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How to Install Surface-mounted Downlights

Ask This Old House master electrician Scott Caron helps a homeowner improve his living room with surface-mounted downlights


  1. Find the necessary breaker on the main electrical panel and turn off the power.
  2. Using a screwdriver, remove current light fixtures, unscrewing the wire nuts to the connections.
  3. Tie in the recessed light plate to the recessed electrical box, using screws and a screwdriver.
  4. Connect fixture wires to corresponding power wires. Splice the wires together using pliers and cover with wire nuts.
  5. Snap in and twist the surface-mounted downlight to the recessed light plate.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 as necessary, depending on the number of lights.
  7. Surface-mounted downlights can be controlled using a dimmer if the homeowner chooses.
  8. To install a dimmer, remove the current light switch by unscrewing the faceplate with a screwdriver. Remove the electrical connections with a screwdriver.
  9. Reconnect the electrical wires to the new dimmer switch and screw the switch plate on using a screwdriver.
  10. If using a wireless dimmer system, mount the remote-control dimmer to the wall. If there is an existing three-way switch system, remove the second switch. Place wire nuts on the wiring and tuck them away in the wall. Install the wireless remote in place of the existing switch.
  11. Turn the necessary breaker back on at the main electrical panel to turn the power back on.