This post updated:
This tutorial is a great way of adding an overhead light without the expense or hassle of adding or altering existing wiring inside your walls and ceilings. It’s a perfect solution for renters in old homes- and even a good way to add a charming vintage fixture in a room with existing but harshly colored lighting (i.e. many professional offices where harsh fluorescent lighting is the only overhead light source). When I sold my home and moved to a studio in downtown Seattle’s Belltown district, I even tweaked the method to protect a rental deposit.
Lighting Rooms with No Overhead Electrical Box
In older homes, builders often didn’t install wiring for an overhead light in common spaces like living rooms. It was fashionable at the time to have lamps warmly lighting a living room- but in today’s multi-purpose living room, most people prefer a mix: lamps for setting a mood and overhead light to fully illuminate the room on demand.
Hawk Hill’s living room is of the former persuasion. Stuck with walking around turning on and off multiple lamps, what I really wanted was one switch near the door to control the lights in my living room- and I wasn’t about to open the pandora’s box of having an electrician run new wires through Hawk Hill’s 90-year-old plaster and lathe walls. It took a bit of research and creativity, but I figured out how to have my cake and eat it too- using the quick DIY method described below. Now, when the wall switch is flipped in Hawk Hill’s living room, a chandelier and lamp both switch on and brightly illuminate the room. Thrilled with the results for a few months now, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share the instructions for installing a wireless switch for illuminating your own lair of darkness.
How to Hang a Chandelier in a Room without Ceiling Light Wiring:
- A hanging overhead light (I LOVE Etsy for vintage chandeliers and new-handmade pendant lights in all price ranges)
- Wireless wall switch
- stud finder
- driller ceiling hook (requires only screwdriver for mounting) OR ceiling hook with toggle wings (requires drill for mounting)
- cord cover
Step 1: Choose a light fixture:
I picked a chandelier (of course!) but any light fixture designed to hang should work (i.e. a modified pendant or drum shade style fixture should work).
Step 2. Convert wiring connection
I already have a popular blog post on how to convert a light fixture to a plug-in style lamp, but for optimal safety you’ll want to convert this light fixture a bit differently from that method.
Since you’ll need a long cord to reach from ceiling to outlet, you’ll actually need to splice the wires of the light fixture to the male end of a heavy-duty extension cord. An electrician can help you with this project, or you can check out my illustrated instructions: splicing a hardwired light to an extension cord in this tutorial.
As you can see in the photo below, heat shrink tubes make it easy to splice wiring for a smooth, safe, single cord.
Step 3. Install a Sturdy ceiling hook
You’ll need to install a hook on your ceiling for your new light. Because light fixtures can be heavy and especially dangerous if they fall, it’s very very important that you use a good quality hook and anchor it a ceiling joist or beam. I like this easy install heavy duty ceiling hook.
Ceiling joists are basically just “studs” but in the ceiling- you can a joist just like you would locate a wall stud. Any stud finder or a number of tricks you can find via google should help you locate a joist to install a hook for your light.
If you can’t find a stud or there isn’t a stud where you want your light, ceiling hooks with “toggle wings” should be able to hold any light fixture under 20 lbs if installed properly on a hollow wall, plaster and lathe, or mid-sheet drywall.
Step 4. Hide or Disguise the Cord
Once you have your light rewired and ceiling hook installed, installation can be as simple as just hanging the light fixture, however, I prefer to put some thought into how to mask or cover the cord. With your light hanging from the ceiling, the cord will be very visible. For this project, I chose a Velcro-On Chandelier Cord Cover to make my extension cord a bit less of an eyesore.
Option #2 for hiding the cord: use one of the amazing extension cords disguised as manila rope available from Haddock Industrial.
Also, consider how your cord will be running down your wall to an outlet. Can you conceal it behind molding? Tuck it around a picture frame?
You may wish to paint your extension cord to help it blend in. To easily paint a cord, just place a plastic sandwich bag over your hand, place an old sock over the plastic bag, and then place a few tablespoons of paint in your gloved palm. You can paint an extension cord in moments by pulling the cord through your paint-filled mitt. The exposed section of my cord is painted Wythe Blue to match the walls.
Step 5. Adding & Setting up a Wireless Switch
By step five, you’ll have a ceiling mounted light in your formerly lamp-lit room, but you’ll be limited to turning the new overhead light on and off by plugging it in and unplugging it. To add an easy wall switch, I scoured Amazon and found this gem (which I now have 3 of, around the house!) Westek RFK100LC/RFK101LC Wall Mounted Switch and Plug-in Receiver
This product comes in two parts: a wireless switch (basically, a remote control) that you attach to your wall, and a remotely-controlled outlet which turns the light on or off according to the signal sent by the wireless switch.
Here are a few views of how the setup works in my living room to control two lights. First, the zoomed out view:
Here’s a more detailed view of the setup:
And here’s a panorama of the room without furniture, scrunched up so you can see the entire setup:
I still consider my living room a work in progress (those couches were out the next week! yikes!), but love how it’s coming together. Here are a few work-in-progress shots.
Winter 2019/2020 Update: Using this method for auxiliary lighting
In 2015 I made the big plunge into tiny living, and two chandeliers made it past the “love-inventory” and were packed into my downsized life. Although my studio apartment in downtown Seattle had overhead lighting, it never seemed bright enough to push back the gloom of Seattle winter enough to work on the art, craft, and DIY projects that I love. So I hung a chandelier in my apartment and repeated this method once again, this time with one change: instead of mounting the wireless remote as a light switch, I hung it with velcro-style command strips. This allows me to carry the remote to bed with me on nights I want the room fully lit as I get ready for bed, and turn the light off- without getting up- when I’m ready for bed. This has been such a small luxury- and such a delight to settle into bed with a book by the warm light of a chandelier.
If this tutorial saved you the expense of having an electrician in and out to convert your light fixture, would you consider saying thanks by becoming a $1 sponsor to help keep this website operating?
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