New track lights installed above the kitchen sink.
Electrical Improvements:

Installing A Track Light 
(With Attic Access)
Part 1

 
In This Article:

Once a suitable location is determined, wire is fed into the attic and fed down a wall cavity. The track light is mounted to the ceiling.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 2 (Basic) Time Taken: 3 Hours

By , Editor

 

The kitchen in this 1950's house was terribly dark. Even with south-facing windows there was not much light around the sink.

Yes, this is a truly ugly kitchen in a truly ugly house. This house is a textbook of code violations, everything from foundation and framing to plumbing and electrical. Cheapness pervades the place, but the property and neighborhood are outstanding. The house has been a rental for many years, largely because it cannot meet the needs of most families who want to own a home. The homeowner plans to demolish the house in a few years and build something respectable, and code-compliant.

So my task is to lighten up the area around the sink and do it quick, cheap and in a way that the materials can be salvaged later.

This nearby receptacle will be the source of the power. 

 

The pipes to the kitchen sink run down the wall, from the attic. 

Here in Michigan the normal place to run pipes is the basement or crawl space. The crawl space is only about 2 inches high, which would have made running pipes there quite difficult, so the builder ran the pipes through the attic. This creates a risk of freezing pipes in winter.

 

The track light kit:

There were originally two sections of track, each 2 feet long.  I had this fixture in my stash of leftovers from a remodel job on my own house many years ago, and I took one piece of track from this box to use elsewhere.

But one section of track is adequate for this job, as all we want is to shine some light on the sink. 

The square cover plate is used to cover a round ceiling junction box.

Track light kit.

This track light is one of several types of light fixtures that do not require a ceiling junction box. There is a small junction box built into the end adapter, where the connections are made.

Old work or remodel junction box. This is an "old work" electrical box. It clamps to the drywall or plaster and does not need to be nailed to a stud.

Read about installing an old work box.

 

This dimmer switch will be used in the old work box. An ordinary switch could also be used.

 

After the hole was cut for the box, I discovered the wire that leads to the outlet below. 

 

This is the connector "head" that supplies power to the lighting track.

 

An end view of the track. There are two grooves on the right, which contain the neutral and ground lines. The groove on the left is the "hot" line.

 

I pushed the connector head into the track. It takes quite a force to connect these components.

 

I tightened the hold-down screw to keep the parts together.

 

The other screw attaches the cover to the junction box.

 

The small box has three screws for connecting the wires.

The round gray disk is a knock-out for the cable entry.

 

I removed the knock-out and installed a 3/8" cable clamp.

 

The inside of the box with the cable clamp installed.

 

I located the ceiling joists with a stud finder. Since the joists were 24" on center, I could not attach to 24" track to joists at more than one location. I marked one joist for a mounting screw, and the other mounting hole ended up in the middle of the span.

I had to be careful to make sure that the cable entry hole did not align with a ceiling joist.

This track light came with several large toggle bolts to mount the track to drywall.

I tried this trick: driving a long screw into the point where I determined the cable access hole would be drilled.

This house has styrofoam (polystyrene foam) beads for attic insulation. The stuff gets EVERYWHERE.  I figured I would locate the pointed end of the screw up in the attic, clear away the foam beads, and drill a hole, thus preventing a stream of foam particles from falling out of the ceiling.

But I could not easily reach that point in the attic, as the roof was too low and I would have to literally swim in styrofoam to reach it.

What the heck... I just drilled a 1/2" hole and planned on cleaning up a mess.

To my surprise, not much foam fell out.

 

I simply fed a long length of cable into the hole, and went up to the attic to see where it landed. It just coiled up in a big loop, close to where I needed it.

 

This part requires a little detective work. The white cable coming from the junction box is the cable that runs down to the refrigerator outlet.

The outlet here is for a pipe-warming system to prevent freezing.

 

I drilled a hole in the top plate of the wall where the switch will be.

Remember those exposed pipes at the beginning of the article? They helped me locate this wall.

One of the keys to running cable in existing houses is to be able to identify locations of walls from other levels, whether it be the basement or attic.  There are numerous elements that are present in multiple levels, such as chimneys, pipes, heat ducts, support columns, etc. Locating these elements can make running cable much easier.

Sometimes it is necessary to carefully measure distances from common points, such as a chimney.  But there is still a risk of drilling a hole in the wrong place, like the middle of the ceiling instead of the top plate of a wall. There is also a risk of drilling into an electrical wire or a water pipe, or, heaven forbid, a gas pipe. Be careful,  take your time, and look around for signs of these hazards.

I fed the end of the cable into the hole I drilled.

I'm really flying blind here. I have no idea if this cable will end up where I want it, or if there will be some obstacle, such as wood "blocking" between the studs.

 

I went down stairs and just reached into the hole and... voila!  There was the cable.

It isn't always this easy. When I first started doing electrical remodeling nearly a decade ago, I had the help of an older and much more experienced relative. I still made plenty of mistakes, such as drilling holes up into the edge of the carpeting instead of into the wall cavity.

In the attic, I fastened the new cable to the top plate with some cable staples.

Cable is supposed to be secured every 4 feet, or closer.

 

Down in the kitchen, I cut off the new wire, leaving a good 8 inches of wire to work with.

 

With the cable entry point finalized, I marked a point on the ceiling where I would need to place a toggle bolt. Then I drilled a 5/8" hole.

 

I stripped the ends of the wires.

 

I fed the cable through the cable clamp and made the electrical connections, while the track just dangled from the ceiling. This way is much easier than first mounting the track and then making the connections.

Gee, it's dark in here.

 

I had to cut away a little more ceiling material to accommodate the cable clamp.  This ceiling turned out to be some fiber-board material, not drywall.

 

I pushed the toggle bolt through the hole.

 Continue to Part 2 of Installing A Track Light.

 

 

Tools Used:

  • Cordless Drill/Driver
  • Spade Drill Bits
  • Wire Cutters
  • Wire Strippers
  • Tape Measure
  • Stud Finder
  • Basic Hand Tools

 

Materials Used:

  • Track Light Kit
  • Cable Clamp
  • Non-Metallic (NM-B) Cable
  • Toggle Bolts

 

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Copyright 2001, 2005  HammerZone.com

Written January 30, 2001
Revised January 7, 2005