How To Move A Ceiling Light To Center It

Ever since we updated the light fixture in our bathroom back in April, one thing has been bothering us: its proximity to the shower curtain. Okay, two things actually: its proximity to the shower curtain AND the fact that we didn’t have the energy to remedy the situation back in April (when we switched out the old light for a new one and did some slight drywall patching and painting- nothing nearly as involved as relocating the fixture box by a few feet).

So now that we’ve spent three months building up the energy to shift that light into the right spot, once and for all, we were ready to get going. The process began with measuring and marking the ceiling so that we could center the light directly in front of the window (which also would make it centered on the door). This way it would look like it was always supposed to be that way, instead of being centered in the room – which put it only a few inches away from the shower curtain – it was just weird, weird, weird.

Then we turned off the power and disconnected the light from the fixture box.

We had kind of forgotten where our beams were in the ceiling so we started off by drilling a couple of very small holes to see if we hit anything (nothing but drywall and air!) and then took it a step further by cutting a small hole in the drywall big enough to slip my hand into and feel around a bit. I could’ve just used my drywall saw, but my Dremel Multimax was already out, so I grabbed that.

Once our little feel-around mission confirmed that our intended placement for the fixture box wouldn’t be thwarted by any beams, we decided to mark the shape that we’d need to cut out for the metal fixture box. Since we didn’t have any spare boxes around to help us trace the squarish shape onto the ceiling, we made a quick template by pressing a piece of cardstock along the hard edges of the one that was still in the ceiling. It worked surprisingly well – as you can see from the impression below.

Once we cut out that template, we were able to trace it onto the ceiling so I’d know exactly where to cut – that way I’d cut it large enough for the whole box to fix through, but not so large that the fixture’s cover doesn’t hide it all. Oh, and we don’t usually mark in red sharpie but our pencil marks where disappearing on the gray paint so we went for red so we (and you guys) could see it more clearly. It was all going to get cut/covered anyway.

Then I used my drywall saw (which I finally worked up the energy to hunt down, since the Mutlimax wouldn’t cut the rounded corners as well) to put a bigger, fixture-boxed-sized hole in the ceiling.

It’s starting to look beautiful, isn’t it? Okay, not really. But this, my friends, is what progress looks like.

Before going into the attic to move the box, Sherry noticed a couple of screws that we’d need to remove from below, so she took care of that.

Taking those two screws out was all it took for it to hang loose in the existing space.

Now here’s the fun part. Going in the attic. On a 98-degree day. The hot, cramped, un-air-conditioned, distinctly Nick-Lachey-less attic (yes, that was a 98 Degrees pun). The attic that requires crawling on your hands and knees across narrow beams (see big arrow below) through nasty blown insulation. And for this particular assignment, it actually required crawling to just about the furthest nook in said attic (see little arrow below).

In case my efforts to earn sympathy points weren’t obvious enough yet, allow me to lay it on a little thicker. By the time I was done moving the light fixture, it took FOUR trips back and forth to my attic work area (for various reasons – like needing another tool and Clara’s singing being too loud for Sherry to hear my calls for assistance). And since our attic access is located outside of our hall bath (and the only pathway to my destination was not direct), here’s a map of the approximate trip I had to make each of those FOUR times by crawling on my hands and knees, in a sweltering full-of-insulation space that literally felt like a sauna.

In a word: it was miserable.

Now that I’ve sufficiently explained my less-than-ideal-humane conditions (have I not? don’t worry – there’s still more later), let’s get back to the task at hand. Here’s the situation up in the attic.

I’m not an electrician. Nor am I apparently one to spend any more time in a cramped sweatbox than necessary (I was pretty much working in the fetal position it was so tight – which at least made my “I want my mommy” whimpers a bit more appropriate). So I only snapped this “after” photo of  having moved the fixture box into it’s new home. It took some unscrewing and rescrewing of the board that spanned between two beams, as well as moving the junction box (in foreground) so I wouldn’t have to add any actual wire. Did I mention I’m not an electrician?

When I was done, I asked Sherry to take a picture of the hot, sweaty, hyper-ventilating mess that was John Petersik. She pointed the camera and said “smile.” This is the best I could do. Yes, that’s sweat on my shirt.

But once I had cooled down, rehydrated, and (most importantly) showered in the hall bathroom – Sherry and I headed back to our master bath to admire our progress.

Once we screwed the new fixture boxed up into the support boards (just like we had unscrewed it in the original spot), it was time for the light itself to be reinstalled. We still need to patch the old hole (using this method) but Sherry agreed to do that part since, if you couldn’t tell, I really milked how difficult my part of this task was. See how much better our light fixture placement is now that it’s centered on the window/toilet/door. It’s like it was always meant to be this way. Whew.

Honestly, had it not been ten million degrees in our attic, this project wouldn’t have been that bad. The task itself was pretty straightforward, it was just the conditions that made it challenging (crawling into the crammed little corner of the attic multiple times on a freakishly hot day made it a lot more complex than someone with super easy attic-access on a mild day). Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of saying “Yeah, you really should have done this in April.” But for anyone who asked back in April why we didn’t just “quickly reposition the light fixture while we were switching it out” – this is why. All that attic work is a pain – and just to access that part of the ceiling basically requires that you David Blane yourself (aka: assume the fetal position in a space so tight it might as well be a suitcase). So sometimes taking bigger projects and breaking them down into manageable phases that we tackle over time is what works best for us. That and complaining a lot after you’re done with the especially annoying stuff. Haha.

Anyone else have fun in their attic or another similarly cramped & hot space recently? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it… or not. We’ll be back this afternoon with the patched ceiling and a bunch of shots of the whole room along with a budget breakdown because we’re officially calling this little bathroom upgrade done. Woot! And – spoiler alert – we think all the sweat that we’ve put into this tiny rectangle of a room was totally worth it. Just don’t ask me to crawl back into that corner of the attic for at least another week…

Psst- To follow this bathroom sprucing project from the start, check out this planning post, this painting post, this light-swapping post, this art and trim-painting post, this toilet-updating post, this window frosting and shampoo wrangling post, this door trimming post, this border tile demo post, and this border retiling post.


  1. Kellie says

    I see that you have a 2×4 that holds your box since it’s not near a ceiling joist. Just FYI, they actually make a retrofit kit for just this purpose and it will even hold a ceiling fan! I only know because I recently relocated the light in my stairway and I had the same issue you did. The retrofit looks like a mini shower bar and actually tightens between the joists in the same way- by unscrewing. It has little teeth on the end caps that bite into the joists and hold it in place. The box slides on the rail between them and tightens with a screw when you get it in the right spot. Love your blog! We have one of our house progress too, though not as cool as yours.

  2. says

    What a difference!

    I haven’t spent much time in the attic recently, but I wanted to share something really cool (no pun intended) about my very green home: The attic is “sealed” (no vents to the outside), with spray foam insulation along the underside of the roof instead of the floor of the attic, so the attic space stays within five or ten degrees of the rest of the house. During a Texas summer, our old (traditional) attic could easily reach 130 degrees, but our new one never gets above about 85. This also means that the AC isn’t pumping cool air through an oven, keeping our cooling costs down.

  3. says

    Looks nice! Our entire upstairs is uninhabitable because of the heat. We have our guest room and craft area up there and it is so darn hot, we don’t even go up there. Our 1956 cape cod was never properly insulated, and the “side wall attics” on either side of the house basically cook the entire space. We need to really get up there and insulate but we all know how the “to-do” lists run… lol

  4. says

    Good for you for taking care of it! Our attic is the same way, but thankfully we never need to get in there. I’m pretty sure my husband would rather bust many holes in the wall/ceiling than crawl through the attic in July!

  5. says

    Kudos to John! That is some serious DIY commitment! In my house it would’ve waited for fall weather and been off center a few more months. lol

  6. Grace Y. says

    Kind of insane how just the right spot can really make the space! When I first saw that light I honestly thought “eh”, but in the correct place I’m totally in love wih the fixture and the space! You guys rock!!

  7. tom says

    Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like this was one of those projects that could have waited a few months ;)

  8. CherylM. says

    The light over my dining table is way off center and I have been trying to get my husband to center it forever… but he says

    1. I’m allergic to insulation
    2. It’s too tight to get into that space
    3. It’s super hot up there

    etc etc….. John can you come to my house and motivate my husband to center our light?? Pretty please?? … LOL

  9. Monika says

    I’m starting to think that John secretly likes the heat or is a glutton for punishment. Either way, it looks so much better centered like this!

  10. Ekaterina says

    How tall are your ceilings, guys? We just remodeled our bathrooms and I wanted a chandelier in there. But the code does not permit hanging fixtures within 8ft vertically-3ft horizontally of a drain :( might be different, where you live

    • says

      Yes, I think it’s different in every county. Our ceilings are 8 feet tall. Our fixture is definitely 3 feet from the drain though (in its new spot, not in the old one though!).


  11. Elizabeth says

    Love it! I think it looks much better. I have never done anything like this, but this past weekend my BF installed a new light fixture at his mom’s new place. I was the flashlight holder! :)

  12. Missy G. says

    John, I feel your pain. Any time that we have to get up into the attic to go farther than 1 foot from the ladder, then we have to get into jeans and long-sleeve shirts. Our insulation is so old that it’s made of fiberglass, so if it touches our skin, we get crazy itchy! Re-insulating the attic has been on our to-do list for a couple of years now, but we decided to get the roof and window replaced first. We’re in an old house, too (obviously)!

    We also have to deal with the crazy high temps and humidity here in south Louisiana, so the attic is just not a fun spot, haha.

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