Removing Old Recessed Lighting Cans

What is your most disliked aspect of new home improvement projects? One of ours pertains to the concern of disposing of what currently exists. One area where this is particularly apparent is with regards to lighting. Often, when you desire to install a new light fixture, an outdated one obstructs your path. This holds true for recessed lighting, just as it does for any other type of light fixture. However, we have discovered the optimal approach for removing old recessed lighting cans, allowing for a smoother process!

The process of removing recessed lighting cans is quite simple. However, it may slightly vary depending on the type of housing and attachment method used for the fixtures being removed. Regardless, there are several steps to be followed in order to efficiently complete the task:

  • Prepare for the removal of the old cans.
  • Take the trim out.
  • Eliminate the cans.
  • Safely deal with the wiring.
  • Decide what to do regarding the hole.
  • It is crucial to thoroughly understand how to carry out this project. If you choose to undertake it yourself, ensuring your safety must be your top priority. Moreover, having a comprehensive understanding of what is involved in a project of this nature can assist you in determining whether you should hire a professional for the job. Familiarizing yourself with the process will also provide you with a grasp of the appropriate fee that should be charged. Continue reading below to acquire all the necessary knowledge for this project.

    A detailed photo of recessed lighting inside a living room

    Steps to Remove Old Recessed Lighting Cans

    Having to remove old recessed light cans may not be the worst fate one can encounter. However, the circumstances surrounding their removal can impact one's perspective. If you are removing them to replace them with new recessed lighting of the same size, then it might actually be considered a fortunate event. This implies that the electrical setup is already suited for your new lights, sparing you the headache of dealing with it yourself or having to pay someone else. It is best to break down the entire process.


    1. Prepare to Remove the Old Cans

    The bulk of this step involves ensuring that you possess the necessary equipment to safely carry out the task and addressing the electrical aspect. It is of utmost importance that you turn off the electricity before attempting any work on the lights. It is highly recommended to hire a licensed professional to handle any wiring or electrical work, at the very least.

    Removing the old light fixtures should not require a multitude of tools. A sturdy ladder is necessary for safe work, even if it is just a step ladder for lower ceilings. Additionally, a flat head screwdriver to assist in releasing any clips might be required. It is wise to wear gloves and safety goggles to shield yourself from potential falling debris or drywall dust.

    The final tool that you will need is a voltage tester. Use it to ensure that there is absolutely no electricity flowing to the fixture before commencing any work.

    Removing an old can recessed lighting

    Step 2: Eliminate the Trim

    To begin the process of removing the old recessed lighting can, you must first take out the inner part, referred to as the trim. Start by ensuring that it has cooled down enough to be touched, as it contains the light bulb. Then, remove the light bulb. Next, utilize your voltage tester to confirm your safety before proceeding. 

    How to Remove Old Recessed Light Housing?

    There are typically two types of trim: screw-in and spring-loaded. Removing these different types requires slightly varied approaches. For screw-in trim, gently rotate it in a counter-clockwise direction until it begins to loosen and then disengages.

    With spring-loaded trim, you'll need a screwdriver. Place the screwdriver carefully between the trim and the ceiling. Gradually bring the screwdriver downwards, causing the trim to descend until it is completely released. Take care during this step to avoid damaging the ceiling. Additionally, there may be clamps at the top of the trim that require pressing together for full release.

    Gorgeous white can recessed lighting

    Step 3: Remove the Can

    Now that the inside of the can is exposed, you can proceed to remove the entire unit from the ceiling. You will require the flathead screwdriver once again for this task.

    How to Remove Can Light Housing From Ceiling?

    On the walls of the can, you will find four strips of usually black metal, which should be easily distinguishable. Each of these black metal strips should have a notch, located either at the bottom or somewhere else along them.

    Insert your screwdriver into this notch or slot. Applying gentle pressure should cause the clamp to release. Repeat this step for the other three clamps in the can. Slowly detach the can from the ceiling, keeping in mind that the wiring is still connected.

    Electrician changing the wiring for the lights

    Step 4: Handle the Wiring Properly

    Upon removing the old can, you will see the wiring. It should be connected inside a junction box on top of the fixture or attached to the top directly. Carefully remove any electrical tape or untwist connectors to separate the wires. Once done, set aside the old recessed lighting can to be properly disposed of later. It is now time to decide how to safely handle the wiring in the ceiling.

    If you plan to immediately install a new fixture, you may leave the wiring temporarily while obtaining the new lighting can. In case you are not installing a new fixture immediately, cover any exposed wiring with electrical tape. Also, remember to place tape over the breaker in the breaker box to prevent it from being turned on. If you intend to close up the hole, ensure that the wire is safely removed to avoid any potential hazards in the ceiling.

    A man placing can for the recessed lighting

    Step 5: Determine the Course of Action for the Hole

    If you are replacing the old recessed lighting can with a new one, there is no need to worry about this. Simply install your new light fixture, and you're ready to go. However, if this is not the case, you will need to address the hole. You can either patch it yourself or hire a professional.

    Wooden paneled ceiling with recessed lights

    A Step-by-Step Guide to Replacing Recessed Lighting Cans

    Have you been considering replacing your recessed lighting cans? Not only is it a straightforward process, but it also spares you the hassle of dealing with the wiring. Once you remove the old can, you can easily install the new one. Let's go through the process step by step.

    Step 1: Wiring Attachment

    To begin, you need to attach the wiring to the new can. Simply replicate the wiring setup from the old can and ensure that the wires are securely in place by using connectors. This ensures safety and proper functioning.

    Step 2: Installing the New Can

    With the wiring securely attached, it's time to install the new can. Insert it into the hole and let the clamps activate and lock it into place. This ensures a stable and secure fit, giving you peace of mind.

    Grey and white ceiling with recessed lighting

    Adjustments for Different Sizes

    In some cases, the new recessed lighting can may differ in size from the old one. If that's the case, you have two options. You can either cut the existing hole to make it larger, or find a smaller fixture to fill the gap. For a smoother process, it's recommended to match the size of the new can with the old one.

    Finalizing the Installation

    Removing old recessed lighting cans is not a highly challenging task, especially when you're replacing them with new ones. The main concern lies in handling the electric wiring correctly to ensure safety. Once you've successfully removed the old fixtures and installed the new ones, you can sit back, relax, and bask in the glory of your newly improved lighting.

    To further expand your knowledge about recessed lighting, feel free to explore the following resources:

    • Tips for Reducing Glare From Recessed Lighting
    • Proper Spacing for Recessed Lighting
    • Using Recessed Lighting in Your Garage
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