The basics of installing track lighting

If your existing lighting looks "flat," consider installing track lighting, which can give a room a dynamic flair by spotlighting various areas. Many options are available, including halogen track lighting, which provides bright light from small fixtures.

Track-lighting installation is a very forgiving project. You can attach the track first and install the wiring later if you have easy access to the wiring above the ceiling. Or you can install track lighting in place of an existing light fixture. In either case, the wiring attachments will be hidden by a cover plate.

Typical track-lighting installations can be completed in one day. The installation will probably cost less than $160, but the price will be higher if you hire an electrician.

1.   At the breaker box, shut off the power to any circuit you will be using.

2.   Determine where you want to install your light, and drill pilot holes into the ceiling joists. Attach the track to the ceiling with wood screws. Use toggle bolts if you can't screw into the joists.

3.   For installations where no previous light existed, feed the wire through the ceiling.

Note: You may want to hire a licensed electrician to wire your light.

4.   Use the stud sensor to identify an area between studs in which you can place the light switch. The switch should be at least 2" away from any stud. Use a measuring tape to mark the placement of the switch so that it will be the same height as the other switches in the room.

5.   Use the drywall-mounted electrical box as a template for marking the cutout for the switch. 6.   Drill a pilot hole in the corner of the cutout, and use a long screwdriver to check for obstructions. Finish the cutout with a drywall saw.

7.   From the attic, locate the area above the wall where you intend to mount the light switch. Use a 1 1/2" spade bit to drill into the void behind the wall. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, gloves and a dust mask to avoid irritation from fiberglass insulation.

8.   Feed two pieces of electrical cable into the hole from the attic and out through the hole in the wall.

9.   Strip the sheathing off the ends of both pieces of electrical cable, and strip 1" of insulation from the black and white wires.

10.   Connect one electrical cable to an existing power supply such as an attic light fixture or other nearby power source. Use the circuit tester to make sure the power is off before you handle bare wires. Connect the bare copper wires with a barrel crimp, and use wire nuts to secure the remaining connections, keeping white wires with white wires and black wires with black wires.

Caution: Some switched fixtures may have confusing wiring arrangements. If you're unsure which wires supply constant power, test the circuit, or call a licensed electrician.

11.   Locate the cable for the light fixture, and attach a junction box to a nearby joist. Thread the light-fixture cable and the remaining electrical cable into the junction box, and splice them together with wire nuts and a barrel crimp. Attach a cover to the junction box.

12.   Downstairs, push the other ends of electrical cable through the back of a drywall-mounted electrical box, and secure the box to the wall by tightening the wall-clamp screws.

13.   Strip the sheathing and insulation from the wires. Twist the ground wires together with a 5" piece of ground wire, and secure the connection with a barrel crimp. Connect the white wires together, and secure them with a wire nut.

14.   Attach the black wires to the terminals on a single-pole light switch, and attach the remaining ground wire to the green ground screw on the switch.

15.   Attach the switch to the electrical box, and attach a cover plate. For multiple track lights, consider using a stack switch.

16.   Insert the fixtures into the track so that the three prongs line up properly with the electrical wiring inside the track. Most fixtures simply snap into place.

Note: If you're installing track lighting over an existing fixture, remove the fixture and disconnect the wires. Then mount the track light, connect the wiring, and insert the light fixtures.

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