What You Need To Know About Changing Light Fixtures In Your Rental
Five houses ago, I made a comment about how I really didn’t like the installed light fixture in our “final” rental dining room reveal. And a reader commented: “Why didn’t you change it?” As much as I pride myself for thinking outside-the-box with our rental decor, I was a bit embarrassed that it actually never occurred to me. Now, in all the years (and homes!) since, changing light fixtures is one of my very favorite ways to update and personalize our temporary spaces. If it’s never occurred to you either or you’re too nervous to give it a try, here are some things you should know before swapping out your rental lighting!
The first thing to know…is yes, it IS possible to change out the light fixtures in your rental (most of the time, at least)!
Whether you have the skills to do the hardwiring yourself is a separate issue; but in general, swapping out an ugly or dated light fixture (like our foyer “boob” light below) is very much within the realm of “rental-friendly decorating.”
It’s Totally Temporary
I know many tenants do not want to invest a single penny into their rental homes since it’s not their property. One of the best things about swapping a light fixture is that it can (most often) be 100% un-done.
So whether you simply want to take the light fixture with you to the next home or you didn’t get permission to change it in the first place, you can usually make the swap…and then unmake it…without a trace.
TIP! If you plan on taking your light fixture with you when you move out, be sure to keep the original one safe in storage. We like to hang chandeliers in garages and basements (just on a hook or exposed stud), slide long fixtures under beds, or use the new fixture’s box to hold the old one.
Check With Your Landlord or Lease
Although you CAN swap a light fixture without your property manager or landlord’s permission, I always recommend checking in with them on the issue anyway.
Beyond avoiding a lease violation or risking you security deposit, there’s good reasons to seek consent. Some landlords will install the light fixture for you if you purchase it; while others may have a monthly maintenance contract that could cover installation. We’ve also been in the situation where our landlords liked our selection better and ultimately paid us to leave the light fixture behind.
It’s Cheaper Than You Think
Long gone are the days when hardwired light fixtures were really expensive. You can now buy large, stylish light fixtures at a wide range of price points…many in the $25-$100 range.
We’ve replaced 5 different light fixtures in our current home, each one being less than $80.
There Are Options If You Can’t DIY
You might be totally on board with swapping out your rental light fixtures but find yourself stuck on the actual installation process.
Greg knows how to change a light fixture, so swapping them out is usually nothing more than a 1-hour afternoon project around here. But if you don’t know how, here are a few installation options:
- Ask Around – Ask your family, friends, and neighbors; there’s a good chance there is someone in your life who knows how to hardwire a light.
- Hire a Local Handyman or Electrician – Installing a light fixture is a pretty straight forward and inexpensive house call. They might even be willing to teach you how to do it while they’re there!
- Consult the Internet – There are now lots (and lots) of thorough instructions available online. While I, personally, am too scared to switch a circuit breaker much less mess with electricity, this can be a viable option if you’re handy (and careful!)
- Submit a Maintenance Request – As mentioned above, your landlord or property manager might be willing to install the light fixture for you. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Check the Hookup Before You Buy
Don’t just assume you know what lies beneath the existing fixture (especially if the home is old!) While some fixtures are quite obviously just a single hookup (like a chandelier), vanity lights, fluorescent lights, and other larger fixtures may have several hookup spots. Re-wiring or moving a hookup is a much harder and costlier project, so you want to make sure you buy a new fixture that has the same setup as your existing one.
I took a gamble and ordered this new kitchen island light fixture without checking the existing one. We were lucky to discover the fluorescent light also only had one cable hookup, but I don’t recommend taking the chance!
Confirm the Hookup Location
Likewise, don’t just assume the hookup is perfectly centered under the existing light fittings. Light fixtures with wide or long base plates can accommodate hookups that are off center or in a strange location.
We made the mistake of picking a new vanity light fixture with a small, round wall attachment for our downstairs powder room. After we removed the existing (wide) vanity light, we learned the hookup was actually off to the side, not centered over the mirror at all.
We then had to pick a different light fixture (with a really wide base plate) to cover the existing hookup location. We could have saved the time, money, and hassle had we checked underneath before shopping.
Prepare For Patch Work
If you are hoping to change a flush-mount light fixture (like the dreaded “boob” light or a florescent fixture), keep in mind that it has potentially been in place for a long time. As such, when you remove it, you will likely encounter paint lines, substantial fading, hardware holes, and even dust and grime where the original fixture made contact with the ceiling/wall.
If you are putting up a new light fixture that is the same size and shape as the original, you likely don’t need worry about these imperfections.
But if you’re dramatically changing the size and shape of the fixture, be prepared to do some patch work including sanding paint lines, filling holes, and/or re-painting any discoloration. This can be frustrating, tedious, and difficult work, especially if you can’t match paint colors and have to re-paint the entire wall/ceiling.
When we removed the existing fluorescent panel light from our kitchen to replace it with a fixture that had a (much) smaller hookup, we had quite the mess to clean up.
It took me months to finally patch, sand, and re-paint the newly exposed area and erase any trace of the preexisting fixture.
New Lights Can Totally Transform a Room
Changing a light fixture may feel like work and an expense that you really don’t need to take on, especially if you have to un-do it or eventually move away. But I’m here to tell you that swapping your rental light fixtures can make a big impact!
Light fixtures are like jewelry to an outfit. They certainly aren’t necessary, but they are essential in helping an entire room feel cohensive and complete. Even with the most modern and updated of furnishings, dated light fixtures will always distract and detract from a room’s overall style and design.
But swapping a light fixture is about more than just looks; it’s also about changing the feel of a room thanks to the illumination a particular fixture gives off (or doesn’t).
We’ve now replaced several fluorescent light fixtures (that flicker as they turn on and cast a really unattractive yellow hue across the room) with brighter, whiter fixtures/bulbs. The resulting rooms are now brighter, fresher, and more pleasant to be in.
Quite simply: improving the quality of lighting in a room can completely transform the experience of being in it.
Our Rental Home’s Light Fixtures
I’ve worked hard to swap all the dated, ugly brass light fixtures in our current rental property with more modern ones that still work with the traditional style of the house, look cohesive, and are budget-friendly. Below are the fixtures and light bulbs we’ve installed (and really love!) so far:
More Rental Lighting Solutions
Looking for more budget-friendly, totally-temporary options for enhancing your rental lighting? Be sure to check out my other ideas:
- Stylish Plug-In Light Fixtures Ideal for Renters
- Renter Friendly Wall Sconces (Without Hard Wiring or Puck Lights!)
To date, we’ve swapped 5 light fixtures in our current home (the main common areas), and I’m hoping to update the remaining 6 before we move out (3 bathrooms, 2 hallways, and my office) so that the fixtures and finishes are consistent throughout the entire home (yep, they’ve made that big of a difference that it’s worth it to me!)
While you may not have the time, budget, or interest in swapping all the lights in your rental home or apartment, even swapping just one or two focal fixtures can truly help you love your space more. I hope this post finally gives you the courage and confidence to go for it!