How to Install Old Work Lights

Posted by John on May 7th, 2014

Our home office remodel is going really well.  We just finished the joint compound work, the ceiling has been primed and painted and just this evening I finished installing the ceiling lights.  I just realized I owe you a complete list of every task we’ve completed and have planned for this space, that way you have a better idea of where we are.  I think I’ll save that status list for next time.

In today’s post, I’m showing you how to install old work lights.


coffered ceiling

If you’re not familiar with the term “old-work,” let me take a minute to explain it.  Old work is a term that describes the type of electrical work being performed or the type of electrical equipment being used.  In addition to “old-work,” there’s also “new-work.”  What’s the difference?  Good question.  New work refers to electrical work that is being performed on a completely unfinished space, like new construction for example.  New work electrical boxes are designed to be nailed right to an exposed stud BEFORE the drywall gets installed.  New work boxes are super easy to install in new work applications.  There are also new work light fixtures that get installed between overhead joists.

Old work on the other hand is for electrical work that is being done in a finished space.  The equipment is designed to be slipped into finished walls and ceilings.  Since you can’t nail an electrical box to a stud if the wall is covered with drywall, an old work box is designed to simply bite onto the drywall.  If you wanted to, you could always knock down the drywall to get access to the studs and then use new work boxes.  Depends on the situation.

In our office, we’re using old work for our overhead lights and receptacles (we had to move two outlets).  The overhead lights are being installed in a portion of the ceiling that’s already been finished.

The process to install the old work lights starts with the wiring and cutting the holes in the drywall for the lights.  I prefer to use 4″ halogen lights for nearly all overhead lighting applications.  Big fan of the smaller look and I love that the lights gimbal so they can be directed around the room.

box tabs

I’ll prepare my light fixture by removing one of the connector tabs from the attached electrical box with a screw driver or pair of pliers.

plastic romex connector

connector in box

Next, I’ll pop in a plastic romex connector to protect the wire from rubbing against the metal box.  You can also use the metal romex connectors.  A connector is absolutely required, otherwise the romex wire could rub against a sharp edge or burr on the box and cause a short.

pull cables into box

With the connector snapped into place, I’ll pull my wire through it until there is a few inches into the box.  Obviously, I have the power off at the breaker.  At this point, I stripped back my outer romex shield and wired the light to the house cable.  I’m not going to show that step, but if you’re interested in learning how to make electrical connections, I suggest you learn from someone in-person.  There are a ton of useful articles online as well as some great YouTube videos on wiring, but nothing beats some live, one-on-one training.

push light into hole

When the wiring is complete, I snap on the box cover and push the light into the hole in the ceiling.  Tabs extend out from the light housing and grab onto the drywall preventing it from falling back out of the hole.  The tabs actually keep the light fairly snug against the ceiling.

light baffle

Last step is to just snap in the halogen bulb and finishing cover.

coffered ceiling lights

The room looks completely different with all four overhead lights illuminated.  Gives the space a whole new feel.

In our next post, I’m going to share with you a new tool I bought to save a TON of time with the ceiling paint.  I love it so much, I’m going to use it on the walls.

Have you ever worked with an old-work electrical device or do you prefer the new-work stuff?

Posted in DIY Projects,Electrical,Lighting. Tagged in ,, ,

Wiring for the Office Lights

Posted by John on March 10th, 2014

In this post, you’ll learn 

– How to use chalk lines to mark for center

– How a compass and a drywall saw are used for ceiling light holes

Late last week, I got a call from our local township that our electrical permit was approved.  Right after I picked it up, I got started.   When I last left off, the coffered ceiling was all framed out.  We decided to go with four lights in the room: three in the center section and one over where the desk will be located.  Let me start by showing you how I marked and cut the locations for the lights, since it’s a fairly useful trick to learn.

Wiring for the Office Lights

The three lights that would be in the coffered ceiling section of the office would be centered in the middle of a few of those ceiling squares.  To make marking the center of the squares easier, I snapped a chalk line from opposing corners.

marking the center

Where the two lines intersected is the center of the box.  Next, I used a compass and drew a circle 4″ in diameter, which is what was required for the lighting fixtures we bought.

can light circle

After the circle was drawn out, I used a hand held drywall saw to cut the hole out.

cutting circle

With all the holes cut out in the ceiling, I proceeded to run some Romex cable in the tracks created by the coffered ceiling I-beams to each hole location.  As required by code, I also stapled the cables to the structure every few feet.  Later on, before the rough-in inspection, I’ll fill in those holes in the framing with fire block foam.

wires run

Just to give you a little more details on the wiring… I used 14-2 sized Romex.  That means it’s 14 gauge wire with 2 conductors.  14 gauge is used for 15 amp circuits and therefore needs to be tied into a 15 amp breaker.  This lighting is going on it’s own circuit, which is created when I add a new breaker in the breaker box.  The breaker box I own is a Square D brand box and the 15 amp breaker I buy needs to be a Square D breaker in order to install properly.  It’s kind of a waste to be adding an entire circuit just for four lights, so I’ll probably tie in additional basement lights into this same circuit whenever we get around to finishing the basement.

As I mentioned, the office will have four lights, with three being controlled by one switch and the fourth light getting its own dedicated switch.  I’m locating those switches in a place where I previously had a switched outlet for the office.  I’m removing the switched outlet setup and just adding these two new switches for the overhead light.

Because I’m adding this coffered ceiling framing, it made running the wires to these lights considerably easier than if I didn’t have the framing.  Without the framing, the wires would need to come up inside the walls and into the joist space.  To pull that wire through, I’d have to cut holes in the drywall and the ceiling in multiple locations.  Overall, it’s be easier NOT to do the coffered ceiling, but since I’m already doing it, the wiring is made easier.

At this point, I’m ready for my rough-in inspection.  Once the inspector passes the work, I’ll be given the go-ahead to start drywalling the bare wood.  He won’t need to come back until the room is completely finished.

This isn’t the first time I used a chalk line to help me with my electrical work.  I also used in when we installed an additional outlet in the dining room.  If you’re interested in how I ran cables, definitely check that post out as it goes into more depth than this post.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this post, please share it. 

Posted in DIY Projects,Electrical,Lighting. Tagged in ,, ,

Outdoor Light Timer

Posted by John on October 21st, 2012

Hey guys!  Hope you’re all doing well.  We had another not so productive weekend, only got a couple small things done.  Small steps though, right?  This week, I’m hoping to get to fix some cancerous rust on my Jeep and maybe get some more work on the garage shoe rack.  Yesterday I installed a light switch timer for our outside garage lights.  We discussed these very lights a few months ago when we replaced the regular filament bulbs with LEDs.LED-garage-lights-1024x682


I bought this outdoor light timer switch from one of the home improvement stores MONTHS ago… maybe even a year ago.  As part of the effort to clean this garage mess up, I finally installed it.  It took about 30 minutes.  If you’ve never done electrical work before, I don’t recommend you start with this one.  It’s not overly difficult, it’s just a little different than most single pole switches or outlets that you may already have in your home.digital-light-timer-1024x682


It’s also a little more difficult to work on boxes that have two switches in it.  The wires can get kinda crowded.  It went in okay though.  No major problems.  The switch cost around $20-$30 and can probably be installed by a licensed electrician for maybe $150 more.light-timer-switch-1024x682



If you haven’t noticed, these switches are programmable.  Once the power was back on at the breaker, I set the time and then entered the schedule for the lights to turn on and off automatically.  No more leaving it on all the time and no more having to go out into the garage and turn it on and off.  The best part about these switches is its added security.  Even if you’re not home, the lights will activate, making it look like you’re home.  Plus, this particular model has a “random” mode that will turn the lights on and off occasionally.  That’s perfect if you’re going to be away for a few days or weeks.  Even though they’re programmed, you can still tap its pad and control it manually.

It’s a small project, but I’m happy to have finally wrapped it up.

Any small projects hanging over your head at the moment?

Posted in Electrical,Garage and Tools,Lighting. Tagged in ,, , ,

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