Antique light fixtures can be the finishing touch that really takes your old-house restoration to the next level. However, many antique fixtures are not suitable for current electrical codes. In houses from the 19th century, fixtures may have relied on candles or gas lamps. Turn-of-the-century homes may have had the very first electrical fixtures, but without insulated wiring as part of the old knob-and-tube home electrical systems. These lights do not need to be retired for brand-new fixtures; they can be updated, preserving the initial character of your home without preserving the hazards.
Flip the switch on your main electrical panel to cut the flow of electricity to your lighting fixture. If your fixture has lamps or shades, remove them and set them aside. This can sometimes be tricky in older features, and the fixtures may have older screws or fused bases that are difficult to work with, especially if the fixture had gas lamps or candles instead of lightbulbs. Remove the light from the ceiling by taking out the mounting screws. Be careful not to disturb existing ceiling medallions if your house has them.
Disconnect the wires in the fixture from the wires in the ceiling. For fixtures that don't have wires, simply remove the fixture so you can start "surgery." Lay the fixture down. If it is delicate, use a towel or soft blanket to cushion the fixture as you work on it.
For fixtures with old wiring and light sockets, carefully remove the old wires from the light socket's connections. If the sockets are old, it's a good idea to replace them. You can find replacement sockets in any hardware supply store. Be sure to bring your old sockets with with you when shopping for new sockets because they come in different sizes, and you'll need to make sure they fit. Sometimes, wiring is threaded through old tubes that used to hold gas lines—a sign that an antique light was rewired previously. Either way, remove all old wires.
It's now time to rewire the sockets. Wrap the replacement wire carefully around the socket screws. When replacing gas lamps or candles on older fixtures, be sure you have a place to carefully secure and insulate. Choosing the right type of wire is important. You need to make sure that the main cord that connects your lamp to the ceiling matches the watts of all the smaller cords combined. For example, if you use a 500-watt cord and have 10 sockets, each socket should be wired with a 50-watt cord and only use bulbs that are 50 watts or fewer. After wiring the sockets screws, tighten the screws and thread the wires through the fixture so they gather at the top where they will connect to the main cord. Set the sockets in their housings.
All the small wires must now be connected to the main wire. Begin by stripping the ends of each wire to reveal the copper core. Then, twist the ends of the wires together with the end of the main cord. After you have ensured a good connection, insulate this connection with a wire connector; be sure that no stray ends of wire are left behind.
It's now time to connect your fixture to your main power supply. It's important to make sure that your fixture is not hanging by the power cord, so make sure the cord is longer than the supporting chain. After reconnecting to the supply and insulating the connection with another connector, replace the shades or lamp covers and install bulbs. Test your lightbulbs before reattaching the light firmly to the ceiling, just to save yourself some work in case you have a dead connection that needs fixed. Once you're sure everything is working, finish the job by putting in the original screws.
If this job seems too complex, contact an electrician in your area who has experience in refurbishing old light fixtures. You can find electricians in your area by visiting sites such as http://lowryservices.com.