '16 at 17:24

It is a simple job, however electricity is nothing to mess around with. If you don't do things right you could die, cause a fire, or damage things to the point you need to spend a lot of money on repairs. In some places in the world it's actually illegal for you to do it, so you'd want to check on your local laws.

That being said if you take the right precautions and have the right tools there's no reason you can't give it a shot. The first thing you need to do is turn the circuit breaker for that lighting loop off so you can safely work on it. These are hopefully labelled but if not you can do it by process of elimination - You turn the light on and switch the breakers off one after another and check the light after each one. If the light goes off when you turn the breaker off then that's the breaker that controls the supply to the light. Even if it's labelled verify that the labeling is correct! Do not trust that someone else has done the job right as your life depends on it. If you cannot be sure which breaker controls the supply to the light then get a professional in. Keeping the switch off at the wall is not sufficient for safety.

Tool-wise you need a small bladed flat head screwdriver to disconnect the electrical wires from the old fixture, plus whatever tools you need to get rid of whatever's holding it up. You will also need the tools to fix the new fixture to the ceiling, it's hard to say from the picture how that will work. The electrical wires just push into the new fixture so you won't need tools for that.

Take come close up pics of the existing setup before you start so you can refer to them, and restore the original setup if you need to later.

If you look at the picture you sent of your existing setup you can see 4 colored wires going into a white square thing called a terminal block, aka chocolate block. It looks like a setup you'd find in the UK or Europe. The purpose of the terminal block is to join the wires coming from the electrical supply to the wires of the light. To do this job you would (after shutting off the breaker) loosen the screws holding the 2 wires going to the electrical supply and pull them out. Try to keep them from touching or you could trip your house's protection system (if you have one) and the whole house goes dark. Once you have the old fixture disconnected you will then need to get if off the ceiling.

Now that the old fixture is gone you need to get the new one on. I'd work out how to get it attached to the ceiling first before you connect it electrically, it's much easier to connect it to the electricity if you don't have to hold the fixture at the same time usually. Once it's attached you then are ready to connect the electricity, which is very simple. If your electrical wiring is UK standard then the red wire is the live wire and the black is the neutral wire. Ikea usually label their fixtures L for live and N for neutral. There's no ground wire to connect as it's a plastic fixture. All you do is push the red wire into L and the black into the N on the fixture as per the instructions. If the wire is stranded (ie it's made up of lots of little wires instead of one solid wire) make sure there's no stray wires touching between the red and black.

Once you have this done it's time to test. Turn the switch off at the wall, install a bulb in the fixture, then turn the circuit breaker back on. If it turns off immediately then something has gone wrong, most likely you have your red and black wires touching somewhere or a faulty fixture. If this happens keep the breaker off and then go back and triple check your work and fix any issues. If the breaker stays on then go up and turn the switch on at the wall and (hopefully) see your hard work rewarded when the light turns on. If it works then you can go back and turn the breaker off then you can put the fixture up completely, put the cover on, pretty it up, etc.

If things don't go right then it's very simple to back out. Make sure the breaker is off and then put the old fixture back by pushing the red and black wires into the correct parts of the terminal block (use the picture you took before) and then screwing them back down. Again make sure any stranded wires do not touch from red to black before turning the breaker back on and testing.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.