Install Track Lighting

What You'll Need
Wire Strippers
Drill and drill bits
Voltage Tester
Wire Nuts
Electrical Tape
Track, track connectors, cover plate, lighting heads and bulbs
Toggle bolts and/or wood screws

Track lighting can add a dramatic effect to any room. Whether you're looking to show off some artwork or just add a little depth to the room, track lights are a great choice because they're relatively inexpensive and pretty easy to install.

The varieties of track lighting are like that of your local ice cream shop, offering up multitudes of flavors. There are flexible ribbon tracks, rigid straight lengths, track lights with pendulums and even jointed sectionals. There are just as many different types of bulbs for the track lights. Choosing the right one for your décor can be a long, but rewarding experience.

Installing track lights doesn't have to be an intimidating venture, and you sure don't need to spend a fortune on an electrician to install them. This tutorial will detail everything you need to know to install your very own set of track lights.

In this tutorial, we're going to be replacing an existing ceiling fixture with a single length track light system. For new installations where there are no wires present, you will need to run a new circuit to the track light location, and that may prove to be a bigger job than the average do-it-yourselfer can handle and should be done by a licensed electrician.

The first step when doing any electrical work is to turn the power OFF to the circuit you will be working on. Use the voltage tester to ensure that the circuit is off. After that is completed, remove the existing light fixture. Using the ladder will make accessing the old light and installing the new track much easier on your arms, so take advantage of it and don't stretch.

Once the old light fixture is removed, check the wires and make sure they're still in good shape. If they look oxidized or the insulation is hard and brittle, cut away the bad area with the wire strippers and strip about 3/4" of insulation off the wires.

Most track lights have a wire connector that supplies power to the rest of the track. It's usually a small length of track with wires coming out the top and copper connectors on the end of it. Slip the track connector's wires through the hole in the provided cover plate. Wire nut the black house wire to the black wire on the track connector. Do the same with the white wires and the grounding wires. Wrap electrical tape around the part of the wires where it meets the wire nut. This helps hold the wire nut in place and also helps prevents accidental dead shorts.

Secure the track connector and the cover plate to the junction box. Slide the length of track onto the connector and position it so that it's even and straight. Mark the holes with a pencil so you know where to make the holes for the toggle bolts. Drill holes where you marked them.

Slide the bolts through the holes in the track length and screw the toggles onto the bolts on the backside of the track. Lift the track, slide it onto the connector and then push the toggles up and into the holes in the ceiling, allowing the toggle's "wings" to open up and support the track. Next, tighten each toggle bolt until the track is tight, straight and secure. Tip: If you run into a stud, simply screw the wood screws into the stud to secure the track. A screw 1 1/2" long should suffice.

The track light kit should include a connector cover that gets snapped over the connector. Once the cover is snapped on, it's time to install the light heads. Most track light heads fit into the track and then make the connection by twisting them 90 degrees. You will feel them lock into place. Install the proper light bulbs rated for the fixture and aim the heads in the direction you want the lights to shine.

Clean up the mess and turn the circuit back on. All that's left is to hit the light switch and admire your handiwork. By doing the job yourself, you'll probably end up feeling more proud about the track light itself than the objects it displays.

Dave Donovan is a freelance copywriter living in Atco, N.J. An electrician for 15 years, an injury forced him to pursue his true passion - writing.