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Recessed Lighting Installation Tips & Tricks With Video & Steps

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Recessed Lighting Solutions for Every Space

Recessed lighting

Recessed lighting


Recessed lighting, also referred to as down-lights or high hats, can transform a room. Installing recessed lights requires a bit of advanced planning before you choose the actual fixtures for the most rewarding results.

As a general contractor, homeowners will likely approach you with the goal to create a well-lit and comfortable environment with the desired ambiance. Still, determining the correct layout for optimal lighting and aesthetics can be a difficult task. Fortunately, there are formulas and guidelines for recessed lighting installation.

Determine the goal

What is the room and what is the purpose for adding recessed lighting? Here are a few main things you can achieve using recessed ceiling lights:

  • General lighting for the entire room that is bright and evenly distributed
  • Focus lighting that is used to highlight certain items or areas, such as artwork or countertops
  • Task lighting for smaller areas, such as desk tops or reading nooks
  • Specialty lighting for wet locations and closets

Consult with the homeowner about whether or not the recessed fixtures will serve more as accent lighting, to highlight a specific feature, or as general room lighting.

Measure, sketch, calculate

Recessed Lighting Installation

Recessed Lighting Installation

Utilize grid paper to draw a simple floor plan of each room you will be installing recessed lighting in. Measure the footprint of the room, and measure the floor to ceiling height. Make note of where windows, doors, fireplaces, countertops, furnishings, artwork, and bath fixtures are located. Mark these on the plan.

Calculate the lighting placement by using a few simple rules of thumb. To determine how far apart to space the lights, start by dividing the room height by two. For instance, if the height of the room is 8 feet, you will be placing the light fixtures at 4 feet apart from one another at their centerlines. This is just a starting point for general room lighting.

If you are looking more for task, accent, or focus lighting than overall room lighting, mark exactly where the items you are focusing on are placed.

Choose the fixture & bulb

Recessed Lighting LED

Recessed Lighting LED

Recessed lights are available in many styles and with a variety of bulb types. Trims come in many colors and finishes. There are subtle white reflectors or deep black ones that both come smooth or baffled. Mirrored Alzak reflectors provide a brighter output of light. There are also wall-washers and eyeballs that sit just proud of the ceiling to direct the light directly at vertical surfaces, such as paintings.

Different bulbs or lamps provide variations in light. LED lamps provide full spectrum light and are energy efficient. The bulbs will last thousands of hours. Halogen and low voltage bulbs are quite bright with white light and can give off a bit of heat.

These require a transformer that can be in the housing or hidden remotely in a wall or ceiling. Incandescent light bulbs are going the way of the dodo because they are not as efficient as LEDs. Consider placing the lights on rheostats, also known as dimmers, in order to control the ambiance in the room.

If the home is new or it is a new addition, choose housings that are designed to fit within insulated ceilings, also known as IC housings. If this is a remodeling project, you can minimize ceiling damage by using retrofit housings. Choose housings and trims that are labeled “for wet applications” for use in showers or porch ceilings. These fixtures will generally have a glass or plastic lens to protect the bulb and housing from moisture.

Typically, recessed lights are available in 3 common sizes: 6-inch for all applications, 5-inch for smaller rooms, and 3 or 4 inch for inside cabinetry and small areas, such as closets.

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Other considerations

As a general contractor, it might be important to provide logistical insights into recessed lighting installation. Without attic access, the process can be difficult, but not impossible. Furthermore, the lighting will need to be National Electric Code compliant, meaning the housing needs to be insulation contact rated if it is installed less than three inches from any insulation.

Proper voltage also varies, with 120V being most popular in America, but 277V being common in commercial spaces.

If the homeowner is seeking out an eco-friendly option as well, you’ll want to be educated on the various bulbs and lighting fixtures that are conducive to energy efficiency – an element that is especially crucial in offices and other large buildings where overhead is high.

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