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Track lighting is attractive and easy to install

Dear Ms. Builder: I want to replace the ceiling light fixtures in my family room and kitchen with track lighting. Before I purchase the kits, tell me how to install them so I can determine if I should try it? - Pamela F.

Dear Pamela: Track lighting is not difficult to install yourself, especially if there is an existing light fixture in the ceiling of the rooms. The simplest part of the work is actually attaching the two wires and the ground. All of the components are lightweight and easy to handle.

Many of the new track lights include small, decorative fixtures that will match the decor of any room. The multiple light fixtures allow you to use different types of bulbs to vary the visual effect. Pay strict attention to the maximum bulb wattages recommended.

For example, you may want to use halogen bulbs over a breakfast bar. Their bright white light makes food look more appetizing, so you may even get your kids to eat some breakfast before school. Over your work areas and countertops, you may select a reflector bulb for more focused light.

Most big box home centers and hardware stores sell basic do-it-yourself track lighting kits. Once you have the basic starter kits, you can add additional components, create unique lighting patterns with "T", "L", etc. connectors all from one main wiring connection.

For the most ornate, and more expensive track lighting kits, check at dedicated lighting stores. Several good manufacturers of track lighting kits are Lightolier (800-215-1068), Progress Lighting (864-599-6136), Tech Lighting (773-883-6110) and Emerald Lighting (630-582-3860).

First, a quick Electricity 101 course is in order. The track lighting will require a standard sheathed cable (one black wire - hot, one white wire - neutral and one bare ground wire). If you have an existing ceiling fixture with a three-way switch, there will be a fourth wire, often red.

Before touching anything, switch off the circuit breaker leading to the existing light fixtures. Test them with a circuit tester (you can buy one at any hardware store) to make sure the power is really off. It is possible for a bulb to burn out at the same time you throw the wrong breaker making you think the power to it is off.

The first step is to plan and layout the location of the tracks on your ceilings. Consider the type and intensity of the brightness you need and any area that you want to highlight. Before you select a starter kit, make sure that the manufacturer offers all the T's and angles you will need.

Remove your old light fixture and note the colors of the wires and which screws that they were connected to. White wires usually go to the silver screw and black wires go to the brass screw. Put a piece of tape on each wire and mark its location with a pen.

Most light kits will have wires that you attach to the house wiring with plastic wire nuts. If it has screw terminals, you can only attach one wire under each screw. If the fixture is not at the end of the line and another wire continues from it, you should attach a short wire (pigtail) to the screw and use a plastic wire nut to attach the other wires.

Screw the support track to the ceiling. Use toggle bolts if it missed a joist. Just putting a screw into drywall will not hold long-term. Attach the electrical adapter to the track and install the cover. The individual fixtures are attached by inserting them into the track with a twist.

Tools and materials required: circuit tester, wire cutters, drill, screwdriver, stepladder, long straight edge, tape measure, pliers (preferably lineman pliers), track lighting kit, accessories, tape, pencil or pen

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.