Roundhouse Workshop (Handyman Services) Concord, NH

Replacing the Pull Chain on your light fixture.
January 14, 2008, 4:47 pm
Filed under: How To Articles

A reader comment: Just what we need a handyman and a poet! The pull chain on our ceiling light is busted, the only way to turn off the light is to unscrew the bulbs. Send help please.Comment by Moira, January 11, 2008


What a great question. Pull chains on all types of light fixtures are always problematic! One way to help prolong the pull chain life on any light fixture is to treat it with care. Many people have a tendency to yank the chain which wears out the mechanism exponentially. The chain will either pull out of the socket or the hard yank will break the switch mechanism (which is usually comprised of cheap plastic parts). So a good practice is to lightly pull on the chain.

However, these types of light fixtures will need to get repaired before many other types of light fixtures. So here is what you can do. I am not sure what type of pull chain fixture you have but I will touch upon a few and demonstrate replacing a pull chain of the common porcelain wall / ceiling fixture.

Before we get started remember SAFETY FIRST! Before working on any electrical device make sure the circuit has been shut off by turning off the circuit breaker at the electrical panel for this particular circuit! Once the circuit has been turned off make sure the devise you are working on is truly not live by checking it with a simple electrical tester!

If you have a pull chain either on a ceiling fan or in a decorative interior ceiling light chances are the pull chain is a separate switch and is not a part of the actual light socket as you might find in a table lamp or the simple over head porcelain light fixture which I will talk about later.

Before you decide this switch needs to be replaced consider these questions.

  • Is the chain still in place put does not pull down any longer?
  • Does the chain travel less than an inch threw the threaded rod?

If you answered yes to both questions, there is a slight chance the switch just needs a little lubrication. This can be done using a non-flammable contact / cleaner lubricant in a spray form. Spray just a little bit of spray using the supplied little plastic tube right into the outlet of where the chain come out of the outlet. This may have fixed the problem! And for your sake I hope it has! If not lets move on. It is now time to locate this switch and remove it. This process is for the mechanically inclined. If you are not handy you may have trouble with the following process. If this is the case call your electrician to fix the problem.


These separate light switches have two wires diverting from them and its chain from the other end. Above is an example of a pull switch designed for a fan. The ones in light fixtures are very similar. It is no larger than the circumference of a quarter. You will need to dismantle the light fixture (or fan) until you can reach this mechanism. You can start with the light shade and work your way up usually unscrewing the nuts off the “threaded rod.” (follow the chain or chain path and dismantle things within reason that get in your way) At the end of the threaded rod you will normally find this light switch with the chain running through the threaded rod. Once you find this little pull switch you will needed to complete remove it from the fixture. Disconnect its two wires from the fixture and unscrew the switch from the fixture. You can find this item at any hardware store or home improvement center for a few dollars. Replace the item the same way you took out the old just reverse your steps. I wish you the best of luck. Most light fixtures that have these types of pull chains have many different designs that vary from fixture to fixture. So use your best judgment and work from the bottom of the chain up until you reach this little switch. Keep in mind the order of how you dismantled the fixture as you will have to put it back together again in reverse order!

Do you have a pull chain missing from a porcelain light fixture?

These light fixtures are very common and simple. Lots of households have these in closets, pantries, basements, and garages. Some have pull chains some do not. The ones that do, break all the time, either the chain corrodes and breaks (and you end up tying a string to the end of the chain) or the chain pulls completely out of the socket. When this happens you will have to remove the entire porcelain fixture from its electrical box. SAFETY FIRST – TURN OFF ALL POWER SOURCES TO THE FIXTURE PRIOR TO WORKING ON THEM! Turn power off at the source – turn off appropriate breaker at electrical panel.

1. SAFETY FIRST – Once the power has been turned off at the electrical panel, you may begin the process of replacing the pull chain light socket.

2. Unscrew and remove light bulb and place on surface that prohibits it from rolling and smashing to the ground. Especially these new energy efficient bulbs that if broken will release mercury into your home not to mention the mess of broken glass!


3. Using a screw driver carefully remove the two screws from porcelain fixture that hold the fixture to the box.


4. Carefully pull porcelain fixture from electrical box. Using your tester double check there is no electrical current going to this fixture. touch tester to the terminal screws on the socket.


5. Unscrew porcelain (some times plastic) large “nut” off light socket. You may need to hold the back side from spinning (holding area of light socket where wires attach)


6. Once you remove the large nut the rest of the porcelain shroud will fall away and slid of the light socket. (FYI – some of these fixtures do not have an exterior nut holding the socket in place – if this is the case the socket is being held in place by design and you will need to tip out the socket from the porcelain shroud where as in some cases the pull chain outlet hole is tucked under the fixture which hold it in place)


7. Unscrew the screws holding the wires to the socket. Remove old socket. You can buy a new socket with attached chain at any hardware or home improvement store.

100_4160.jpg pullchain1.jpg

8. Reattach wires to the new socket. Connected to appropriate colored screws (usually white screw to white wire, black or hot lead to gold screw. The ground wire you most likely will not have to deal with)


9. Put new chain through hole of porcelain shroud and tuck in or slide in socket into the appropriate hole of shroud. Screw on Porcelain nut onto end of light fixture if you have this type of design.


10. Carefully push porcelain shroud with new socket installed and correctly wired back up to the box and screw the two screws back in to hold porcelain shroud. CAREFULL NOT TO TIGHTEN THESE SCREWS TO TIGHT AS IT WILL CRACK THE PORCELLAN SHROUD!


11. Cut the chain to the your desired length. Screw in bulb and reset the breaker.


Hope I was able to help you Moira. Best of luck on your future home projects. If you have any other questions do not hesitate to ask The Roundhouse Workshop!

Disclaimer: SAFETY FIRST -This post as is everything on this blog, or our Website, is information given as advice only, without warranty or responsibility, of the Roundhouse Workshop L.L.C. If you are not comfortable performing any of these procedures, for your safety and the safety of others, please call your local professional to do the job right. Remember SAFETY FIRST

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