02/28/2014 06:00 EST | Updated 04/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Research, safety are top priorities when installing light fixtures, says expert

VICTORIA - Changing the look of a room with lighting is a project more homeowners are tackling, but one expert cautions that safety should be of paramount concern.

Once a homeowner knows the weight of their new fixture, and is comfortable with the safety guidelines, "this is a fairly simple project," says Jim Burchnall, instructor at Camosun College's school of trades and technology's electrical department in Victoria.

Burchnall says light fixtures generally only have two connections — one coloured and one white. Generally they are directly connected coloured to coloured, and white to white.

"The difficulty level is fairly low, but I would stress the safety level," he says.

Before a homeowner begins installing their new light fixture they need to turn off the breaker to the location where they will be working. Burchnall recommends purchasing an inexpensive pocket tester to guarantee the right breaker has been turned off.

Using a ladder instead of a chair or table to install the fixture is also a good idea.

When a homeowner is shopping for new lighting, Burchnall says it is important to consider the weight of the new fixture.

"If a homeowner is changing a fixture out for a heavier fixture or ceiling fan they need to make sure the box you are attaching the fixture to can support the weight," he says. "A standard electrical box is designed to support 13 kilograms, but once you get over that you have to add structural support of some type."

Homeowners can consult the Canadian Electrical Code for minimal requirements, but Burchnall says if heavy fixtures aren't given adequate support both the fixture and the electrical box could come right out of the ceiling.

According to Burchnall, homeowners also need to look for proper certification on the fixtures they are purchasing to avoid potential fire and safety hazards.

"Whenever you make any electrical purchase make sure you look for a mark of approval," he says. "If it's not approved it is actually illegal to install and it may affect your home insurance. If that fixture did ever cause a fire that would be the first thing they'd look for is approval marks."

Jenna Pryor, designer for Plum Home and Design in Edmonton, says homeowners should not only call a professional if they feel unsure about installing their new lighting, but also for guidance around height and position of the fixtures.

"The most common problem homeowners run into when installing lighting is the light is in the wrong place, and is too high," says Pryor. "In a dining room, there is a certain height most people try to achieve. Professionals can give some guidance along the way and you won't want to kill your spouse at the end of the night."

Homeowners need to assess the space they are adding new lighting to and select fixtures that match the style they are attempting to achieve and also fit the scale of the room.

"Scale has a lot to do with when you choose a light," says Pryor. "A dining room that seats 12 people with a tiny pendant light actually makes the space seem small and uncomfortable.

"People just don't look up enough and realize that lighting has a huge impact on the style of their space. They don't invest in lighting, and when you put a light up it is often up for 10 years, so it is really worth thinking about investing in a light you're going to like for a long time to come and isn't too trendy."