Replacing an Outdoor Light Fixture

12 08 2011

Okay, so remember back in February I mentioned that I’d picked up a new light fixture for outside my front door?

Well, I finally installed it! I know, only about six months after I bought it!

There are two reasons for the delay – one, I had it in my head that it would take a long time to install it and two, around that time, I got a copy of the HOA rules, which said that the front of our condos (each building has two units) have to look the same. My neighbors have a white outdoor light.

But mine is prettier!

So anyway, I waited until they were away on vacation – brilliant, I thought.

And the install would have been a breeze were it not for two things, which I’ll get to.

So here’s the before:

It’s not so bad – It just wasn’t what I wanted! Plus, it turned out to be a good thing I removed it.

So I started as I always do with electrical projects – by turning the electricity off.  If you’re going to be working with something like an outdoor light fixture that you can turn on, it’s great to turn it on before you turn off the power. That way, you know definitely when you’ve shut the power off (in addition to testing the wires).

It was tough to undo the fixture because the screws and caps holding it to the mounting plate had rusted.  I ended up using pliers to painstakingly remove them.  As I was working on the fixture, I heard a buzzing.

I didn’t think it was the electricity, since I’d turned it off.  But I suspected I knew what it was.

Any guesses?

That’s right…a mud wasp!

I knew there was one or two around, because we’d started to notice some tunnels in the brick facade – gotta work on closing those up – but I’d never seen  or heard it.  My original plan was to leave the old fixture connected and disconnect and re-connect the wires one at a time.  But when I saw the mud wasp next, and in fact, the mud wasp itself, I decided I had to go with full removal first.

But I really hate bees and wasps. Hate ’em. And this was a pretty big sucker (not quite as big as the spider they retrieved from the bathroom at the physical therapists’ this morning, but big).

He was sitting underneath the outlet when he realized I’d pulled his home out. Can you see him?

How about now? Look right in the middle.

I’m getting the chills just thinking about it.  Though in fairness, mud wasps don’t sting – unless you really provoke them.  I was really provoking him though, and I just don’t like bugs.

Anyway, this is the point at which the neighbors in the cul de sac must have thought I’d lost my mind. I mean, they don’t know I’ve been working on electrical stuff inside for months, so when I brought my step stool and the light out, they must have been thinking, “oh dear, how’s this going to go?”  And then once the wasp discovery was made, I headed straight inside for some gloves – my work gloves were in the shed, and Barney was outside. Although I generally don’t mind disturbing him, during the summer he thinks anytime I’m outside it’s time for fetch, so I decided to go with rubber gloves, which I had inside instead.

My rubber gloves are awesome – they were a gift.  They’re elbow length black rubber gloves….with red and white polka dot ruffles on them. Seriously.

Picture this – I’m outside, working on electrical wiring, wearing elbow length ruffled rubber gloves.  Classic.

At any rate, I kept the gloves on as I poked around at the wasp and he eventually flew away.  I was hoping to get rid of him entirely (Don’t call PETA on me) because I know he’s just going to do more damage to the house, but he was too speedy.  So I let it go.  He didn’t, because he kept coming back to buzz me periodically, but his home was a goner.  I disconnected all the wiring and got a separate garbage bag just for the old fixture. *shudder*

Then, I poked around and removed any of the mud tunnels that he’d started inside the box (I should probably call it a “she” since I understand they’re the ones that stay with the tunnels).  Once that was done, I sealed up the hole underneath the box with clear silicone.

You’ll see I’d already removed and put in the new bracket.

Since I was actually reading the instructions for the new fixture, I saw that I was supposed to strip the wires of additional tubing to expose more of the wires, which I did – the above is the before.  The next step is to attach the copper wire to the ground wire, the white wire to the white wire and the black wire to the black wire – fairly simple, right?

Easy-peasy lemon squeezy.

I then screwed the fixture on to the mounting plate, and had the brilliant idea to check that it worked before sealing it with silicone.

It didn’t.

I turned the power on and off, turned the switch on and off, checked each of the wires four times, stripped more of the tubing off and re-wired, checked the lightbulb and thought I was going crazy.  I mean, this was a SIMPLE wiring diagram! I’ve done much harder wiring with the three and four-way switches in my hallway! What was wrong?!?!

I was getting ready to send my dad a photo of the wiring or call an electrician when I looked at the fixture one more time.  And then I remembered.

When I bought the fixture in February, I bought a screw in extra that would turn the light on only after dark.

And of course, I wasn’t wiring this in the dark. So the fixture WAS working – just my brain wasn’t.  So I removed the extra screw-in and tried the fixture again. Hallelujah! It worked.

So much prettier, right?

It really does work – I’m not just sayin’!

So the front entryway is looking much nicer. And I did screw back in the extra to get the light to come on in darkness and that works too! I leave it off most of the time to cut down on electricity, but it will be a good security feature when I’m away!

I should also mention that once the fixture was in place, I secured it with clear silicone (for outdoor use) – the instructions note to seal only the top and sides to allow water to drain out.  I thought the last person who installed the other fixture was just being lazy! But I did seal up all three sides very well, so hopefully that will keep out the mud wasp!

And so far, nothing from the neighbors – of course, I haven’t actually talked to them since they got back from their trip yesterday, but I’m hoping they just don’t notice the new light. It kind of blends in when it’s off!

Of course, I now want to replace the fixture out back…



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