Where’s Chico when you need him?

Chico is the ponytailed electrician on “Divine Design,” our favorite HGTV design show. He always does way cool things with light fixtures, and always makes it look so easy. So, after a few years of my wife wishing our ugly bathroom fixture was a recessed light, I decided to give it a shot.

I already knew the risks – cutting the hole too big, running into hidden things above the ceiling, totally messing up the wiring – but I’d watched enough TV to figure out I could do it. And, I asked a number of people if installing retrofit can lights was as easy as the instructions made it look, and they all said, “yeah.”

Well, my easy project turned into a two-day job, involving several trips to both Home Depot and Lowe’s (and 3 help calls to Paul at Home Depot), and a large gash in my finger before I got it to work. It was worth it, but it wasn’t easy – in fact, it was just about as hard as it looked before I watched HGTV.

Taking the old fixture out was no problem – but revealed my first challenge: the existing hole was cut about 3/8″ past the edge of the ceiling joist, meaning I had to cut the hole just big enough, or the lip of the light trim wouldn’t cover the old hole.

The next challenge was that every time I did anything (even breathe), I’d get a load of blown-in insulation dropped on me. It kept coming, and coming – it was like there was someone up there waiting until my face was upturned. I kept thinking, “why doesn’t this ever happen to Chico?”

The old wiring was indeed a mess – 4 romex cables coming together exactly at that spot, with very little play room. I had to enclose this web in a junction box, and hope I could push it out of the way enough for the can to fit.

Then, I noticed something else – a black PVC pipe running just above the edge of the hole. I figured out that this was the vent pipe, so I wasn’t too concerned, except that it might put too much pressure on the other side of the can.

Then, there was connecting the wiring. I had cut the j-box so I wouldn’t have to redo the web, I could just slip the box over the cables. I connected another strip of romex to run to the light, and shoved it over as far as I could, and connected the light for a test. It was weird- the lights came on, but only dimly. That’s when I started calling Home Depot for help. After 3 calls and a few trials, we figured it out.

I was finally ready to push the can in place – but it wouldn’t go. The pipe wouldn’t move far enough. I decided to crawl up to the attic and see what the deal was, and found that it was anchored too well and there was nothing I could to about it.

I decided to try to enlarge the hole just a bit, and as luck would have it, that was all it took. The light went in, and all I had to do was lock the clips in place and install the trim. That’s when I gashed my finger. I finally resorted to a band-aid when the blood started running down my hand. But, after that the trim went on without a hitch.

It looks good. My wife is thrilled. And, I feel victorious. Wounded, but victorious.

So, next time you look up at some recessed lighting and ask, “how did they do that?” just know that it is just as hard as it looks. Although, I really am curious to know how easily Chico would have handled it.

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