How to Remove an Old Ceiling Light Box

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Ceiling light boxes are mounted in a variety of ways. Depending on where the light was installed, the box could be on the ceiling joists, to the side of the ceiling joists or between the joists. Initial installation of a ceiling light box happens during construction and prior to hanging the drywall on the ceiling. Depending on how the old ceiling light box was originally installed, there are several possibilities to remove it. Look inside the light box to determine how it was installed once you remove your light fixture. Turn off the breaker at your main service panel to disconnect the electricity to the circuit before removing any electrical box.

Things You'll Need

  • Phillips or slotted screwdriver
  • Power drill
  • Hammer
  • Pliers
  • Hacksaw
  • Wooden dowel

Attic Access

Go into your attic to identify and remove an old ceiling light box. Both metal and plastic boxes can be mounted to the side of a ceiling joist by driving screws through the bracket permanently attached to the side of the box. Some plastic boxes have nails permanently installed through flanges and nail to the side of the joist. Other ceiling boxes, either plastic or metal, are suspended between the joists from a hanger bar attached to the joist with screws. Boxes can also be mounted with screws through the top of the box and directly into a board attached between the ceiling joists.

Turn the screws counterclockwise using a screwdriver or power drill to remove them from the bracket attached to the ceiling box that holds the box to the joist. Turn the box over to determine how the wires secure to the box. If it is a metal box, look for a single screw metal clamp in the top of the box. Loosen the screw and carefully pull the wires from the box. If the wires insert through a twin-screw clamp connector, loosen the two screws on the clamp and carefully pull the wires from the box. If it is a plastic box, use pliers to grab the plastic tab holding the wires and pull the tab until it snaps from the box.

Pull the nails out of the joist with a hammer that holds a plastic nail-on ceiling box to the joist. Turn the box over and use pliers to grab the plastic tab holding the wires. Pull the tab until it snaps from the box. Carefully pull the wires from the plastic box.

Remove the screws from the ends of a metal hanger bar suspending the ceiling box between the joists. Use a screwdriver or power drill to turn the screws counterclockwise, backing them out of the joists. Turn the box over to determine how the wires secure to the box. A single-screw metal clamp secures the wires to the top of some metal boxes. Turn the screw counterclockwise to loosen the clamp and carefully pull the wires from the box. Loosen the two screws on a twin-screw clamp connector, if the wires are installed through the connector and into the box. Use pliers to break the plastic tab holding the wires inside a plastic box and carefully remove the wires.

Remove a box secured by screws to a board attached between the ceiling joists from inside your room. You cannot access this box from the attic.

No Attic Access

Look inside the old ceiling box to determine how the box is mounted in the ceiling. Look for screws driven through the box and into a board attached between the ceiling joists. If the box does not appear to have anything holding it to the ceiling, the box either is nailed or screwed to the joist through a bracket or flange permanently attached to the side of the box. To determine whether the box is attached to a hanger bar suspended between the joists, look for two large screws placed next to each other in the top of the box or two bolts sticking through the top of the box attached to the box with nuts. These screws or bolts are a part of the U-bolt suspending the box from the bar.

Release the wires from the connectors inside the box before removing the box from the ceiling. Look for a single-screw clamp holding the wires in the top of a metal box. Loosen the screw by turning it counterclockwise with a screwdriver. The wires could be threaded through a twin-screw clamp connector installed in a metal box. A locknut holds the clamp connector to the box. Turn the locknut counterclockwise with pliers to remove it from the connector threads. Break the tabs holding the wires inside a plastic box. Grab the tabs with pliers and pull until they snap from the box. Do not attempt to remove the wires from the box until you pull the box from the ceiling.

Turn the screws counterclockwise with a screwdriver or a drill to remove them from a box attached to a board between the ceiling joists. Pull the box from the ceiling. As you pull the box from the ceiling, carefully remove the electrical wires from the box.

Take out the screws or remove the nuts from the top of the old ceiling box if it is attached to a hanger bar suspended between the joists. As you pull the box from the ceiling, carefully remove the wires from the box. Push the wires aside and insert a hacksaw through the hole in the ceiling. Cut as much of the hanger bar out of the ceiling with a hacksaw, if necessary. You may not need to remove the bar; it depends upon your intentions for the site.

Push the wires aside if the box attaches to the joist by a bracket permanently attached to the side of the box and nailed or screwed to the joist. Insert a large wooden dowel about 12 to 18 inches long into the box. Use a hammer to strike the dowel until you knock the box from the joist. As you pull the box from the ceiling, carefully remove the wires from the box.

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