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Install Track Lighting

Track lighting provides both form and function.

If you're looking to provide task or accent lighting to light a specific area or subject in your home, then consider installing track lights. Once the tracks are installed, adjustable fixtures may be added or removed from the track. This flexibility allows you to achieve the mood you desire by simply pointing the light where you want it.

Tools & Materials

Use this checklist when you go to the store and purchase your items.


Pigtail Leads

Pigtail leads are short wires which are connected to terminals on receptacles or switches. The leads are then connected to the home wiring by the use of wire connectors. Codes in some areas require that pigtails be used on all standard receptacle connections since, with this installation, one faulty terminal connection will not shut down an entire circuit. When more than one wire must be connected to a single terminal, pigtails should always be used.

When working with electricity always turn off the power and test the wires to ensure the power is off.


Track Lighting

Track light with pendant lights added.

There are essentially two basic types of track lighting. The first, track lighting system has a cord which is simply plugged into an existing outlet. These systems require no electrical wiring, but must be located near an outlet. The second type of system provides a more professional looking installation with no exposed wiring, but requires that a few electrical connections be made at a junction box (an electrical box in the ceiling or wall) during installation. If no junction box is available along the proposed path of the lighting track, you will need to install one or have it installed by an electrician. This will involve extending a circuit from an unswitched wall outlet to the newly placed junction box. A switch is installed in the circuit between the outlet and junction box to provide "on/off" control of the track lights. This article assumes that a junction box is already available.

When working with electricity always:

  • Turn off the power.
  • Test the wires to ensure the power is off.
  • Lock the panel box, so no one can accidentally turn the power back on while you are working.
  • Check with local authorities to see if a permit is required.
  • Have your work checked by an inspector.
  • Wear eye goggles and a dust mask.

 

If you aren't comfortable performing electrical work, hire a licensed electrician.


Track Location

Fittings

This decision may be influenced by the location of an existing junction box as well as by the object or area you intend to highlight. Fittings are available which allow you to form Ts or angles. Just make sure the manufacturer of the track light system you plan to purchase offers the fittings you need.

Mark along the ceiling to indicate the placement of the track. You can ensure that the track runs parallel to a wall by measuring out from each end of the proposed track placement. The two measurements should be equal.

Do not place fixtures within 6-in of curtains or other flammable materials.



Electrical Connections

Junction

Step 1

Remove the existing light fixture from the junction box you plan to use. Your new lighting track will be wired the same as the previous fixture. Most of the time you will simply be connecting white wires to white wires (or a silver screw terminal), and black wires to black wires (or a brass colored screw terminal). If several wires are involved, or if the wiring seems more complicated and even includes a red wire, take note of the connections before you disconnect them. Make a sketch of how the fixture is wired (index the sketch by wire color) or mark the wires themselves with masking tape and a pencil so you will know how to put them back.


Step 2

Depending on the track lighting system, electrical connections to the track may be made in one of two ways. Either you will make the connection by joining wires with plastic connectors, or you will screw the wires directly to terminals located on the track connector. For screw terminal connections with multiple wires, it will be necessary to attach pigtails to the track terminals, then attach the wires to the pigtails with wire connectors. Install the connector by twisting it onto the wires.


Step 3

If the new fixture includes a ground wire (bare or green insulated wire), it should be connected to any other ground wires that may already be in place and to grounding screws in metal electrical boxes when metal boxes are used to support the fixture.



Track Installation

Toggle Bolt

Step 1

Tuck any circuit and fixture wires into the junction box, and install the mounting plate firmly on the box.


Step 2

Snap the track into place on the junction box, following the manufacturer's instructions provided by the manufacturer, and align the track with your positioning marks. Once in position, tighten the track locking screws on the mounting plate.


Step 3

Secure the track along its length with either toggle bolts or screws. Toggle bolts must be used in areas where access to the ceiling joists is not possible. Screws installed into drywall or plaster will not hold.


Step 4

Attach any angle, "T" or straight fittings along with additional track sections to achieve the track layout you desire. Also insert any end pieces at the ends of the completed track.

Before purchasing your track lighting system, make sure the manufacturer offers all the fittings you are going to need for your installation, and for any modifications you may be considering for the future.

Step 5

Attach the electrical adapter to the track by inserting it into the track and twisting. Then install the cover over the adapter/mounting plate assembly.


Step 6

Insert the fixtures into the track and twist them to secure.


Step 7

Install the appropriate bulbs for the fixture. Install only bulbs recommended by the manufacturer, and follow all of the manufacturer's safety guidelines.

Keep an eye out for bulbs with the Energy Star® logo and enjoy even more energy savings.

Step 8

Turn on the current and test the lights. If they fail to work, turn off and test the current once more and double check your work for incomplete connections.